A/N: Well, here it is: the very last chapter. Rather astonishing, really, as it has taken a year to finish. Ahh well...hope you like it.
Note: there will not be a sequel to the story, period. I might consider some one-shots in the distant future, but this is the only full story in this 'verse (and currently the only story in this 'verse).
Finally: If the line breaks aren't working, please let me know.
Thanks to all of you who reviewed.
The very last day in May—and, consequently, the day before the exams started—found Harry locked in a ferocious argument with his snake (who also just so happened to be his best friend).
~No, Seb, there's no way I'm letting you go out there. This is absolute madness.~
~Look, amigo, it makes sense. We need to find out if it is still out in the Forest. Naturally, seeing how it attacked you the last time you were there, you can't go out looking for it. However, no one knows about me, and I'm more than able to defend myself—I can turn into any type of snake, after all. Therefore, it makes sense that I go out looking for it.~
~No amigo, I'm going.~
The 'conversation' went back and forth for quite some time, but in the end it was decided that Sebastian would, in fact, go out to see if there were still any signs of the unicorn stalker.
~I'll be fine, amigo,~ he assured to Harry's worried countenance, ~I'll be back before you know it. Just, try to stay out of trouble while I'm gone, alright?~
In the three days before his friend's return, Harry grew steadily more paranoid. Having become so used to feeling Sebastian wrapped around him—in some form or another—to not have him there made Harry feel unnaturally vulnerable. He stayed hidden at all times when he wasn't taking exams and he avoided contact with everyone, praying that the snake would return soon.
The exams themselves were very easy. Thanks to rigorous reviewing since the beginning of April, even his potions exam wasn't too difficult, though having Professor Snape breathe down their necks as they attempted to remember how to brew a Forgetfulness Potion (height of all ironies, in Harry's opinion; it was rather obvious that the potions master had a twisted sense of humor) definitely didn't help.
Then, the night before the last exam, Sebastian managed to drag himself back home.
Harry was jolted from his revision by a sharp spike of worry from the castle.
*What is it?*
Hogwarts sent in an image of one very injured snake, lying limp on the grass outside the front doors. Harry felt his heart stutter.
*Hurry* the castle sent to him, but Harry was already flying through the passages.
He found Sebastian exactly where Hogwarts had shown him. The long black mamba—body crushed and torn by what looked like claw marks—lay perfectly still on the grass, a faint trail of blood showing how he'd dragged himself to his current location. Harry knelt down and gingerly, delicately, ran a few diagnosis spells over his friend.
Seb was still alive, but barely. Swallowing hard, Harry levitated his snake—too worried about injuring him further to pick him up—and slipped back into the castle.
*Hogwarts, lady, I need somewhere that I can heal him. I don't know any healing spells that work on snakes. I don't know any potions—I don't kno—I—*
Soothing emotions flooded his mind, calming him down. Harry let himself be lulled into a state of tranquility. Hogwarts was going to take care of the problem.
The castle led him through a series of corridors and passages, until at last he (and Seb's limp body) arrived on the seventh floor, in front of a tapestry of a wizard attempting to teach trolls how to dance. Barnabas the Barmy, his prepped-for-history-exam-which-happened-to-be-tomorrow mind informed him.
Hogwarts sent him an image of someone pacing back and forth three times in front of the tapestry. The person had a comic-like thought bubble filled with images of books and people healing snakes.
Swallowing once more, Harry followed these somewhat odd directions. He paced back and forth three times, fervently imagining a place where he could heal Sebastian.
A door appeared in the previously blank wall across from the tapestry. Harry opened it and darted it, closing the door firmly behind him before turning and taking a look at the room.
A long table sat in the center, one side was stacked with books (with titles like "How to heal you snake" and "Easy healing for difficult injuries"). On the wall were plastered various posters of snake anatomy, the parts of the snake clearly labeled.
Harry laid Sebastian very gently on the table. The top most book on the pile flew over to a blank spot on the hard surface, pages flipping rapidly as if turned by an invisible hand, until at last it came to rest on a double spread of healing spells. Harry wiped his hands on his robes, drew a deep breath, and began.
He didn't know how long he worked—casting spells, healing wounds, reading frantically, studying charts. At last, he let his wand fall from his numb fingers and sank gratefully into a chair which the obliging room provided.
Sebastian was out of danger, but it would be at least a week until he was able to move around comfortably again. Harry, now that his horror and worry had passed, was furious, annoyed, and very hurt. Seb could have died, his best and first friend had almost left him, he—
*Sleep* Hogwarts thought at him, the room providing a bed.
An image filtered through his mind, of Hogwarts waking him up before he went to take his last exam.
He awoke refreshed, though it was only a few hours later. Sitting up and blinking bemusedly at the room, he attempted to remember what happened last night—aside from healing his snake, which he doubted he'd ever forget.
Hmm, let's see…Hogwarts led me all over the castle until we reached a tapestry of…Barnabas the Barmy. Where have I heard that name before? Outside of History of Magic, that is? Think, think, thi—wait. Didn't that ghost who told me how to get to the kitchens say something about pacing in front of the tapestry to get to the 'Come and Go' room? This must be it, then.
He gazed about the room in interest, idly wondering what time it was. Four different types of clock abruptly popped out of the air in front of him: a grandfather clock, a muggle digital clock, one which kept military time, and a wizard one (without the usual numbers, instead having arms point to various phrases such as 'time to eat' or 'time to study'—or in this case 'two hours before your exam').
*Hogwarts?* Harry thought in complete bewilderment.
*What is this place?*
*Room of Requirement*
*Wait…so it will provide me with anything I require?*
*Oh…I thought it was the 'Come and Go' room?*
*Ahh…Thank you for last night.*
Harry got up, stretched, and went over to see if Sebastian was going to wake up. After only a little bit of prodding and calls of ~Come on, Seb…~, the snake stirred.
~Amigo…~ Seb's hiss was very weak, but it did confirm that he was still alive.
~Thank God,~ Harry breathed, fervently.
~Well, Hogwarts found you right outside the front doors in pieces. I spent all of last night trying to heal you. Perhaps you would care to explain 'what happened'?~
~Oh…ran into something with a lot of claws. Not fun. It's probably dead now, anyway, I injected a ton of venom into it…didn't work fast enough, though. Sorry, amigo.~
~S'alright, Seb…just don't do it again. Next time, I'm going with you or you're not going at all.~
Harry gently lifted Sebastian off the table and let the snake curl gingerly around his shoulders and torso under his robe. Seb went right back to sleep, and after thanking the Room of Requirement (verbally—it was a good idea to keep all parts of the castle on his side, ad in this case he was really appreciative), he stepped out into the corridor, heading for breakfast.
One exam later of answering questions about batty old wizards who'd invented self-stirring cauldrons and he was free, free for a whole wonderful week until his exam results came out. When the ghost of Professor Binns told them to put down their quills and roll up their parchment, Harry barely refrain from cheering with the rest.
He ventured out into the warm, sunny day, flopping down under a tree and pulling out a book in an unsuccessful attempt to ignore the tingling pains from his scar.
~Amigo, are you alright?~ Sebastian had woken up.
~My scar's hurting again.~
~No, it really isn't. And I've got a bad feeling. Really bad.~
The sight of an owl fluttering towards the school across the bright blue sky—a note clamped in its mouth—brought his mind to the groundskeeper. Hagrid was the only one who ever sent him letters. Well, except for Dumbledore, that one time, at Christmas, but that didn't really count…
Harry buried his head in his hands with a groan.
Honestly, why can't I focus on anything?! he thought helplessly to himself, This is almost as bad as when Norbert was arou—
Harry jumped to his feet, taking off at a brisk, but subtle (it would be bad if anyone noticed) pace towards Hagrid's hut.
~Where are we going?~ Seb asked sleepily, startled by the sudden change in motion.
Don't you think it's a bit odd that what Hagrid wants more than anything else in the world is a dragon, and a stranger turns up who just so happens to have an egg in his pocket? How many people do you know who wander around with dragon eggs—especially since it's against wizarding law? Lucky they found Hagrid, don't you think? Why the hell didn't I see this before?!~
Hagrid was sitting in an armchair outside of his house; his trousers and sleeves were rolled up and he was shelling peas into a large bowl.
"Hullo," he said, smiling, "Finished yer exams? Got time fer a drink?"
"Sure Hagrid," replied Harry, determined to keep this conversation as normal as possible. "I'd love one."
A few cups of tea and some pointless conversation about random creatures later, and Harry thought it was safe to bring up the topic he really wanted to ask.
"You know that night you won Norbert? What did the stranger you were playing cards with look like?" Damn, not subtle enough…but Hagrid didn't appear to notice.
"Dunno," said Hagrid casually, "'e wouldn't take his cloak off."
Harry stared at him in stunned disbelief—which Hagrid did notice.
"It's not that unusual," he continued, raising his bushy eyebrows slightly, "Yeh get a lot o' funny folk in the Hog's Head—that's the pub down in the village. Mighta bin a dragon dealer, mightn' 'e? I never saw his face, 'e kept his hood up."
"Well, as long as it's normal…what did you talk about? No one plays cards in silence, do they?"
"Yeah, we talked about what we did fer a livin', an' I told him I was gamekeeper 'ere…'e asked a bit about the sorta creatures I look after...so I told him...an' I said what I'd always really wanted was a dragon...an' then…I can't remember too well, 'cause 'e kept buyin' me drinks...
"Let's see...yeah, then 'e said 'e had the dragon egg an' we could play cards fer it if I wanted...but 'e had ter be sure I could handle it, 'e didn' want it ter go ter any old home—understandably, darker folks do some awful things ter dragon eggs...so I told him, after Fluffy, a dragon would be easy..."
Mãe de Deus,~ Sebastian breathed in a desperate prayer.
"And did he—did he seem interested in Fluffy?" Harry asked, keeping his voice perfectly even and calm, in no way letting the panic he was feeling filter in.
"Well—yeah—how many three-headed dogs d'yeh meet, even around Hogwarts? So I told him, Fluffy's a piece o' cake if yeh know how to calm him down, jus' play him a bit o' music an' 'e'll go straight off ter sleep—"
Harry cut him off before Hagrid could realize what he just said.
"So then, because he knew you could handle a Cerberus, he gave you the dragon egg?"
"Well yeah, though I had ter win it firs'. Wasn' that easy, but 'e wasn' that great at cards, so in the end I got it."
"And then Norbert hatched," Harry murmured ruefully, shoving the horror he felt at Hagrid's causal dropping of how to get past Fluffy to the back of his mind.
"Yeah, an' then," sniff, "We had to," sniff, "Send him away!"
Hagrid dissolved into bawling.
Harry rolled his eyes upward and sighed, patting Hagrid lightly on the shoulder and offering consoling words while his mind frantically tried to figure out what to do next.
There's no way in hell I can do this alone. I'm a first-year—granted, I know more spells than most of the kids my age, but still, I'm a first-year. So I need to tell someone…and it can't be my Head-of-House because I still suspect him. Which means Dumbledore—I've got to go and talk to the Headmaster.
This decided, Harry worked to calm Hagrid down so he could leave and get on with saving the world from Voldemort. Five minutes later (thoroughly fed up with the man by now) and he cheated, casting a strong calming charm of Hagrid. It worked like a charm (and he was quite aware of the irony of that statement) and he left Hagrid reminiscing happily about Norbert playing with—read: eating—his teddy bear.
Harry hurried through the corridors, hashing out his plan with a now wide-awake Sebastian. Hogwarts seemed to be trying to help him get there quicker, for he'd never had so many staircases align in the correct order before. He skidded to a halt outside of the stone gargoyle.
Figuring that this was as much of a part of Hogwarts as everything else, he decided to reason with it.
"Look," he explained, "I can stand here and guess passwords 'til kingdom come, but I really, really need to see the Headmaster. It's urgent. I'd highly appreciate it if you'd let me in, or at least let him know that I'm here and need to speak with him."
The gargoyle seemed to consider Harry's words and—to his mild astonishment, though really, by this point he should no longer be surprised by this sort of thing—it opened its mouth to answer, but a voice echoing down the corridor cut it off, and it quickly went back to its normal state.
"Mr. Potter, what on Earth are you doing here?"
It was Professor McGonagall, carrying a large pile of books.
Harry turned to her with trepidation, but then, she was the Deputy Headmistress…perhaps she could let him in.
"I need to speak with the Headmaster," he said quietly, "It's very important."
"Speak with the Headmaster?" Professor McGonagall repeated, as though this was a very fishy thing to want to do. Harry couldn't understand why. "Whatever for?"
Harry swallowed. There was no way he was telling her—only Dumbledore.
"Professor, please, I just need to speak with Dumbledore."
She didn't look amused.
"Professor Dumbledore left ten minutes ago," she informed him coldly. "He received an urgent owl from the Ministry of Magic and flew off for London at once."
Harry felt the blood drain from his face.
"He's gone?" he whispered, horrified, frantic, "Now?"
"Professor Dumbledore is a very great wizard, Mr. Potter, he has many demands on his time—"
"But Professor, this is really important."
"Something you have to say is more important than the Ministry of Magic, Mr. Potter?" Her tone was annoyed with a hint of mocking in it. Harry resented her for it, though in all honesty, it wasn't her fault. She had no idea about the severity of the situation.
"When will he be back?" he asked, a desperate tone creeping into his voice.
"I have no idea, Mr. Potter," Professor McGonagall exclaimed in exasperation, "Not until tomorrow, at the earliest. The trip from here to London is not the easiest one to make, and I doubt very much that the Headmaster would spend all day in a meeting only to turn around and come right back. If it is really that important, talk to Professor Snape. He's your Head-of-House, after all."
Telling to Professor Snape was an even worse idea than telling Professor McGonagall. At least he was fairly sure that she wasn't after the stone.
"Professor, please," Harry hated the begging tone in his voice, but he was desperate. He sent a mental plea to Hogwarts to make sure no one could hear this conversation, and upon the confirmation that it would stay between the two of them, he continued. "It's about the Sorcerer's Stone—"
Whatever Professor McGonagall had expected, it wasn't that. The books she was carrying tumbled out of her arms but she didn't pick them up.
"How do you know—?" she spluttered.
"Professor, look, I know that someone is going to try and steal it. The consequences of the Stone getting into this person's hands are drastic. I really, really need to talk to the Headmaster."
She eyed him with a mixture of shock and suspicion.
"Professor Dumbledore will be back tomorrow," she said finally, "I don't know how you found out about the Stone, but rest assured, no one can possibly steal it, it's too well protected."
Harry gaped at her, unable to believe his argument was being dismissed so easily.
"Mr. Potter, I know what I'm talking about," she snapped shortly.
She bent down and gathered up the fallen books. "I suggest you go back outside and enjoy the sunshine. And if I catch you skulking anywhere around the third corridor, I won't hesitate to take more points than your house could possibly win back—were it the start of the year and Quidditch season all over again."
Harry watched her stride away, his last hope in adults shattered to splinters. That was it—from now on he was relying on himself and the few he chose to ally with. He couldn't believe, simply couldn't believe it, that she would dismiss him as if he were making things up to get attention. It was infuriating.
"Sorry," croaked a gravely voice from somewhere nearby. Harry jumped and spun around, his wand out and pointing towards the source of the voice.
"Nice reflexes," continued the stone gargoyle "Haven't seen those that good in a firstie since Severus Snape came through here, and Alastor Moody before him. Paranoid bastards, but their still alive, so I guess their instincts serve them well."
Harry blinked dazedly.
"I don't suppose you know how to reach the Headmaster?" he asked softly, his voice heavy with despair.
"Could owl him," the gargoyle suggested, "Of course, that'll take a while, the flight from here to London is a bit of a way, but—well—it's better than nothing."
"Thanks," Harry said politely, turning and heading down the corridor, his mind running frantically through his options.
"You're a smart kid, Potter," the gargoyle shouted after him, "Don't let the idiots who run this place get down on you!"
Well, at least the castle believes in me…
Harry decided to take the gargoyle's advice. It wouldn't hurt and in all the stories he read (muggle ones, but that didn't matter much), ignoring a magical creature's advice could prove to be fatal. And while Hogwarts' stone gargoyle might not be a creature, per say, it was definitely magical.
With that in mind, he climbed up to the Owlery and composed a note to the Headmaster. It was difficult—for he couldn't outright say what was wrong, in case it got intercepted—but he was proud of the final product. It was the picture of confusing sentences and (if the reader could get through to them) obscure, very personal references. He was fairly sure that only Dumbledore knew what went on in Hogwarts well enough to understand what the letter said.
Due to a series of nearly unrelated circumstances that have very little, whatsoever, to do with me, I have come across a hydra of sorts which exists within this acropolis. Being the erudite, omnipotent, person you are—as, I'm sure, is easy to discern from the fact that you, without a hint of doubt, apperceive everything that passes within these walls—I've taken it upon my humble self to confabulate with you on this motif. I would highly appreciate your auxiliary in this existing corporeality in expeditiousness.
Your Saint Stephen's Day guest.
Translation: Due to everything that has been happening at the school (like Halloween, Norbert, and the Forbidden Forest escapade), I've discovered that the Sorcerer's Stone is here. Naturally, you know this, and I believe your enchantments (which you probably know I know about) are not quite as effective as you'd like to believe. Basically, it's going to be stolen tonight. Come back as soon as possible. Harry Potter.
The 'everything' was ironically emphasized to assure the Headmaster of the sender and as a warning: Dumbledore didn't know how Harry got around Hogwarts half of the time, and he wouldn't have left had he known the Stone was going to be stolen.
Harry could only hope that it would be enough.
"Don't hurt yourself, Hedwig, but get this to the Headmaster as soon as possible," he told his owl, stroking her feathers gently, "Outsmart those Ministry wards and peck people to get in, if you have to."
Hedwig gave him an affectionate nip and swooped out of the tower, vanishing quickly from sight.
Harry gave a long sigh and descended the tower steps, plotting what to do next. Upon reaching the base of the stairs, he paused, his eyes darting in all directions. Nothing. Odd, I could have sworn someone was watching me…
He turned to go towards the dungeons and nearly had a heart attack.
Professor Snape was standing there.
"Good afternoon," he murmured smoothly.
Harry knew, he knew, that there hadn't been anyone there when he looked. Oh God…
"You shouldn't be inside on a day like this," the potions master continued, with an odd, twisted smile.
"I'm—" It was probably a good thing that Snape cut him off, for Harry had no idea what he was going to say.
"You want to be more careful," Snape said, the words rippling eerily through the air, "Hanging around like this, people will think you're…up to something. And Slytherin really can't afford to lose any more points, can we?"
Harry stared over his professor's shoulder, determined to not meet his eyes. Is he warning me to keep my nose in my own business (and thus he's going to steal the Stone) or is he telling me that he's got his eye on the threat, not to worry, and he'll protect it?
"Good day," the professor strode off in the direction of the staff room.
Harry stared after him with wide eyes.
~What do you think, Sebastian?~ he asked when he regained the ability to speak, ~Is he the one after the Stone, or is he protecting it?~
~Or is he a bloody vampire, appearing out of the shadows like that! Mãe de Deus, is he trying to kill me?!~
~Right, let's go back to the dorm. I need to see what I have that could help.~
It was after dinner that night that Harry realized the first major problem (other than the fact that Dumbledore still hadn't returned).
~Seb, you can't come with me.~
~Oh no, amigo, there's no way I'm going to let you do this alone…~ the snake trailed off into a yawn.
~No Seb, you really can't. You just returned—near dead, I might add—last night; you're clearly exhausted, you need rest. You can't change form until you heal, and in your current state, you wouldn't be able to get close enough to an enemy to inject it with your venom. Yes, you'd be helpful with the enchantments, but I'd have to protect you and I'll have a hard enough time protecting myself. You can't come.~
It was with a heavy heart that he slipped out of the dorm a few hours later. Sebastian was asleep on his pillow—he'd have preferred to leave his snake in his trunk, but he couldn't risk the fact that he might not come back, and then Seb would be locked in there.
He crept through the dark, silent castle under his invisibility cloak. His pocket contained his other two Christmas presents: the wooden flute that Hagrid had given him (irony again, giving him something to use to get past Fluffy) and the jam jar with the bluebell flames from Granger, which would be useful for a light (so he could have his wand free) if nothing else. He also had a pocketknife with a three-inch blade that he'd filched from Dudley years ago. You never know when magic might not solve your problems…
He exited the secret passage nearest to the third corridor and began to climb the stairs. It was at the top that he ran into some trouble.
Peeves was floating through the stairwell and seemed to sense him.
"Who's there?" the poltergeist called suddenly as Harry climbed towards him. He narrowed his wicked black eyes. "Know you're there, even if I can't see you. Are you a ghoulie or ghostie or wee student beastie?"
He rose up in the air and floated there, squinting at Harry. "Should call Filch, I should, if something's a-creeping around unseen."
Harry had a sudden idea.
"Peeves," he said, in a hoarse whisper, "The Bloody Baron has his own reasons for being invisible."
Peeves almost fell out of the air in shock. He caught himself in time and hovered about a foot off the stairs.
"So sorry, your bloodiness, Mr. Baron, sir," he said greasily, "My mistake, my mistake—I didn't see you—of course I didn't, you're invisible—forgive old Peevsie his little joke, sir."
"I have business here, Peeves," croaked Harry, "Stay away from this place tonight."
"I will, sir, I most certainly will," cried Peeves, rising up in the air again. "Hope your business goes well, Baron, I'll not bother you."
He scooted off.
Harry congratulated himself and a few seconds later, he was outside Fluffy's door—which was ajar.
Harry pushed the door the rest of the way open. As the door creaked, low, rumbling growls met his ears. All three of the Cerberus's noses sniffed madly in his direction, even though it couldn't see him. A harp rested at Fluffy's feet.
Damn, well that doesn't narrow the answer down—I can't believe that either Professor Snape or Quirrell play the harp. Hope I'm not contending with a third party.
Slipping out of the cloak and stuffing it into his pocket, Harry put Hagrid's flute to his lips and blew, moving his fingers over the holes and producing what vaguely resembled a tune. For his first music performance ever, it wasn't that bad.
At the first notes, the Cerberus's eyes began to droop. Harry hardly dared to move and continued playing. Slowly, the Cerberus's growls ceased—it tottered on its paws and fell on its knees, then it slumped to the ground, fast asleep.
Thank God, I'm not sure what I would have done if that hadn't worked.
He could feel the Cerberus's hot, smelly breath as he approached the giant heads, passing quickly to get to the trapdoor. It was then that he realized the problematic mechanics of the situation.
He couldn't stop playing the flute or the Cerberus would wake up, and if he kept playing, he couldn't lift the trapdoor. Shit.
He ran his options through his mind.
What I really need is a spell that plays music, but we haven't learned any yet, that's advanced charms—wait…the Christmas music Professor Flitwick charmed in the Great Hall over the winter holidays…I think I can do that.
Quickly, he retreated back to the door and stuffed the flute in his pocket. The Cerberus woke up, sniffing around and growling. Harry could pinpoint the exact moment Fluffy saw him—fortunately, nothing drastic happened, as right then the music spell went into effect.
I suppose the Founders' book was right in this instance, he though in awe as the Cerberus slumped back into sleep to the notes of 'Greensleeves', The more you want a spell to work, the more likely you are to succeed. I knew those Christmas spells would come in useful one day!
Cerberus now subdued, he crept over to the trapdoor once more. He pulled on the ring and the door swung up and opened.
A drop of an unknown depth plunged at his feet. It was pitch black and there was no noticeable way to get down. Which meant he would have to jump and free fall. Lovely.
Gingerly, he lowered himself into the hole until he was hanging by his fingertips. Then, with a prayer and a couple of curses, he let go.
Cold, damp air rushed past him as he fell down, down, down and—FLUMP.
With a funny sort of thump he landed on something soft. He sat up and felt around, his eyes not used to the gloom. It felt as though he was sitting on some sort of plant.
Looking back up, he noted that the trapdoor created a postage stamp square of light far, far above. He sighed. Right, now what should he do—
Something moved against his leg. He fought the urge to scream and instead sat perfectly still, frantically trying to figure out what it was. Something twined around his ankle and began creeping upward, capturing his legs and binding them tight.
Oh shit. He knew what this plant was—Devil's Snare.
Ok, what do I know about it…I studied enough Herbology, he thought, desperately keeping his hands free from the creeping vines, even as the plant bound his waist, It likes the dark and damp, so…I need fire—the bluebell flames…
He tore the jam jar out of his pocket, twisted the lid off, and released the flames onto the green tendrils and thicker vines.
In a matter of seconds, Harry felt the plant loosening its grip as it cringed away from the light and warmth. Wriggling and flailing, it unraveled itself from his body and he was able to pull free.
He lunged for the safety of the nearby stone passage (now visible due to the light), scooping the flames back into the jar as he went. Once completely out of range of the writhing vines, he allowed himself to sink against the cold, damp wall and just breathe.
This 'protect the Stone' quest was wrecking havoc on his nerves.
After taking a moment to pull himself together, he stood up again and continued down the passage.
All he could hear apart from his footsteps was the gentle drip of water trickling down the walls. The passageway sloped downwards and Harry was reminded of Gringotts and the deeper dungeons of the castle.
He idly wondered if the goblins had helped create Hogwarts.
A soft rushing and clinking sound captured his attention; it seemed to be coming from up ahead.
It sounded like wings.
Harry reached the end of the passageway and saw before him a brilliantly lit chamber, its ceiling arching high above him. It was full of small, jewel-bright birds, fluttering and tumbling all around the room. On the opposite side of the chamber was a heavy, wooden door.
Hmm, that's odd…what are they for? Do they attack anyone who tries to cross the chamber? Well, let's see…
He took a deep breath, covered his face with his arms, and sprinted across the room. He expected to feel sharp beaks and claws tearing at him any second, but nothing happened. He reached the door untouched and attempted to open it—nothing. It wouldn't budge, even when he tried a series of unlocking charms.
He turned his attention back to the birds soaring overhead, glittering—glittering?
They're not birds! he realized with a jolt, They're keys! Winged keys…so one of them must unlock the door…but how to catch them?
He looked around the chamber. There, resting on the floor near the far wall, were four broomsticks.
Harry turned back to the door and examined the lock again.
It'll probably be a big, old-fashioned key—silver, like the metalwork on the door.
He walked back across the room to the broomsticks. They were a bit better quality than the school ones that had been used in that disastrous first lesson: twigs neat, handles polished.
Harry stood beside one and put his hand out over the broom.
"UP," he intoned firmly, remembering Madam Hooch's lesson. The broom leapt to his hand as if it belonged there.
As he swung his leg over the broom, he felt his heart rise a bit despite the severity of the situation.
He kicked off the ground firmly and soared into the air, resisting the urge to let out a whoop and simply reveling in the sensation.
I've always wanted to fly!
After wasting a few moments learning how to handle the broom, make sharp turns, dive, etc, Harry launched himself into the midst of the cloud of keys. He grabbed and snatched but the bewitched keys darted and dived so quickly it was almost impossible to catch one.
Not for nothing, though, was Harry still alive despite a wizarding world which seemed determined to take him out. He had a knack for spotting things other people didn't.
After a minute's weaving about through the whirl of rainbow feathers, he noticed a large silver key that had a bent wing, as if it had already been caught and stuffed roughly into the keyhole.
That one! he thought to himself gleefully, The big one over there with the bright blue crumpled wings!
Almost as if the key sensed it was going to be chased, it began to dart about the room, moving in frantic, unpredictable jerks; it fluttered left, then right, up, down…
Harry tailed it with astonishing skill—especially considering it was his first time on a broom. He felt the air whip past his face, his stomach doing odd things due to the continual lurches and gravity-defying stunts he put the broom through, and all the while, his eyes never left the darting silver key.
He was having the time of his life.
Harry saw, as though in slow motion, the key tuck its wings close to its body and—from the highest point in the ceiling—dive strait for the ground. Harry, without a moment's hesitation, dove after it.
He leaned forward and pointed his broom handle down—next second he was gathering speed in a steep dive, racing the key—air whistled in his ears—he stretched out his hand—a foot from the ground he snagged it, just in time to pull his broom straight, and he hovered barley above the ground, key clenched tightly in his fist, wings beating feebly.
Wow, he gazed at the key for a long moment, temporarily forgetting about the Stone, the dangers ahead, and Voldemort, This, this is magic. That was…indescribable. I definitely want to do that again.
Shaking himself out of his daze, he dismounted from the broom (which went zipping across the room to join the others) and ran to the door, the key struggling in his hand. He rammed it into the lock and turned—it worked. The moment the lock had clicked open, the key took flight again, looking very battered now that it had been caught twice.
Harry took a deep breath and pushed the door open.
The next chamber was so dark that he couldn't see anything at all. But as he stepped into it, light suddenly flooded the room to reveal an astonishing sight. He was standing on the edge of a huge chessboard, behind the black chessmen, which were all taller than him and carved from some sort of black stone. Facing them, way across the chamber, were the white pieces. Harry shivered slightly—the towering chessmen had no faces.
Ok, now what?
He decided that first thing was first: just because it looked as though he'd have to play his way across the room didn't mean that it was actually necessary. It was a rather brilliant idea, really—have the intruder waste precious minutes playing his/her/its way across the room when in reality, all they'd have to do was just walk…
This theory was shot to pieces when Harry, having reached the center of the 'board', put his toe over the middle line.
Instantly, the white chess pieces started to advance on him, weapons drawn. He quickly retracted his foot, and they halted, returning to their former positions. Well, it looked as though he'd have to play his way across after all.
There was only one problem—Harry didn't know how to play chess. Oh, he'd read the basics in a book somewhere; he knew the pieces and what positions they could move in, but he'd never played a game in his life…mainly because he never had anyone to play with.
Well, this is going to be interesting.
He retreated to his side of the board, considering the situation. He could try to play his way across…but odd were he'd lose (and Merlin only knew what would happen then).
Really, though, what other options were there? It was a chess game—clearly set up to be a chess game—complete with animated chessmen who (seeing how this was set up by wizards) probably played the wizarding version of chess. His side would follow orders and the other side would react accordingly. Cause and effect. There was nothing he could do. He didn't stand a chan—
Harry was struck by an idea. It was outrageous, ludicrous, wild, insane, but if it worked…
The pieces will follow orders if they're anything like any wizard's chess set I've ever seen, he thought, seizing upon the idea, The question is, will they follow any orders?
He walked briskly over to the black king and queen, who turned to observe him.
"Excuse me," he murmured very, very quietly, so much so that the two royalties had to bend down to hear him, "But will this side follow my orders? Is that how this works?"
They nodded. Harry considered his plan for a few seconds longer, trying to decide if he really wanted to do this—hell, it was the best option.
He shot a sly look at the two royalties.
"How would you like to play a very…unconventional game?" he asked. The king and queen turned to each other and seemed to communicate on some level, before turning back to him. It was clear, despite the lack of facial features, that they were both asking "how".
"Well," he continued, "I need to get to the far door."
"And," he re-established, "I have to get past the white pieces to get there."
"Are there any rules—magic or otherwise—that say I have to play chess to get across? Or does everyone just assume that you have to play the game."
The king's posture showed he was startled, but the queen…if she had facial features, she'd be smirking. Harry pressed in for the finish.
"How would you like to simply charge across the board and decimate the other side?"
The two royalties spent another moment communicating, and then they nodded again. Now, if they could have, Harry knew they would both be smirking.
The queen turned and pointed a finger at Harry.
"Me? I'm going to hitch a ride with one of the knights—whose sole purpose will be to get me across the battlefield unharmed."
The queen shooed him away and then turned and seemed to silently address her pieces, all of whom began to quiver with excitement. Harry hurried over to his chosen knight and quickly explained the situation. At the knight's nod, he hopped up on the back of the horse and clung to the piece's stone waist, waiting breathlessly for the drama to begin. It wasn't going to be pretty, and he hoped like hell that his knight took his orders seriously and made sure he got across without injury.
The white pieces seemed to sense that something unusual was happening on the other side of the board. But whatever they were expecting, it wasn't this.
The black queen raised her scepter and brought it down in a sweeping ark.
As if it were the sound of a trumpet, the black pieces took this gesture as an order to charge. And charge they did—straight across the board into the disbelieving white chessmen.
The two 'armies' met with the smash and crunch of stone. The white queen only hesitated slightly—probably still in shock—before rallying her own pieces and sending them to fight furiously back.
It was awe-inspiring.
Harry's knight stuck true to his mission, taking Harry along the sidelines and using his body to shield the boy from flying chunks and splinters of stone. He delivered Harry to the other side of the chessboard with ease, as the two armies were too involved in destroying each other to remember that they were supposed to stop the intruder. With a sharp salute, the knight wheeled his rearing horse around and charged back into the battle to defend his king and queen.
Harry paused momentarily before opening the door. The two armies made no vocal noises, but the smash, grind, and squeal of stone echoed throughout the chamber, creating a positive maelstrom of sound, rising in a cacophony to the ceiling and beyond. It was a wonder they didn't wake the whole school.
Then again, Harry thought quickly as he turned back to the door, That might not be such a bad idea. I might get some much-needed backup after all!
Harry pushed the door open.
A disgusting smell filled his nostrils, of old socks and the kind of public toilet that no one seems to clean. It was a familiar smell—one which he doubted he'd ever forget.
With dawning realization, Harry turned and stared, mouth open in horror, as an enormous troll (at least twice as big as the one he faced on Halloween) charged at him from the opposite side of the chamber.
He didn't have time to think, only react, and that was exactly what he did.
As the troll came barreling down on him, both hands clasping a club raised high over its head, Harry ducked as low to the floor as he possibly could and darted between the troll's legs. The troll, unable to stop its momentum, continued forward through the still-open door and directly into the center of the fighting chess pieces, wrecking unimaginable havoc.
Without a second thought, they included it into the fray, both sides attacking the troll while still battering each other.
The troll howled with rage and pain, smashing chessmen with his club and getting severely injured with their sharp, stone swords. It completely forgot about the tiny human in the other room and focused entirely on this new, far more lethal, opponent.
Harry, after gaping in shock for a long moment, turned away from the hysteria and closed the door to the troll's chamber behind him (there was no need to give the combatants another chance to get near him).
He continued across the chamber, a smug smirk twitching at his lips, rather proud of the absolute chaos he'd created simply by convincing chessmen to abandon their silly rules and then ducking at the opportune moment.
He pulled open the next door, a bit more cautious about what was up ahead after having a troll charge full tilt at him—but there was nothing very frightening in here, just a table with seven differently shaped bottles standing on it in a line.
Professor Snape's, he thought, I wonder what I have to do?
He stepped over the threshold and immediately a fire sprang up behind him in the doorway. It wasn't ordinary fire either; it was purple. At the same instant, black flames shot up in the doorway leading onwards.
I should have known that nothing to do with that man would be simple, Harry groaned mentally, He likes playing mind games way too much. Oh well, at least the armies in the other room won't be able to get in…I hope.
He walked over and examined the table with the potions. A piece of parchment lay in the center, which read:
Danger lies before you, while safety lies behind,
Two of us will help you, whichever you would find,
One among us seven will let you move ahead,
Another will transport the drinker back instead,
Two of our number hold only nettled wine,
Three of us are killers, waiting hidden in line.
Choose, unless you wish to stay here for evermore,
To help you in your choice, we give you these clues four:
First, however slyly the poison tried to hide
You will always find some on nettled wine's left side;
Second, different are those who stand at either end,
But if you would move onwards, neither is your friend;
Third, as you see clearly, are all different size,
Neither dwarf or giant holds death in their insides;
Fourth, the second left and the second on the right
Are twins once you taste them, though different at first sight.
Well, well, well, Harry thought, amused, Who would have thought that our potions master was a poet? Though, by his start of year speech, I really should have gotten some idea.
A logic puzzle. Brilliant. And it really was. A lot of the greatest wizards hadn't an ounce of logic—they'd be stuck in here forever. And how frustrating, to the great, powerful wizards, when they weren't beaten by an enchantment, but a simple puzzle. Oh yes, his Head-of-House had a great sense of irony.
Everything I need is here on this paper. Seven bottles: three are poison; two are wine; one will get me safely through the black fire and one will get me back through the purple.
Let's work through this one step at a time…
There are seven bottles: I'll call them one through seven, starting on the left.
One: Nettled wine always has a poison on its left…which means the poisons can't all be together, or it wouldn't fit the requirement.
Two: Neither end will let me move forward…that means potions one and seven aren't useful to me.
Three: Neither the biggest nor the smallest is a poison…so that tiny bottle in the center isn't a poison, nor is that large one.
Four: The second one in on both sides tastes the same…so it's the same potion?
Hmm…one and seven are different potions, according to the riddle.
One can't be nettled wine, because there are no potions to its left. It won't help me 'go on' either…so it's a poison or the one going back.
Two and six are possibly the same potion…that means they're nettled wine, for there are two of them…of course, they could be poison, but…
If two and six are the wines, then one must be a poison, and there are two poisons in the numbers three through five, as they're the only numbers left of six.
Which means the potion to go forward is in-between three and five, or it's seven.
And we already established that it can't be seven, due to the clue.
So…seven is the potion going back…
And the small vial in the middle is the potion going forward, because "Neither dwarf nor giant holds death", and it's the smallest bottle.
Harry felt a glow of accomplishment. He loved logic puzzles, and while this one wasn't too difficult, it still caused him some satisfaction at having solved it. He idly wondered how long it had taken his Head-of-House to create this riddle.
He really hoped that it wasn't Professor Snape he'd find on the other side of the door. Quirrell—well, if the DADA teacher made it this far, then he'd greatly underestimated the man—he liked to think he could at least distract the defense professor for a bit, but Snape? Harry knew didn't stand a chance.
He took a deep breath and picked up the smallest bottle. He turned to face the black flames.
Here I come, he thought and he drained the little bottle in one gulp.
It was as though ice was flooding his body. He put the bottle down and walked forward; he braced himself, saw the black flamed licking his body, but couldn't feel them. For a moment he could see nothing but dark fire—then he was on the other side, in the last chamber. As Harry suspected, there was already someone there.
It was Quirrell.
Harry gave the faintest sigh of relief.
The man had been standing with his back to him, but upon Harry's entry, he turned to face the door.
"Potter?!" he exclaimed, startled.
Harry noticed he wasn't stuttering at all, and his normally twitching lips were perfectly straight. He didn't dignify an answer, simply observing the man.
"What are you doing here?" Quirrell demanded.
"I could ask you the same thing," Harry said quietly, remaining in the shadows by the door. He didn't want to allude to the Stone until Quirrell mentioned it—there was no reason to give out information—but he knew he had to keep the DADA Professor talking, distract him from his goal. He looked around the room.
It was fairly empty, circular, with a series of stairs descending into a bowl-like floor. In the very center stood the Mirror of Erised.
"Tell me, Potter, you weren't expecting to find me down here, were you?"
Honestly, the pure arrogance the man managed to emanate was astounding. The professor wasn't acting like he normally did…at all. I wonder what Voldemort has to do with all of this…
"Well, it was either you or Professor Snape," Harry admitted, more to keep the man talking and distracted than anything else.
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?"
Well, I did, but clearly you didn't hear the first part of my reply.
Quirrell snapped his fingers. Ropes sprang out of thin air and wrapped themselves tightly around Harry.
Shit. Why don't I pay more attention to what is going on? This isn't going to improve matters.
Very cautiously, he began to wiggle his right hand towards his pocket.
"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."
"You let the troll in?" Somehow, Harry hadn't made that connection. He wasn't quite sure why—possibly because of the DADA Professor's reaction to the troll on Halloween—but he'd dismissed the troll incident as 'unrelated' to this Stone fiasco. A lucky distraction. Clearly, I need to be more suspicious.
"Certainly. I have a special gift with trolls. 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—" Ahh, so that's what he was doing up there, "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."
"So you deliberately set the troll out with the intention of killing me?" It would make for a very curious idea. Yes, the troll had been rumored to be in the dungeons—where Harry lived—but Harry hadn't been there at the time. It was by pure coincidence that he came across the troll at all…and even then, it would have been fairly easy to sneak past. Either the troll had some way of following him, or…
Or Quirrell is not quite sane and willing to just assume that it would find me…I wonder why…I might be able to use this to my advantage.
"Wait quietly, Potter. I need to examine this interesting mirror."
Interesting? Oh yes, the Mirror was very interesting. And dangerous.
"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..."
Right, not if I can help it, I bet that 'urgent letter' was a fake…is the Stone in the mirror? But how do you get it out? What keeps it in there? I need to stop him from concentrating on it.
"I saw you and Snape in the corridor, that one time—" he blurted out. Well, he made it seem like he blurted it out. In reality, it was a very carefully planned move. He wasn't in Slytherin for nothing.
"Yes," replied Quirrell idly, walking around the mirror to look at the back, not really paying attention. Damn, oh well, maybe he'll spill something interesting when he's like this. "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..."
So Voldemort really is involved in this mess…and Quirrell is somehow helping him…that clears up that issue.
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?"
Clearly not in your possession, or I'd be dead already. Honestly, leaving me alive is just giving me a chance to escape and screw up your plan…not that I'm complaining.
*Hogwarts?* he called out mentally, though he made sure to be as quiet as possible. He wasn't willing to risk that Quirrell was a mind-reader, and therefore could pick up his conversation.
The castle sent a sharp jolt of worry at him.
*Is Dumbledore back yet?*
*Alright, I'm going to do my best to distract Quirrell…keep an eye on me, ok? And send the Headmaster the instant he gets back.*
Harry twisted against the ropes binding him. He didn't struggle harshly—that would only make these particular knots grow tighter—but he slowly wormed his right hand to his pocket. Equally slowly, he drew his pocketknife out and, barely daring to breathe, set to work on the ropes behind his back…which Quirrell couldn't see if he happened to turn around.
Meanwhile, he had to keep Quirrell from giving his whole attention to the mirror and possibly figuring out the key—whatever it was. He decided to re-focus the conversation on his other former suspicion, as Quirrell seemed to have it out for the man.
"But Professor Snape always seemed to hate me so much…"
Not true, the potions master was more than willing to ignore him—except for when Snape gave him odd glances that hinted he knew more about Harry's home life than Harry wanted him to.
"Oh, he does," said Quirrell casually, "Heavens, yes. He was at Hogwarts with your father, didn't you know? They loathed each other." Well, that explained the first potions class, "But he never wanted you dead."
"I heard you a few days ago, sobbing—"
Great, just great, he isn't going to fall for that. Why do I keep on spitting out random things?
To his astonishment, Quirrell took the bait, and for the first time, a spasm of fear flitted across his face.
"Sometimes," he murmured, "I find it hard to follow my master's instructions—he is a great wizard and I am weak—"
Wait…but Quirrell was the only one in that classroom—and he was talking as if in conversation…
"You mean he was there in the classroom with you?" Harry gasped in faked emotion. Better to let Quirrell believe he was like every other first-year—it'd make the professor underestimate him, and perhaps he'd live longer. Plus, he was bound to get more information this way.
"He is with me wherever I go," replied Quirrell quietly. Now that's a frightening thought! "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. 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."
Wow, that was a whole lot more information that I expected—even at the most optimistic. What is it with 'bad guys' and the desperate need to pour out life stories at the climax of the plot? And why is my real life mimicking this?
Quirrell shivered suddenly. "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…"
So…this would leave me to believe he is here right now—only…where?
Quirrell's voice trailed away, then he cursed under his breath.
"I don't understand...is the Stone inside the mirror? Should I break it?"
Dear Merlin, what good would that do? It's an enchanted mirror. I highly doubt that the Stone will just fallout when you 'break' it.
Through diligent rubbing of the blade on the ropes—all the while talking to Quirrell—Harry had managed to cut through the thickest of the knots. Now, hands free, he slipped the knife back into his pocket and set his fingers to work on quickly untying the rest.
Upon finishing this task, he looked up at the DADA Professor again.
Quirrell was still ignoring him and talking to himself.
"What does this mirror do? How does it work? Help me, Master!"
Oh no, here it comes.
However, unlike what Harry imagined, Voldemort didn't step out of the shadows. He didn't swoop down, in ghost form, from the ceiling. No, what happened was much worse.
A voice answered Quirrell, and the voice seemed to come from Quirrell himself.
"Use the boy...use the boy…"
Quirrell rounded on Harry, only to freeze and gape upon seeing Harry standing free with a pile of ropes at his feet.
"Wha—Potter—how—" he spluttered, before seeming to come back to himself. "Never mind! It doesn't matter that you managed to use a slicing spell to get yourself free…after you have served your purpose, you'll die soon enough. Come here."
Harry followed his orders for the moment. The man was the DADA teacher, and if what he'd said had been true, then he had almost successfully robbed a Gringotts vault. It was best to treat him with caution, and not give him an excuse to use some spell to make Harry do what he said. And besides, at least he doesn't know about my knife. Slicing spells, though? Something to resear—focus, Potter!
"Come here," Quirrell repeated, "Look in the mirror and tell me what you see."
Harry walked toward him, his mind momentarily blanking, and not because of his nearness to the man. He had an urge to just stare into the Mirror, and an equally great urge to run as far away from it as he could, so it couldn't tempt him.
Quirrell moved close behind him. Harry breathed in the funny smell that seemed to come from Quirrell's turban. Hmm…will have to consider this later.
He closed his eyes, stepped in front of the Mirror, and opened them again. He saw his reflection, the images of his parents standing just behind him, a hand on either shoulder. They smiled at him, and Harry swallowed.
Pay attention, he told himself sternly, You have a very big task to do…don't get sidetracked on missing what you can't have!
His parents' images seemed to understand his thoughts, for their carefree expressions saddened. He saw his father's reflection reach an arm out to the side, beyond the view from the mirror's surface while his mother's carded her fingers through his hair. A moment later, his father retracted his arm, a blood-red stone held lightly in his fist. He smiled gently at Harry, pride in his face; then he winked, reached down, and placed the Stone in Harry's pocket—and as he did so, Harry felt something heavy drop into his real pocket.
Somehow—incredibly—he'd got the Stone.
You idiots, he thought in annoyance at his parents' reflections and the Mirror, Why did you give it to me? At least when you had it, you could keep it away from him! He can just take it right from me…now!
His father's reflection chuckled a bit and mouthed 'use it well', and his mother's kissed his refection's forehead.
"Well?" snapped Quirrell impatiently, "What do you see?"
Harry fought back a smirk. He could handle this. Survival rule number who-knows-what:
The best lies are those that have the most truth in them.
"I-I see m-my parents—" he stammered, not needing to project the emotion into his voice. He was quite aware of the fact that this was probably the last time he'd ever see them, "They're—they're—" he choked off.
"Get out of the way," he spat. As Harry moved aside he felt the Sorcerer's Stone against his leg. Now what? And how to keep Quirrell, or more importantly, Voldemort—wherever…whatever…he is—away from it?
"He hides…he hides…"
That high, hoarse voice echoed around the chamber again.
I knew there was a mind-reader in here!
"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!"
"I have strength enough…for this…"
Harry felt a deep sense of foreboding and a rising level of terror—such as he hadn't felt since he saw the unicorn-stalker in the Forest. Whatever was going to happen next would not be good at all. He wished Sebastian was here.
Petrified, he watched as Quirrell reached up and began to unwrap his turban.What's going on? Oh dear Merlin…Voldemort isn't really…
The turban fell away. Quirrell's head looked strangely small without it. Then he turned slowly on the spot. 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.
"Harry Potter…" it whispered.
Harry was deathly pale with shock and horror. He hadn't expected this. Not in his worst nightmares had he expected this. And worst of all, he recognized those red eyes.
Red eyes, bone-white wand, high cold laugh, and brilliant green light had made up his nightmares for as long as he could remember. Oh my God…
He tried to take a step backwards, but his legs wouldn't move.
"See what I have become?" the face hissed, "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, after he went to all that work to switch your detention…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?"
So he knew. Oh Merlin. This wasn't going to end well. The feeling suddenly surged back into Harry's legs and 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…"
No, they hadn't. Harry refused to say a word about it to anyone, but ever since he'd read about that Halloween night, he'd had vague flickering memories of his parents' deaths. His mother had begged Voldemort not to kill her baby—him, sparing no thought for herself.
"Liar!" he hissed—the word barely making it out in English—furious unlike any other time in his life. If there was one thing he could hold on to, it was the memory of his parents' death, how they died for him…and this person was trying to desecrate that.
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, your 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…Now give me the Stone, unless you want her to have died in vain."
The bastard. The absolute bastard. Harry couldn't believe he said that.
If only for my parents' memories, I will never let you have the Stone.
And suddenly, he was calm—perfectly calm. He knew exactly what he needed to do.
"No," he stated quietly, clearly.
Voldemort's face twisted in fury.
"SEIZE HIM!" the parasitic head shrieked and Quirrell whirled around and darted for him. Harry was faster.
*HOGWARTS!* he screamed mentally, his hand whipping into his pocket, snatching the Stone, and jerking back out, *Protect it, hide it, DON'T LET HIM GET IT!*
He flung the Stone, as hard as he could, at the wall of the chamber.
Hogwarts…shivered. The Stone hit the wall, sinking in as if the masonry were made of wet mud, and vanishing from sight.
Upon absorbing the Stone, the entire castle hummed—magic roaring through its foundations, sweeping along corridors, up towers, enveloping dungeons, ransacking classrooms. Ghosts were tossed about in the air like ships upon gale-blown seas; students woke up shaking, unknowing as to the cause, only frightened; teachers leapt from their beds, racing out into the corridors, ordering the portraits to lock the common rooms, attempting to find the Headmaster; paintings flowed between portraits faster than ever before, conversing frantically.
Harry was oblivious to all the commotion. The second after he'd thrown the Stone, Quirrell's hand closed on his wrist. At once, a needle-sharp pain seared across Harry's scar—it split open, blood trickling down his face.
He screamed, struggling with all his might to break free, and to his surprise, Quirrell let go of him. The agony in his head lessened marginally—though not by much—and he looked around wildly to see where Quirrell had gone. His eyes lighted on the DADA Professor, hunched over in pain, looking at his fingers—they were blistering before his eyes.
It hurts me to touch him…it hurts him to touch me.
Harry yanked the knife out of his pocket and flipped open the long blade; his wand was still on the other side of the chamber by the door, where it had fallen when he was tied with the ropes.
"Seize him! SEIZE HIM!" shrieked Voldemort again and Quirrell lunged, knocking Harry clean off his feet, landing on top of him, both hands wrapped around Harry's neck. Harry's scar was burning like acid had been pored on it, sending spikes of agony lancing into his head. Somehow, he managed retain enough coherence to drive his knife deep into the inside of Quirrell's thigh, jerking it sharply down and then back out. With any luck, it had hit the artery.
Quirrell howled with agony, staggering up and backward, staring at his hands. He seemed oblivious to the blood pouring in torrents down his leg.
"Master, I cannot hold him—my hands—my hands!" he croaked; they were burnt: raw, red and shiny.
Harry scrambled backward frantically, trying to reach his wand. If only he could…
"Then kill him, fool, and be done!" screeched Voldemort.
Quirrell turned around to him once more and saw Harry's attempt to get across the room. He charged, wand raised, a deadly curse on his lips, one hand out to grab him.
Harry reacted on instinct. His arm jerked in the direction of his wand as if it had a will of its own and he wished—desperately—that it was in his hand.
The wand flew across the chamber, handle smacking lightly into his palm.
Quirrell froze, jaw dropping open at this display of wandless, wordless magic. Harry didn't give him a moment to recover.
"Incendio," he croaked, aiming for Quirrell's out-stretched arm.
The DADA Professor's sleeve caught fire. It shook him out of his daze and he snarled, continuing towards Harry without bothering to put the flames out.
Harry mind whirled as he tried to figure out what to do next. He knew some jinxes—mostly because they had been used on him—a few curses, but nothing to stop a DADA Professor possessed by Voldemort.
It hurts me to touch him…it hurts him to touch me. Only—I think it hurts him more. My scar bleeds, but his skin burns.
And there it was…the only weapon left in his arsenal.
Harry dropped both his knife and his wand, raised his hands over his head, and—as Quirrell bent over him, wand pointed at his heart—plastered his palms to Quirrell's face.
Quirrell reeled backward, screaming, his face now blistering too.
Got to keep him in enough pain that he can't cast spells, Harry thought, gasping, Just hope it's not enough to cause me to black out.
Harry staggered to his feet, caught Quirrell by the arm—sleeve burnt off by the fire spell—and hung on as tight as he could, making as much skin-to-skin contact as possible. His head split open, blood gushing down and covering one eye, mind screaming and screaming in agony.
But Quirrell was screaming too, and trying to throw Harry off, and that's what allowed Harry to hang on. For Mum and Dad, he thought, focusing all his thoughts on the only two people he knew cared for him, I'll stay conscious for them.
Quirrell shrieks, terrible shrieks, and Voldemort yells of "KILL HIM! KILL HIM!" echoed around the chamber. Harry was distantly aware of Hogwarts screaming in the back of his mind, horror and worry flooding what senses he had left that were not enveloped by agony.
He refused to let go, not when consciousness began to leave, not when his vision spotted out into blackness, not even when he felt Hogwarts' magic rush into his body…he still hung on, because there was nothing else he could do, because he had to stop Voldemort from taking over, because he was hanging on for his parents…
He fell into blackness, down…down…down…
…Something fluttered above him, gold and glittering. One of the enchanted keys. Harry wanted to reach out and grab it, but his arms were too heavy.
He blinked. The key turned into a pair of glasses. How…odd…
He blinked again. The deeply concerned face of Albus Dumbledore swam into view above him.
Wait…above him? Harry fought the instinct to jerk back.
"Thank Merlin," the Headmaster breathed in apparent relief, "My dear boy…" he trailed off as if he didn't know what to say. Harry blinked up at him dazedly. His head was throbbing, what parts of his body weren't numb ached with pain—though it was the numbness that bothered him more: numbness was not good.
"Headma—" he managed to gasp faintly, wondering what had happened. Dumbledore opened his mouth to reply, but his words were lost in the dull roar which echoed through Harry's head, courtesy of Hogwarts.
A flood of emotion filled his mind: worry, horror, grief, a severe scolding, relief, joy…accompanied by a barrage of words that overlapped one another so much and so fast that Harry couldn't interpret them.
He felt the sudden onslaught of a fierce headache and squeezed his eyes tightly shut. Distantly, he was aware of the Headmaster worriedly calling "Harry?".
*Hogwarts, please, shut up!*
The surge of emotions abruptly stopped. Harry let out a faint sigh of relief before he could think to disguise it.
*Sorry* the castle murmured dejectedly, sounding slightly ashamed.
*S'ok, fine now, not your fault*, Harry reassured drowsily. Hogwarts enveloped his mind in a warm hug, and Harry dared to open his eyes again.
"Sorry," he croaked to the Headmaster, whose arm reached out of sight and returned with a glass of water, which he helped Harry drink.
"It's quite alright, my boy," Dumbledore said softly, as if sensing Harry's need for quiet, "Hogwarts is easily excitable, and she's been very, very worried about you. We all have," he added even more softly, almost to himself.
Harry didn't bother to ask how the Headmaster knew he could talk to Hogwarts. In retrospect, it was rather obvious—after all, he'd asked the castle to tell the Headmaster to come to him in the chamber, of course Dumbledore would know then.
He turned his eyes away from the Headmaster's face and glanced around the room he was in for the first time—wishing almost immediately that he hadn't. Bright, blinding, white: the ceiling, the floor, the walls, the curtains, the covers and sheets on the beds…his headache returned full force and his eyes darted, seeking refuge on something not so dazzling. They eventually settled on his Head-of-House—clothed, as always, in complete black: oh, that nice, dark, non-reflective color—sitting by the side of his bed.
"Welcome back to the world of the living, Mr. Potter," the potions master murmured deeply, so quiet that it was hard to hear.
At least he knew where he was now. Lots of beds, the blinding whiteness, the implication that he'd nearly died—yes: this, then, was the hospital wing.
Though really, he didn't remember much after grabbing onto Quirrell's arm. And he hadn't thought that that would kill him…sure, it hurt like hell, but to nearly die from pain? Perhaps the Headmaster could clarify.
"What happened?" he asked blankly.
"That—" Professor Snape began, in a much aggravated voice that spoke of long-term, stewing fury, "Is a spectacular question. What on Earth were you thinking?! Why didn't you tell someone—anyone?! Do you have any idea—"
"Severus," Dumbledore intoned gently, his voice mildly amused, but it shut the potions master up. He settled for scowling at Harry instead, arms crossed over his chest.
"Though, really, my boy, I must ask why you didn't at least tell a professor," the Headmaster continued, slightly reproachful, to Harry.
"Did tell," Harry muttered almost under his breath, feeling a bit rebellious. Honestly, he'd done his best, considering the situation, "Professor McGonagall didn't believe me."
The Headmaster and potions professor froze briefly, as though this statement threw them somewhat off course.
"You told Professor McGonagall?" Dumbledore asked at last.
"Mhmm. Was going to tell you, but you weren't there. Told her and she said the Stone was well protected…didn't need to worry."
"Yet you didn't believe her," Professor Snape stated.
"Obviously," for the sake of grace, why were they asking him so many questions? He'd just woken up, he was in a great deal of pain, his head hurt…he wished Sebastian was here.
*Soon* Hogwarts told him.
The castle sent him an image of one very determined snake slowly slithering his way through the corridors and secret passages in the direction of the hospital wing. Harry heaved a mental sigh.
On second thought, that might not be such a good idea after all…how am I going to explain his presence to them?
"I'm sorry, my boy," the Headmaster interrupted his thoughts, "But you've been unconscious for three days, and during that time we've had to focus all of our energy on keeping you alive—we haven't managed to clarify a description of the events which took place until now."
"Hmm," Harry hummed, uncommunicatively. In the back of his mind, he knew that he was being unhelpful and grouchy—but damn it! He'd just woken up, hurt like Hell, and couldn't think straight. He had a right to be 'out of it', so to speak.
Though he'd have to be careful of what he told them. No need to give out excess information simply because he couldn't pay attention to what he was saying.
The Headmaster seemed to understand his current state of mind and, after exchanging another glance with Harry's Head-of-House, he gave a small sigh.
"How about this," he said softly, "I'll run through the series of events which I managed to piece together from the time when I received your letter to my finding you in the Gauntlet. Feel free to add any plot that I've missed in order to clear up the details."
"From what I can discern, somehow you managed to not only figure out that the Sorcerer's Stone was in Hogwarts, but that it was going to be stolen. You owled me—I'll now assume that this was after Professor McGonagall told you the Stone was safe?"
"Alright then. A very determined bird, that owl of yours is by the way. She managed to get through hundreds of ministry wards that are updated daily to stop the very thing from happening before she found me. Pecked the minister's assistant quite hard, too, when the woman tried to stop her. And very nice job on the letter—an impressive vocabulary. So anyway, you owled me, yet when I didn't return by nightfall, you decided that you had to protect the Stone yourself."
"Of all the asinine, deranged, harebrained schemes in the world..." Professor Snape muttered, in a tone normally associated with cursing.
"Severus," Dumbledore sent a slight frown in his direction, before turning back to Harry, "Though I must question, my dear boy, why you decided to not inform anyone else of the development. Especially your own Head-of-House?"
"Thought he was after it," Harry murmured, internally cringing in wait of the inevitable explosion. Given the information he'd had, Professor Snape was a liable suspicion—even now, after the fiasco, he could find no fault in his reasoning leading to the conclusion of who was after the Stone—but somehow, he doubted that the two adults would see things quite the same way. He was not disappointed.
"What?" both the Headmaster and his Head-of-House demanded in disbelief. "Harry, my boy," Dumbledore continued, while Professor Snape merely stared at him, "How on Earth did you reach that conclusion?"
"S'logical," Harry protested, his words slurring a bit with exhaustion, "Heard him talking about it with—" yawn "—Quirrell and saw him going to the third corridor on Halloween. Even got bit by the Cerberus. So it was either him or Quirrell."
"Professor Quirrell, Harry," the Headmaster gently corrected.
"Not a professor anymore—he's dead, isn't he?" Harry replied, not really paying attention to his words. Dumbledore and Professor Snape exchanged a slight glance. Weren't planning on telling me that little detail, were you? Harry though with mild aggrivation.
*He is dead, isn't he?* he asked Hogwarts.
*Very* the castle reassured him.
"Continuing on," the Headmaster said with a sigh a moment later, apparently deciding to let the issue rest for now, "You somehow managed to calm the Cerberus—"
"Fluffy," Harry interjected, more to see their reactions than to provide information.
"Fluffy?" his Head-of-House choked, sounding a bit like Sebastian, "The oaf named that monstrous fiend Fluffy?!"
The Headmaster blinked and stared, before shaking his head lightly in disbelief.
"Anyway, you managed to calm the Cerberus with Christmas music, burn the Devil's Snare, catch the key—"
"Fun," Harry murmured with a faint smile twitching at his lips before he could stop it. The two adults noticed.
"Hmm, I suppose that would have been your first time on a broom, wouldn't it have? Madam Hooch informed me of that disastrous flying lesson—Severus, you should consider convincing Harry to try out for Quidditch next year. That must have been some very impressive flying.
"So you dealt with the first three traps in the conventional way…after that, though, things get a little confusing. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you seem to have started an all out war between the chess pieces, somehow including the troll in the midst of the matter."
"He did what?" Professor Snape demanded.
"Yes, I must say, I was quite startled when I walked—well, ran really—in on the chaos. It took an ungodly amount of immobilizing charms and disposing of the troll before any sort of peace could be ascribed to the room. Apparently, the black chessmen were—under the orders of their queen, who was under orders from Harry—set on decimating the white chessmen, who protested self defense as a motive to continue fighting."
The potions master stared at Harry for a long moment, his mouth open slightly (though not enough to be considered gaping).
"How on Earth…" he started, before biting off the phrase and shaking his head sharply, "Never mind, I don't want to know."
"So that dealt with those two rooms," Dumbledore continued, "And you apparently solved Professor Snape's riddle, an impressive feat."
"It was brilliant. I love logic puzzles," Harry mumbled, before mentally berating himself for letting out information without provocation.
His Head-of-House blinked at him—probably due to the unintended compliment.
"After you entered the final chamber, though, I have no idea of what happened until I arrived to pull you off of Quirrell. I'm sorry, but I'm afraid I'll have to ask you for an account of the events, my boy."
Harry sighed and closed his eyes, having no desire whatsoever to recall what happened. Actually, he was still rather fuzzy on the later events of that room, but he might as well provide the Headmaster with a brief description up until the point where he fell unconscious. A highly edited, brief description.
"Quirrell captured me when I entered the room, dragged me in front of the mirror, I got the Stone somehow, tried to hide it, but Voldemort read my mind or something and—"
"What?!" Dumbledore cried out in shock, while Professor Snape flinched at You-Know-Who's name. Odd, he's about the last person I would have picked to display that reaction—I have to look further into this.
"Voldemort was on the back of Quirrell's head, under his turban," Harry explained to the horrified adults, "Anyway, so Voldemort told Quirrell to attack me; only, when Quirrell grabbed me, my scar split open and his skin burned. So I hung onto him to keep him in enough pain so he couldn't kill me. Then I passed out."
A long moment of silence followed this narrative, which the Headmaster broke with a sigh.
"That was very, very brave of you, my boy. Unfortunately, with Voldemort's spirit presumably fled and the Stone missing, I can only assume that—"
"Hogwarts has it," Harry interrupted, mentally kicking himself for forgetting to add that particular detail.
"Hogwarts has it. I threw it at the wall—the castle absorbed it."
"Hogwarts absorbed the Sorcerer's Stone?" Professor Snape managed a few seconds later, in an astonished, incredulous tone.
The silence that followed this pronouncement lasted for a while longer than the previous, as all seemed to be contemplating the situation. At last, Harry broke in with a question that had been floating around in the back of his mind.
"Sir," he started, addressing the Headmaster.
"Yes, my boy?"
"What will happen to Nicolas and Perenell Flamel now that the Stone is part of Hogwarts?"
"Oh, so you know about Nicolas?" Dumbledore, in contrast to the heavy mood which had previously permeated the room, sounded quite delighted. "You're certainly very thorough in your research. I have absolutely no idea what will happen. It appears as though he and I will have a summer project to work on."
The Headmaster seemed positively enthused with the concept, and Professor Snape let out a soft groan, burying his face in his hands.
"None of that, Severus," Dumbledore said reproachfully, "I know perfectly well that you make new potions through experimentation all summer—there's no reason I can't have fun discovering something as well."
An image of a red circle with a line through it, surrounding a picture of Hogwarts exploding, hastily appeared in Harry's mind.
"Hogwarts hopes that you don't blow the castle up," Harry informed the Headmaster sleepily. Professor Snape lifted his head from his palms, narrowing his eyes at Harry and scrutinizing him closely; Dumbledore merely laughed.
"How did I get the Stone out of the mirror?" Harry asked a moment later.
"Ahh, 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." Professor Snape rolled his eyes. The Headmaster dutifully ignored him.
"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. My brain surprises even me sometimes…"
"And the rest of us," the potions master muttered sarcastically.
"But I didn't want to find the Stone," Harry protested quietly, "I wanted it to stay in the Mirror so that Quirrell couldn't get it."
"Ahh, well, I never said the idea was foolproof."
They fell once more into silence. Dumbledore appeared to be thinking intently about something and Professor Snape was back to observing him as if he could find the answers to life by studying Harry's form.
Harry was just about to drift off into a doze when a soft voice broke through the clouds of sleep.
~And then, I'll inject him with fifty different kinds of venom and eat him whole, only to resurrect him again. And THEN…unconscious in the hospital wing for three days…Mãe de Deus. I am never leaving him unsupervised ever again…~
The highly annoyed black mamba slithered up the bedpost and settled onto Harry's chest before either Dumbledore or Professor Snape could do anything about it.
~You!~ Sebastian hissed at Harry, jabbing the tip of his tail at him furiously for emphasis, ~Are in big trouble!~
Harry lifted his arm (wincing at the pain it caused) and ran his fingers lightly over Seb's head to sooth him down. The last thing he needed was a furious snake on his hands when he tried to explain the situation to the Headmaster and his Head-of-House.
"Harry, my boy…" Dumbledore trailed off in a slightly strangled tone of voice. He glanced over at them. The Headmaster was staring at him in shock and Professor Snape was openly gaping—though his mouth closed with a click upon seeing Harry's observation. Both had their wands out and pointed at the snake.
~Do you understand?! BIG trouble!~ His friend was getting more annoyed by the second. ~And when I'm through with you…Amigo, say something! Whatever happened wasn't that bad, was it? Amigo?!~ And now he sounded worried.
Harry sighed. Why did all these situations happen to him? Well, it appeared as though he'd have to break a survival rule, simply to reassure Sebastian so he wouldn't get frantic and perhaps attack his Professor and Headmaster. That would be bad. He could only hope that the fallout of this particular action wouldn't be too awful.
~I'm fine Seb,~ he hissed quietly to his friend, very much aware of the Headmaster's choked gasp and his Head-of-House's rigid, shocked, horrified countenance, ~Just a bit sore. Nothing to worry about…how did you know I was awake?~
~Hogwarts had one of the portraits tell me, since it couldn't do so directly.~
~Ahh…~ *Thanks Hogwarts,* Harry sent to the castle.
"Harry—" he looked over to the Headmaster again, internally wincing when he noticed that his Head-of-House's expression hadn't changed at all. It was then he realized that their wands were still pointed at Sebastian.
He jerked upward (body screaming in protest), curling his torso and wrapping his arms protectively about the snake, so that Seb was cocooned safely next to his chest. Sebastian might have managed to get all the way to the hospital wing from the dungeons, but he was still weak from his injuries.
"Don't hurt him!" Harry hissed protectively, the words barely making it out in English, "He's…my friend," he added quietly a moment later, when it appeared as though the Headmaster needed further reasoning.
They studied him and the snake for a long, long moment. Eventually, Dumbledore sighed and tucked his wand away.
"He's been with you since the start of the year?" he asked tiredly. Harry nodded, a bit wary. "Where did you get him?"
"Diagon Ally—he used to be in a muggle zoo in Surry, but he escaped when I accidentally released him on my cousin."
At this, Professor Snape seemed to snap out of his stupor and his eyebrows rose.
"You convinced a snake to attack your cousin?"
"Accidentally," Harry emphasized, slowly uncurling and sinking back down into the blankets, ignoring Seb's hiss of ~And I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.~
The Headmaster hummed softly as he regarded the situation.
"Well," he said at last, "As long as he doesn't attack any of the students and you keep him hidden, I suppose I really can't protest. Hmm…I guess this clears up the mysterious death of the troll on Halloween. Minerva will be pleased." He rose. "If that is all, then I really must be going—I have a staff meeting to run. Do take care, my dear boy, and Severus, I'd like to talk to you in my office after the feast tonight." He headed towards the door, only to pause on the threshold and turn back.
"One more question, my boy, if you don't mind," he addressed Harry, "How did you know how to get past the Cerberus?"
"Hmm? Oh, I thought the whole situation with Hagrid and Norbert was fishy, so I went down and asked him about the stranger he got the egg from. He retold the whole evening to me, including the part where he told the stranger how to put Fluffy to sleep—so therefore, I knew and so did someone else…who turned out to be Quirrell."
"What egg?" demanded Professor Snape, in a tone of slight horror, "And who, precisely, is Norbert?"
"Norbert's the Norwegian Ridgeback that Hagrid hatched from an egg in April. Granger and I got stuck in detention because we got caught after giving him to the dragon handlers who Charlie Weasley sent from Romania to pick him up."
Silence. Then: "There really was a dragon?!" Professor Snape hissed in shock, sounding like he was torn between banging his head against the wall and straggling Harry.
"My, my," Dumbledore chuckled, apparently highly amused, "You students are getting more creative every year. A dragon! I certainly didn't know about that."
Still chuckling, Dumbledore left.
Professor Snape turned back to Harry, fixing him with a piercing gaze which seemed to bore into his mind. Harry quickly looked away, glancing down at Sebastian who—for all intents and purposes—appeared to be taking a nap, draped over him.
"Mr. Potter," the potions master murmured after a long moment. Harry reluctantly looked up. "How did you know that Quirrell was dead?"
Harry froze. This, this was why he so respected and—it had to be admitted—feared the professor. The man noticed everything…especially that little slip of tongue which Harry had been hoping with all his might would be ignored.
"And don't even think about lying to me. I spent the last three days brewing potions to keep you alive—you owe me this much of an explanation at the least."
"I stabbed him with my pocketknife when he tried to strangle me," Harry muttered at last, "It has a three-inch blade, and I drove the entire thing into the inside of his thigh. With the amount of blood that came spewing out afterward, there's no way it missed the artery."
Silence enveloped them, before Professor Snape sighed.
"So you did intentionally kill him…the Headmaster believed it to be a mere accident."
"He was trying to kill me," Harry defended in a near silent whisper. He turned his face away from his professor, shame, guilt, and self-disgust blazing through his mind. Sure, it had been in self-defense (and he intellectually knew that there was nothing else he could have done), but he'd killed someone…deliberately killed someone. He felt awful, sick, as if this made him just like them—Quirrell, Voldemort…his relatives—
A long-fingered hand grasped firmly onto his chin, refusing to let go even when he flinched violently. It turned his face back towards its owner, and Harry reluctantly met the professor's dark eyes.
"It is not your fault," the words were spoken slowly, with emphasis, barely above a whisper, but rang with a stern, iron-hard will, "Do you understand? It. Is. NOT. Your. Fault."
"But I—" Harry tried to turn away, feeling tears prick his eyes. He would not cry in front of his professor. The hand refused to release him.
"No, Mr. Potter. No buts. It is not your fault. Say it."
"It's not my fault," Harry murmured lamely.
"With conviction, child."
"It's—I—" he swallowed harshly. "It's not my fault," he repeated a bit firmer.
"Now work on believing it," Professor Snape released his chin, let out a deep breath, and rose. "Well, Mr. Potter, there are things I need to do that don't involve you or your pet snake, so if you will excuse me…try not to run into any more trouble. I would hate to have to drag your sorry existence back here before the school year is over." He left.
Harry stared after him for a long moment, before shaking his head and settling back down on the pillows for a nap (dutifully covering Sebastian so that Madam Pomfrey wouldn't freak out). That man was a walking contradiction.
He rather thought he liked it.
"Albus, what happened on Thursday with the castle?" asked Filius upon entering the weekly staff meeting, "And what's this I hear about Mr. Potter being in the hospital wing?"
"He's what?!" demanded Minerva.
"Yes, Mr. Potter is in the hospital wing—has been for the past three days, in fact," the Headmaster sighed deeply, worry momentarily clouding his features.
"For what? Is he going to be all right? And is that why Poppy's not here?" Pomona exclaimed in concern.
"He's fine now," the Headmaster didn't comment on the previous days, "He was magically exhausted—completely magically exhausted—and had a few serious injuries."
"Doesn't magical exhaustion kill young people?"
"How did he get injured?"
"Is that where you've been for the past few days?"
"What happened with the castle?"
The door opened, cutting off the barrage of questions. Severus entered the room and sank into his chair, closing his eyes briefly before steepling his hands in front of his face.
"Is he—" Dumbledore started, breaking the silence.
"A bit distraught, but nothing that can't be rectified," Severus replied with a sigh, "He did it—intentionally, Headmaster, that's bound to leave some mark of sorts."
"What on Earth is going on?" Sydney implored, on the behalf of the staff who had no idea of what they were talking about. The Headmaster and Potions Professor exchanged telling glances.
"Last Thursday," Dumbledore began, "Quirinus, possessed by Voldemort—" everyone flinched, and there were gasps of horror and shock, "Attempted to bypass the protections and steal the Sorcerer's Stone. Fortunately, for all of our sakes, a certain student realized what was going on—and how he did that, I'm still not clear on—and also bypassed the protection in order to reach the Stone before Quirinus did."
"A student got through the protections?" Filius appeared as if he was torn between awed and horror.
"Quirinus was possessed by You-Know-Who? For how long?"
"This certain student wouldn't happen to be Mr. Potter, would it?" Leonardo murmured, eyes narrowing in calculation.
"Dear Merlin…and I turned the child away!" Minerva whispered to herself, sickened.
"Yes, the student was Mr. Potter," sighed Dumbledore quietly. There was a moment of silence as they all digested the statement, then:
"Wait, so a first-year managed to get past enchantments intended to keep full grown wizards out? How?!"
"The 'whys' and 'whereabouts' of what happened will remain closed for the sake of Mr. Potter's privacy," the Headmaster said firmly, "However, through a series of remarkable events, Mr. Potter successfully prevented Quirinus from obtaining the Stone by allowing Hogwarts to absorb it."
"I'm sorry, Albus, I must not have heard that right," Astoria shook her head lightly, "I could have sworn you said Hogwarts absorbed the Sorcerer's Stone."
"Hogwarts did what?"
"Is that even possible?"
The roaring of the Floo Network cut off the disbelieving exclamation of the staff.
"Severus!" Poppy shouted through the emerald flames, "I need you and your potion abilities in the hospital wing right now. You won't believe what this group of fifth-years managed to hex themselves into—"
Snarling in annoyance, the potions master rose, nodded to Dumbledore, and vanished through the flames to the infirmary.
"Headmaster!" Poppy called back through a moment later, "We're probably going to need your help as well!"
Albus rose with a sigh—after all, he'd just gotten out of the hospital wing, "Do take care," he told the still bewildered, disbelieving staff. "Oh, and Minerva," he paused upon exiting the room, "The next time you decide transfigure a giant chess set, make sure to include a spell to make the chessmen play only the conventional game. I don't want to have to clean up another chess piece war again. Not to mention the mess the troll made," he grumbled under his breath, vanishing through the fire.
"Potter did what?" Minerva's incredulous tone echoed out of the room and down the hall.
Harry woke up a few hours later to find Madam Pomfrey standing over him, her wand twirling in brisk movements as she ran diagnosis tests.
"You're doing much better, Mr. Potter," she said kindly upon noticing his state of consciousness. "The Headmaster wishes for me to inform you that you may attend the End-of-Year feast tonight," she added with a faint note of disapproval in her voice—clearly, she disliked the idea.
"Thanks," Harry rasped to her, receiving a glass of water a moment later for his efforts.
"Now, I'd like you to take this potion," she handed him a vial, "And this one, then get some more rest. But first, you have a visitor."
"Who is it?" But Madam Pomfrey had already left the room. Harry mentally ran through the list of people who would actually come to see him if he was injured. Hmm, let's see…Seb's already here, Hogwarts is around all the time, I doubt that Madam Pomfrey would let Hedwig into the hospital wing, which leaves…
Hagrid sidled quietly through the door. 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. Harry blinked in momentary shock as he was not expecting this reaction. I don't look that bad, do I? He felt Sebastian wind uncertainly about his torso under his pajamas.
"It's—all—my—ruddy—fault!" Hagrid sobbed, his face in his hands. Clearly, Dumbledore had a word with him about the events. "I told the evil git how ter get past Fluffy! I told him! It was the only thing he didn' know an' I told him! Yeh could've died! All fer a dragon egg! I'll never drink again! I should be chucked out an' made ter live as a Muggle!"
Harry rather thought this was a bit overdramatic. The Headmaster didn't seemed to believe that Hagrid had acted maliciously—even Professor Snape was more resigned (as if it were inevitable) than horrified. Besides, Harry couldn't see Hagrid living as a muggle. He just couldn't.
"Hagrid," Harry murmured, in an attempt to comfort, "Hagrid, this is Voldemort we're talking about. Do you really think that you're solely responsible for his near success? If he couldn't find a way to get past Fluffy, he'd have just killed the Cerberus. Three-headed guard dog or not, it wouldn't have slowed him down that much."
"Yeh could've died!" wailed Hagrid, as if completely oblivious to the mini speech which Harry had just made, "An' don' say the name!"
Harry sighed. As shown in his previous experiences with Hagrid, he simply couldn't do 'comforting'. So it was time to cheat again.
A few very strong calming spells later—having covers to hid a wand under made being discreet a whole hell of a lot easier (though he doubted Hagrid would have noticed anyway)—and the groundskeeper was once more in reasonable shape.
Sebastian was snickering, but Harry chose to ignore him.
"Hagrid," Harry said, once he was sure the man wasn't going to start off on another round of sobbing, "Really, it isn't your fault." Hmm, and now I sound like Professor Snape, "I don't blame you at all. Besides, watching a dragon hatch more than made up for the experience." And boy did it. He was sure that the detailed notes he took could be sold for a fortune when he was a bit older. And nothing beat watching it first hand.
Hagrid wiped his nose on the back of his hand. "Thanks Harry…That reminds me. I've got yeh a present."
Harry gaped at him in momentary shock.
"You've what?" he managed weakly, "Why?" It wasn't like it was a holiday or anything.
"I've got yeh a present," Hagrid repeated with a watery chuckle, ignoring the second question, "Dumbledore gave me the day off ter finish it. 'Course, he shoulda sacked me instead—anyway, got yeh this…"
He pulled a package—wrapped in brown paper—out of a pocket in his enormous coat and handed it over.
Harry carefully unwrapped the present. It seemed to be a handsome, leather-covered book. Blinking at it curiously, Harry opened to the first page.
He felt as though the wind had been knocked out of his lungs. Breathing was impossible and he was sure he was going to faint. Smiling and waving up at him from the wizarding photograph were his parents.
I can see them again…I can see them again, was the only thought that ran through his mind.
"Sent owls off ter all yer parents' old school friends, askin' fer photos...Knew yeh didn' have any...D'yeh like it?"
Harry couldn't speak, only nod very weakly, but Hagrid seemed to understand. He barely noticed when Hagrid left, slowly paging through the book, staring intently at every single picture, attempting to memorize them.
"Harry, dear, I need you to drink this," he glanced up a while later to see Madam Pomfrey's understanding face peering down at him, her extended arm holding a potion vial out to him. Her voice indicated that this wasn't the first time she'd attempted to get his attention, but she didn't sound annoyed. "It's a mild dose of Dreamless Sleep—it will knock you out for a few hours so you'll be refreshed in time for the feast," she added as he downed the potion, already turning back to the pictures in the book.
He felt his eyes drooping and tried valiantly to stay awake—as if he took his eyes off the photo album for a second it would all fade to reveal that it was nothing more than a bizarre, wonderful dream. The healer's hands helped him lie down, pulling the blankets up to his shoulders, and she took the album gently from his relaxing grip.
"Here dear," she murmured softly, slipping the book under a corner of his pillow and resting one of his hands on it, "This way, it'll be near you."
Harry graced her with a faint smile and fell asleep.
Later that evening, Madam Pomfrey eventually released him to attend the End-of-Year feast, with a stern lecture to return should he feel unwell. Harry thanked her politely and hurried away, slipping into an alcove hidden behind a tapestry at the first available opportunity. Sebastian was wrapped around his shoulders and his photo album was clutched tightly to his chest with one hand (he doubted he would be able to let it go any time soon).
Although it was kind of the Headmaster to allow him to go, Harry had no intention of actually attending the End-of-Year feast. He couldn't stand crowds on a normal basis, and with the hyper-active excitement bound to be loose in the Great Hall—especially with the Slytherins, considering they had won the House Cup—no, it was much better to simply avoid the situation.
And Hogwarts had assured him that everyone would be at the feast. Everyone. All the staff, Filtch, Hagrid, every student, most of the ghosts (the house elves would, naturally, remain in the kitchens)…everyone would be in that one, big room.
Which, conveniently, left the rest of the castle completely open to him.
Hogwarts was never emptier than on the Start-of-Year and the End-of-Year feasts—as everyone was expected to be present. Harry knew that no one would miss him (well, except the Headmaster and his far-too-observant Head-of-House), and even if they did, he had a perfect excuse: he hadn't felt well enough. Yes, this was the opportune time to take advantage of the situation and finally get around to accepting an offer.
With quiet, quick steps (relishing in the ability to simply walk in the halls and not have to creep around in secret passages), Harry made his way up to the Headmaster's office.
"Hello Gargoyle," he greeted the stone statue with a polite nod. The gargoyle remained rigid for a second, then blinked, shook itself, and turned its stone eyes to the first-year.
"Merlin, you again!" it rasped in its gravely voice, "Wasn't expecting to see you. Aren't you supposed to be in the hospital wing?"
"I got let out for the feast," Harry replied quietly.
"I've heard that excuse befo—oh, he really did, did he? Thanks for informing me now, you stupid castle. Sorry kid. Quite a show in the Gauntlet, by the way…told you not to let those idiots get down on you."
"Thank you for your advice," Harry suddenly realized he had not done this yet, "It was particularly helpful."
"But not quite fast enough," the stone statue sighed heavily, "Still wound up in the hospital wing for days. Oh well, you can't have everything. Now, was there anything in particular you wanted, or did you just come for a chat? Not bad timing, with everyone in the Great Hall and all."
"Actually," Harry murmured cautiously, not exactly sure how his request would be taken, "I'd like to speak with the Sorting Hat."
"So you've finally decided to take the old feather duster up on his offer, eh? Was wondering when you'd do that—had a bet going and everything. Of course, you were rather occupied with other things during the year. Yeah, I'll let you in, no need to worry about that. Though, if you ever do have to get in the conventional way, remember: just keep guessing sweets. Especially muggle ones. Damn sugar-obsessed headmasters," this last bit was grumbled under its breath.
"Thank you," Harry said politely, as the Gargoyle jumped aside, "I'd love to stop by and chat some time."
"You do that, kid," the Gargoyle shouted after him as he climbed the spiral staircase.
The Headmaster's office seemed oddly empty without Dumbledore present, and Harry paused momentarily upon entering. Various portraits on the walls observed him with boredom—those that weren't asleep, that is. The Headmaster's phoenix regarded him curiously from his perch, tilting his head to the side as if in contemplation. Harry crossed the room to the bird.
"'Lo Fawkes," he murmured softly, petting the phoenix's burning crest. The bird cooed under his touch, letting out a warbling trill that filled the room with music.
"He likes you," commented a voice from the shelf, making Harry jump, jerk around, and pull out his wand, "Now, now, no need to get paranoid, it's only me," the Sorting Hat continued, "Anyway, Fawkes is a friendly bird, but he really likes you. Now take me down and put me on, or were you just planning on standing there gaping at me for the remainder of your visit?"
Swallowing, Harry followed the Hat's orders, then settled into an out-of-the-way armchair in the corner of the room. He felt a light weight rest on his knee (the Hat had slipped down to his chin, so he couldn't see), and a moment later, the phoenix began to rub his head against Harry's hand, encouraging him to continue petting. He felt Sebastian slither down his arm and into his lap, presumably to communicate with the bird.
'Well, well, well, you certainly have been getting into mischief since I last talked to you. Trolls, talking to the castle, a Cerberus named Fluffy (Merlin, that man's naming ability really hasn't improved), hatching dragons, chasing magic stones, detentions in the Forbidden Forest…not to mention the whole Gauntlet ordeal…'
It's not like I deliberately do anything—it just sort of happens to me.
'Yes, I can see that…and I believe that the Troll, the detention, and the Gauntlet all prove what I said about you at the start of the year.'
'Mmhmm…you do too have a saving people complex.'
NO, I don't.
'Oh really? Care to explain your reason for saving Ms. Granger, Mr. Malfoy, and then the entire wizarding world? And besides, you can't argue with me on this. You already admitted to yourself in the Forest that you had one.'
Damn mind-reading hats…
'Now, now, none of that. So, Mr. Potter, what is it that convinced you to finally come and speak with me? Perhaps the death of a certain someone in the Gauntlet?'
Umm…not really. I don't want to talk about it.
'Ahh, but you need to. Professor Snape was completely correct in this instance: it's not your fault.'
But he was being possessed by Voldemort! There had to be some other option than killing him that I could have come up with!
There was a momentary pause, then:
'Harry, you acted with the sole purpose of defending yourself. Voldemort, Quirrell, and your relatives enjoy hurting people—you do not. You are not like them at all.'
Everyone hates me, though.
'Honestly, look into your own mind! Everyone does not hate you! The Headmaster likes you; Hagrid adores you; the castle, your snake, Fawkes—hell, you even managed to make that stone cretin outside like you. And your classmates are ignorant idiots too caught up in their own lives.'
Did you just insult the students?
'Perhaps…don't tell anyone. Point is, it's not your fault, you're not despicable, etc. And yes, I sorted you into the right House, so quit doubting that. I wasn't sure at first, but in Slytherin you flourished, despite the lack of help you received from your housemates.'
'Oh, and one more thing before we go to discussing the Founders and that very interesting book you managed to get out of the library—you've seen death. Now, I'm not sure if this would have happened had you not killed Quirrell (after all, you saw your mother's death), but the so-called 'horseless carriages' of Hogwarts aren't actually 'horseless'. They're pulled by thestrals…which you can only see after witnessing death. Just thought I'd warn you. Try not to be too shocked or anything.'
'Now, on to the Founders…any particular questions?'
Yes, actually. How did the school motto come about?
'Never tickle a sleeping dragon? Ahh, now that's a story and a half. You see, one day Godric Gryffindor decided to go off looking for dragons in the nearby countryside…and it was pure chance that Salazar Slytherin happened to be around and had enough common sense to take off after him in an attempt to halt the oncoming catastrophe. Not that he had much luck—it was inevitable that the beast would wake up just as Godric decided to test the sensitivity of the dragon's tail…'
Upon entering his office several hours later, the Headmaster was astonished to find a first-year Slytherin perched on a chair with the Sorting Hat engulfing his head, Fawkes on his knees, and a black mamba curled up in his lap.
The boy appeared to be snickering lightly, and vague mutters of "You can't be serious," and "All four of them?" and "They wrote the school song when they were drunk?" and "Who used it for blackmail?" could be heard intermittent with laughter.
The potions master, entering the office after Dumbledore, observed the situation and sighed.
"Headmaster," he began in an odd tone of voice, "That child is—" he shook his head, unable to find the correct descriptive word.
"I know," Dumbledore murmured in complete agreement. Really, Harry was indescribable, "I believe it's why Hogwarts likes him so much…they're very similar in that way."
"So he's completely serious about being able to communicate with an apparently entirely sentient castle?"
"Oh, quite. Probably why he's so very good at sneaking around. Still," Albus smiled slightly, watching as the boy's shoulders shook with unquenchable mirth, "After all the trouble he's been through this year, it's nice to hear him laugh."
Harry had almost forgotten that the exam results were still to come—not, of course, that he was worried about them…his mind had just been occupied with other things. He'd done fairly well on them: not perfect (like Granger, he suspected), but decently enough, keeping in consistency with his homework scores. Could he have done a lot better? Possibly, though again, he had been weighted down with other things to think about. His exam results fitted the persona he'd created, and that was all he cared about.
And suddenly, the wardrobes were empty, trunks were packed, pets were found lurking in the oddest places; notes were handed out to all students, warning them not to use magic over the holidays (Damn, thought Harry, There goes my opportunity to hex my relatives).
The morning to leave the castle finally arrived. Students babbled back and forth with unending enthusiasm, loudly exclaiming what they were going to do over the summer, exchanging addresses, and wrecking a great deal of havoc on the castle in general. Harry was not amused at all, and slunk through the dungeons in an effort to avoid the chaos.
An hour or so later, he resumed his assent to the higher reaches (well, ground floor) of the castle—knowing that if he delayed any longer he might miss the carriages back to the train.
A hand clamped down on his shoulder—not letting go despite his flinch—and wheeled him around back the way he'd come.
"Not quite yet, Mr. Potter," his Head-of-House sneered softly from behind him, "There are a few things I still need to…discuss…with you." Harry's breath hitched in slight fear—despite the fact that he knew Professor Snape would probably not hurt him.
What on Earth could he possibly want to talk about now, he wondered in disbelief as he was marched back to the Professor's office, I haven't done anything recently…I though we cleared up the Quirrell issue…
He was shoved harshly inside, the door slamming shut behind the professor. Harry wheeled around, a demand for an explanation on his lips despite his slight fear of the situation, only to freeze in shock.
His Head-of-House had his wand out and pointed unerringly at him.
What the hell…Harry thought desperately, bewildered, uncomprehending.
"Hold still," Professor Snape murmured—almost cruelly—his face completely blank.
~Sebast—!~ Harry began to hiss, his voice frantic.
A barrage of spells slammed into his chest, forcing the breath out of his lungs and causing his to stagger back a pace. Tingles ran up and down his arms, shivers shook his body, magic raced through his veins—though for what purpose, Harry could not fathom.
He found himself unable to move, unable to speak, barely able to breathe—only capable of watching the spells hit him, one after another. By the fact that Sebastian had yet to react, Harry assumed his snake was in a similar situation.
Finally, the endless onslaught of magic halted. Harry recoiled backward, curling in a hunched over position, staring up at his professor.
"Wha—" he choked out, too shocked to think properly.
"Security spells," his Head-of-House responded without missing a beat, already turning away in search of something else, "Contacting spells, a few advanced-time-delayed healing spells, etcetera. Now, I need you to drink this, this, and this." He turned around from his rummaging though a cabinet on the wall with three potion vials in his hands, placing them firmly on the desk before his startled, speechless student.
Harry, for his part, gave his professor a disbelieving look. The potions master sighed.
"Mr. Potter, if I had wanted to kill or permanently incapacitate you, I'd have found a much more subtle technique that could not have been traced back to me. Now drink these."
As this somewhat dubious logic fit perfectly with the image of a Slytherin, Harry decided that the vials probably didn't contain a poison and subsequently downed their contents. Sebastian was still hissing death threats under his breath, but seeing how the snake had yet to act on any of these, Harry figured that it was more an expression of frustration than of actual intent.
Professor Snape sank into the chair behind his desk, observing Harry with dark, piercing eyes. Harry gazed back at him warily. Yes, the spells and potions hadn't killed him (yet), but he had no idea what the man's purpose or reasoning was, and that left him far too much in the dark for his own comfort.
"I suppose you are wondering just what I did to you?" the potions master murmured in a soft, knowing tone which reminded Harry instantly that he could read minds. Damn, can't believe I forgot about that one.
At Harry's hesitant nod, the professor continued, "To be perfectly blunt, Mr. Potter, your home life is less than ideal. No, don't even try to deny it—I've seen enough children pass through this school with similar problems, I know the signs. Be assured that we will discuss it in great depth over the following years and no, there is nothing you can do to get out of it.
"The spells I put on you are a combination of tracking, health-monitoring, and communication charms. Should you desperately need to be removed from your home, you will be capable of sending me a mental message alerting me to the problem. In the instance that you are incapable of such an effort, or should you decide to not take any action, the health monitor will alert me once your physical health has dropped below a certain point. The tracking charm enables me to find you, bypassing all wards as I will be able to apparate to you despite not knowing the location.
"You will take advantage of this system, Mr. Potter," he added in a soft, deadly tone, "Should you find yourself in need of it." There was no room left to question.
They stared at one another for a long moment.
"Why?" Harry asked finally, still trying to understand what his Head-of-House—in his own snarky, irritated way—had done for him. The potions master's mouth twitched slightly, as if he was suppressing a bitter smirk.
"Mr. Potter, you are in my House and are my responsibility. It is therefore up to me to ensure that you do not get yourself killed over the summer simply because you are too proud to speak up for yourself. I've done my part, now it's up to you."
"Sir—" Harry began, struggling to find words to fit the emotions tumbling though his mind (and not all of them were complementary).
"I've given you a valuable resource, Mr. Potter," his Head-of-House cut off his words, rising and ushering him out the door before he had a chance to protest, "I shall be very annoyed if you refrain from using it if it is necessary. Now, I believe the carriages are leaving for the train in a minute's time—you had better hurry if you don't want to miss it. I certainly won't be escorting you to your house should that be the case."
The door closed firmly in Harry's still disbelieving, gaping face.
The sheer nerve of that man! He is so—ughhh!
Harry raced through the corridors, frantically trying to get out of the school before the carriages left; he was oblivious to the soft snicker of wry amusement that followed him out of the potions master's office.
Harry managed to slip into the last carriage just as it began to depart. Upon its arrival at the Hogwarts Express, Harry noted that the Sorting Hat was correct. The carriages were not 'horseless', so to speak, but pulled by large, winged horses, if one could call them that.
The beasts were pitch black, skeletal, with bat-like wings extruding from their shoulders and large, pure white, glittering eyes. They were down right creepy and a bit spooky…and Harry had to believe that he was the only one capable of seeing them, for the other students would not have acted so calmly or casually when passing the horses.
He rather thought he liked them, and resolved to ask Hagrid the following year about their species (and to see if the groundskeeper could perhaps introduce him to some).
The train ride home was very boring as Harry—in the turmoil that the 'meeting' with Professor Snape had left him—had forgotten to pack a book. He eventually settled for putting up a silencing ward on his compartment and spent the entire time conversing with Sebastian (he'd left Hedwig at Hogwarts for the summer as he was sure his relatives would react negatively to her presence and probably try to kill her).
Eventually, the train pulled into the station, and Harry reluctantly canceled his wards and prepared to deal with his relatives. It took a while to get off the platform, mainly for security reasons. 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. Which Harry though would be rather entertaining, but even he could see the logic of this solution.
At last, he stood in an out-of-the-way part of King's Cross Station, luggage safely shrunk and stored in pocket, wand in hand. He brought his wand down in a sweeping arc, summoning the Knight Bus and his ride home.
A half hour (and eleven Sickles) later, he descended from the Bus, calling a soft goodbye and thanks. He watched as the Bus bounced out of sight, dancing all over the street and miraculously not damaging anything (though Harry was sure that this was due to some form of magic and not the driver's capabilities).
With a deep sigh, he turned back to his relatives' house and bid a silent farewell to magic—at least for the summer.
Or maybe not, he thought to himself, as he was greeted at the door by the indignant shrieking of his aunt, After all, I know that wordless, wandless magic exists. What better time to practice it than when I'm unable to use a wand?
Maybe this summer wouldn't be so bad after all.
Notes: Sad, sad day that a story ends. But hey! Now I can start a new one!
Snape's riddle…I did actually solve it out—well, as much as it can be solved without a picture to show us what the sizes of the bottles are. Some of the logical reasoning, though, is from the Harry Potter Lexicon's article The Riddle of the Potions, which does a spectacular job of walking through all the possible outcomes.
On that note, a lot of my information comes from the Harry Potter Lexicon, if I haven't stated otherwise.
The stone gargoyle—I actually didn't intend for him to have a part. But, I just re-read Patricia Wrede's "Enchanted Forest Chronicles" and the stone gargoyle in Hogwarts reminded me of the wooden one in Mendanbar's Study. Hence, a talking gargoyle sharing some similar characteristics with his wooden counterpart.
As you've probably realized by this point—Dumbledore had absolutely no intention of having Harry go after the Stone. Even in the books, Harry mentioned that he though Dumbledore let him figure out the problem and then go after it—so this part of my story isn't canon. In this instance, the Stone was there for protection. My version of Dumbledore is that of an old, somewhat overworked man who is, in fact, quite good at running his school. He didn't want any harm to happen to Harry, and was thus duly horrified at the incident in the Gauntlet. I like stories with manipulative headmasters, but in this case, my Dumbledore wasn't one of them.
As for Snape…he knows that Harry's home life is less than ideal, but he can't prove it (and therefore can't do anything about it…yet). The spells he used on Harry are part of—what I presume to be—a system he's rigged up over the years to help students who couldn't contact him. So yes, he might be an infuriating, snarky git, but he actually cares about his students being in one piece.
And Sebastian...I couldn't have anyone with Harry when he through the Gauntlet, so he got hurt. It was the only excuse I could think of that would prevent Sebastian from going with him. And one final note on the snake: doing a bit more research than I did before, I discovered that black mambas were not, as I previously believe, small. In fact, they're the second largest poisonous snake in the world. Hmm...that little detail has probably caused a few conflicts in previous chapters. I'm not going to go back and change it, so if it really does give you a problem, just believe in magic making things work out all right.
That's all for now folks.
(whole story edited March 2015)