"So, this is where the magic happens, so to speak."

The author looked up and couldn't stop his face from heating up slightly. Lily Potter's beauty was the stuff of legend (at least among fans), but it just didn't compare to seeing it in person. The author wondered how Harry dealt with the no doubt countless testaments of "mate, your mum's smoking hot".

"Um," he said, and Lily chuckled at him. "Yeah. Magic of a sort."

"Well, James and Sirius are at a quidditch game with Harry and his friends, so I've been sent to make sure you post this chapter you've finished," she said, sticking out a hand. "I'm Lily Potter, by the way."

"Yeah," the author said. "I know."

Lily smiled and nodded at the manuscript on the table behind the author. "That's it?" The author nodded. "Mind if I have a peek?"

The author nodded. "Go for it." Lily smiled at him again and moved to plop down in the author's chair, consulting the manuscript.


Chapter Five: The Kind of Stuff People Pay People to Write Songs About

Hermione sighed as she stared unseeingly at the dying fire, which wasn't quite embers yet but lacked any sort of substantial flame. On the sofa next to her, Harry dozed, his head in her lap. On the floor in front of the sofa, Cho was curled up in an assortment of blankets and pillows. On another sofa nearby, Marietta was snoring lightly. Even Mike and Terry had claimed their own armchairs and were wrapped tightly in blankets borrowed from their beds.

Slumber parties in the common room weren't unheard of (and were actually quite common on weekends), but Hermione had never expected to take part in one herself, mostly because they weren't exactly condoned by any sort of rule. But after being chased through the hallways by a troll, it seemed the boys were having difficulty getting to sleep, so they all decided to kip next to the fireplace for at least one night.

Hermione, though, was also having trouble getting to sleep, though not exactly because of the chase.

"Hermione?"

She felt a stirring in her lap and looked down to find Harry's piercing green eyes staring into her own.

"What's wrong?" Hermione whispered. "Nightmare?"

"Not really," Harry said, blinking and turning his gaze to the fireplace. "I heard…that laugh again."

"I see," Hermione had been informed of Harry's recurring dream about a flash of green light a high, cold laugh. She didn't have the nerve to tell Harry her theory about the possible meaning, though. "Well, just go back to sleep, okay? I'm right here."

Harry smiled at her, and Hermione couldn't help but smile back. He had such a sweet innocence about him that many boys his age lacked.

"Hermione?" he asked again, and Hermione made a noise to show she was listening. "Is Hogwarts…safe?"

Hermione was confused by that question. "What do you mean? They say there's no safer place."

"Then how is it that there's a three-headed dog just sitting in the third floor, and we've just escaped from a troll attack with our lives?"

Now Hermione faced a conundrum; this was a question she couldn't quite answer. "I…don't know, Harry."

"I mean, there's not a student in this school that doesn't at least know about alohomora," Harry went on, "so anyone could get into that door."

"And Dumbledore didn't exactly pick the best way from warning us away from it," Hermione agreed. "Any troublemaker would see that warning as a challenge."

"Right," Harry nodded. "And a troll got in here, too."

"Yes, it did," Hermione said. "No matter how it got in, on its own or with help, it still got in here. I can see your point."

"So…is it always like this?" Harry asked, and Hermione shook her head.

"It wasn't last year," she said. "The biggest happening last year was Professor Tifton getting sloshed at breakfast and deciding to give an impromptu dueling lesson. That's how we ended up with Quirrel this year."

Harry laughed, and Hermione giggled along with him. The light moment faded, though and Hermione sighed thoughtfully.

"Well, maybe we can talk to Professor Flitwick," she said. "We'll ask him why there's a great three-headed dog behind a badly locked door and how a troll could've possibly gotten in here. Honestly, now that you bring it up, this place doesn't exactly seem safe, especially since it's supposed to be a school. For now, though, we should get some sleep. It's nearly one in the morning, and Cho wants to practice quidditch with you tomorrow."

Harry grinned. "Nothing can stop me from playing quidditch, even sleep deprivation."

Hermione chuckled and pulled at the enormous afghan draped over the couch, draping it over Harry and managing to wrap herself up as well. "Good night, Harry," she said finally, and Harry grinned wider, rolling onto his side and snuggling into Hermione's lap (eliciting a slight blush from the girl) before dozing. Hermione went back to staring at the fire, letting the dull roar of the flames and the cracking of the logs lull her to sleep as well.

"So, whatever did happen to that troll?" Cho wondered out loud at breakfast the next day, and Padma Patil perked up, turning from her conversation with Su Li.

"You didn't hear?" she asked. "Apparently, Professor Flitwick took it on. Singlehandedly. I asked him what he did, but he just said it's a 'trade secret', whatever that means. But get this. I went to ask Sprout about it, and she went pale, said she didn't want to talk about it."

"Really?"

"McGonagall was the same way, according to Parvati," she went on, referring to her Gryffindor sister.

"Well, he is called one of the best duelists of the age," Hermione said. "He's supposed to be able to hold his own against Dumbledore, even."

"Our head of house is a total badass," Mike said, and Hermione rolled her eyes.

"You put it so eloquently," she deapanned, turning to Harry. "So, do you want to go talk to Flitwick after breakfast?"

"What for?" Cho asked, and the others turned to listen to Hermione.

"To ask him how a troll got in and why there's a massive three-headed dog behind a badly-locked door on the third floor," Harry said, taking a sip of orange juice.

"Makes sense," Terry said after a brief silence. Marietta, though, was looking at something to Cho's left. They all looked and saw Padma staring at Harry with wide eyes.

"Wait, a massive three-headed dog?" she asked. "Are you talking about a cerberus? That's what's behind the door on the third floor?"

"Um…" Harry trailed off as Su Li now joined in.

"Actually, I heard Marcus Belby and Randolph Burrow snuck out one night to find out what was behind the door," she said. "They said that all they had to do was use alohomora, and the door opened right up! They didn't actually see what was in there, but they heard this really loud growling."

"Wicked!" a kid further down the table said. "Morag, wanna go check it out?"

"Now?" another boy across the table said, and the group looked on helplessly as the two students quickly bolted down the remains of their breakfast and hurried out of the Great Hall.

"There's no good way for this to end," Marietta said.

By lunch, word of a cerberus guarding a top-secret trapdoor on the third floor had spread like wildfire among the students, giving way to rumors, theories, and completely wild guesses as to what could be under the door. Students had taken to breaking into two groups, one to distract Filch, the other to sneak in and stare into the "three faces of death", a nickname that was catching on rather quickly. Surprisingly, the professors had no idea that any of this was going on right under their noses.

"Nothing we can do about it, I suppose," Cho said as they made their way to Flitwick's office. "I mean, whoever tells'd probably never live it down. Really, the staff's bringing this on themselves, if you ask me."

"I know," Marietta said. "I mean, keeping something like that in a school full of kids with limited adult supervision and access to magic? They're just asking for disaster."

"I'm just wondering what it's guarding," Harry said. "I mean, if something's important enough to bring a cerberus into the school, it must be a big deal."

"Whatever it is, why put it here of all places?" Hermione asked. "They say Hogwarts is the safest place there is, but that's why it's a school, not a deposit box in a bank or something. A valuable, dangerous item is bound to attract thieves."

"Shouldn't we be bringing all of this up to Flitwick?" Mike pointed out, and Hermione nodded as they reached the diminutive Charms master's office, knocking.

"Come in," Flitwick's squeaky voice said. They opened the door, and the professor looked mildly surprised at such a large group of students visiting at once. "Well, good afternoon. What can do for all of you?"

"Sir," Hermione said, stepping in with the others behind her, "we wanted to ask you about the cerberus on the third floor."

While Hermione made her Charms teacher increasingly uncomfortable with her amount of knowledge, four daredevils were lurking in the now infamous corridor, waiting for the fifth of their number.

Herman Wintringham could think of little that was actually exciting about his life. Yeah, he could play a lute with all the effort it took to breathe, but what did that get him apart from the occasional female admirer (not that that wasn't great)? No, he wanted some danger before his seventh year in Hogwarts was out.

Naturally, word of a cerberus lurking right here in the school was like a message from above.

"You sure about this, Herm?" Orsino asked, nervously turning to scout the corridor once more. "I mean, a damn cerberus isn't something to mess with."

Orsino, a year his junior but a monster on a drum set, was his usual worrisome self.

"I just wanna see it," Herman said. "How often do you get a chance to see a fucking three-headed dog?"

"Too right, but…I mean, three heads just means it can eat three of us at once," Orsino pressed on.

"Would you relax?" Herman asked. "We've got a secret weapon. Heath, you ready?"

Heathcote nodded, tugging what looked like a miniature model of a guitar from his pocket and tapping it with his wand and a muttered, "Engorgio." Seconds later, he was holding a full-size instrument, twisting slightly at the tuning pegs and plucking the occasional string. "Ready and able."

"I still think I shoulda brought me bagpipes," Gideon, a fifth year and frankly a bit of a whiner, lamented for the fifth time that day.

"Gid, I'm not even going to have this conversation again," Herman said, pulling out his own miniaturized lute and repeating the process, taking a moment to make sure the instrument was in playing form, and just in time, as hurried footsteps announced the arrival of their fifth member.

"How we doing, Mert?" Herman asked.

Merton Graves was their youngest member (only a fourth year), but he was a rising cellist, having already played a sold-out concert as part of a string quartet earlier in the summer.

"Filch is four floors up and well occupied," he said. "We're clear to go."

"And you're sure music puts it to sleep?" Herman asked.

"If this cerberus is anything like the ones in Greek mythology, yeah," Merton said. "Me older sister studied this sort of thing in her muggle university. This bloke Orpheus put one to sleep with music, so why can't we do the same?"

"Alright," Herman said, turning to face the door. "Let's do it."

Stepping forward with Heathcote next to him, Herman let Merton slip forward with his wand pointed at the door.

"Alohomora," he hissed, and the door let a resounding click before sliding outward. Before it was even halfway open, Herman was already strumming his lute in a lullaby, Heath keeping a slow and soothing beat with his guitar. There was an unmistakable growl, which trailed off as the pair stepped forward, still absently strumming their instruments.

"Aw, wicked…" Herman sighed as he caught sight of the massive beast slumping to the ground, two sets of eyes already shut, the center fighting to stay open. "Keep it up, Heath, it probably doesn't stay down for long."

"Right," Heath said as the other three walked up behind them, Merton squeezing between the two to get a closer look.

"Whoa, this thing is…massive," he said, nudging one of the paws with his feet. "Its feet are nearly the size of my bed!"

"Found that door," Gideon said from nearby, lifting open the trapdoor in the floor and peering down. "Can't see anything."

"Careful," Orsino said, stepping forward and tugging him away. "Who knows what's down there?"

"I bet it's treasure or something," Merton said, moving over to kneel next to the hole. He pulled out his wand. "Lumos." Poking his hand down in the hole, he braced himself against the opposite side with his free hand. "It's like it goes on forever. I can't see nothing. What d'you suppose is down there?"

"Wanna find out?" Herman said, stepping up to the hole as well. "I mean, we got past this thing, let's see what we win."

"Yeah?" Merton said, grinning up at Herman. "All right, let's do it!" Quite suddenly, he lifted his hand and dived headfirst down the hole. "Get soooooooommmmme!"

"Banzai!" Herman called, diving after him, song forgotten. He tumbled through darkness before landing on something soft, immediately scrambling to get out of the way for whoever dared dive after him. As he moved, he felt something snatch at his ankle, but he managed to wrench his leg free before it got a good grip. "Mert, you okay?"

"Yeah, but this plants got a hold of me," Merton said from Herman's left. "Help me out here!"

Herman grabbed Merton's outstretched hand and tugged, but a few tendrils still managed to take hold. "What is this stuff?"

"Devil's Snare, likely as not," Merton said with a grunt. "I did a report for Herbology. Use fire."

"Right," Herman said, aiming his wand. "You may wanna close your eyes. Incendio!"

A jet of flame shot from his wand and struck the vines, which retracted back onto the pile of plants, and Herman fell back, Merton landing on top of him before rolling off.

"Thanks, mate," he said, standing and helping Herman up.

"Not at all," Herman said, looking up at the now distant trapdoor and shouting. "It's a bunch of Devil's Snare! You can land fine, but get away quick or it'll get ya!"

"Got it!" Orsino shouted back, and the light from above disappeared for a moment as he leaped down the hole, landing with a muffled noise and wriggling away from the plants before they could grab him.

"You didn't say something cool as you jumped," Herman accused him, and Orsino only rolled his eyes, pulling out his wand and muttering, "Lumos."

"I'm coming next!" Gideon shouted.

"Say something cool as you jump!" Herman shouted, and he heard Gideon laugh.

"Fuck yeeeeeaaaaahh!" his shout grew louder as he got closer, finally landing and rolling away from the plants as they snatched at him.

"Nice," Herman said, helping him to his feet and looking back up at the door. "Heath, come on down!"

"On my way!" Heath shouted, and his strumming stopped. There was a growl and two barks, but Heath was down the hole already, falling silently before landing on the Devil's Snare, from which he quickly extricated himself.

"Well, maybe the treasure's further on," Herman said, and Gideon sighed.

"Why do I get the feeling we're about to go through the Temple of Doom?"

"I get the feeling that's some kinda muggle movie reference, so I'll ignore it," Herman said, leading the way down a dark hallway. He pulled out his wand. "Lumos."

The others did the same as they made their way around a corner, a faint noise meeting their ears and growling louder.

"Hear that?" Orsino asked, and the other all made noises of acknowledgement. "Sounds like…fluttering."

"Birds, you think?" Merton asked. They reached a doorway and stepped through into a narrow, high-ceilinged room probably the size of the entrance hall. "Aw, wicked."

Fluttering about the ceiling was a flock of seemingly hundreds of birds, each one a different color. They never seemed to need to roost on anything, their constant motion giving the impression of a churning technicolor sea.

"Those aren't birds," Heath muttered, squinting slightly and shining his wand up at the winged things, which, shockingly, sparkled at the light. "They're…keys."

"Keys to what?" Herman asked, and Merton pointed across the room.

"'Spect to that door," he said, and they moved for the door set in the opposite wall, glancing warily up at the flying keys as though expecting them to set upon the group at any moment. They made it unscathed, though, and Herman tugged at the doorknob, knowing he likely wouldn't get it open, but one always had to try these things.

"Alohomora," he muttered, but the door still didn't budge. "Okay, plan B. Step back, you lot."

They did so, and Herman took a few steps back as well. "Reducto!"

There was a bright orange light and the sound of an impact, but the door still stood unscathed. Sighing, Herman turned to his companions. "I'm tapped out. Any ideas?"

"Catch the key?" Merton asked, craning his neck to stare up at the cloud of keys.

"I was hoping you wouldn't say that," Herman said, following his gaze. "How are we supposed to pick out one key among all those?"

"I think that's the point," Heath said, glancing around. "Well, unless they expect us to jump up there…ah! Brooms. Only three of them, though."

"Well, Heath, you've always been a fair flyer," Herman said. "I'll take another. Gideon, you're pretty good at the freezing charm, right?"

"Flitwick went on for about fifteen minutes when I showed it to him in class," Gideon replied, sounding proud of himself.

"Good," Herman said. "Take the third broom, and let's find the key that looks like the closest match, then hit them all with a freezer, then we'll nab it."

"Solid plan," Gideon said, clambering onto a broom and gripping it with one hand while he took out his wand with the other. The three flew up to the cluster of keys, scanning for the most likely match to the door.

"It's probably silver like the lock," Heath said. "Older fashioned than most of these, too."

"There! Blue wings!" Gideon said, aiming his wand. "Immobulus!"

The cloud of keys froze, and Heath zoomed at the indicated key, snatching it and flying down to the door.

"That was easy," he muttered as he fitted the slowly struggling key into the lock and tugged the door open. The others filed through as he let the key flutter slowly up to rejoin its fellows. "Reckon the treasure's through here?"

"What's if it's something really boring?" Merton asked. "Like a buncha old paintings or books?"

"We'll auction 'em off to the highest bidder or something," Herman said. "It's gotta be valuable to someone."

They entered into an enormous room, and lights sprang up out of nowhere, illuminating what looked at first like a giant graveyard, but a careful glance told Herman that it was –

"A fuckin' huge chessboard…" Gideon breathed next to him, and Herman nodded.

"Bet we have to tell 'em what to do and win the game to move on," he said, pointing to the door on the opposite wall. He turned to the nearest chessman, a rook, and spoke to it, figuring it had to be at least sentient. "Right?"

The rook turned to glance at him, gesturing a stone arm at the assembled students, then pointing at its comrades.

"We've got to fill in for you lot?" Heath said, stepping up behind Herman, and the rook nodded. "Fuck that."

"You what?" Herman said, turning to Heath, who was staring back at him with an eyebrow raised. "C'mon, Heath, it'll be a blast."

"Yeah, until one of us gets taken," Heath said. "I don't know about you, but I've never seen a peaceful resolution in chess, and this is life size."

"Heath, you remember that time you went up against Orsino last Christmas?" Herman said, and Heath nodded. "You were undefeated before then." Heath nodded again. "And Orsino beat you without losing a single piece." Another more reluctant nod. "Between the two of you, I think we could make it work."

"Man, I've never seen such a well-played game," Gideon said an hour later as the exited the hall, the destroyed remains of half the white forces in their wake. "I mean, that…what did you call that one move?"

"En passant," Heath said with a smirk, and Orsino chuckled. "It's never lost me a game."

"I didn't even know it was possible to win without losing a single piece," Merton said. "It…how does that - ?"

"Try not to think about it too much," Orsino said as they reached the next door. As he reached out to grab the handle, he paused, holding up a hand to tell them all to be quiet. "Listen."

Thud…thud…thud…thud…grooooooaaaaannnn….

"What is it, you think?" Herman asked, and they all shook their heads.

"Something big and dangerous, I reckon," Merton said.

"Worse than the dog?" Orsino asked, and Herman felt a thrill shoot through him.

"I bet we could take it," he said. "No, listen," he went on, when they began to protest. "Heath, you and I will hit whatever it is with a conjuctivitus curse – "

"What if it doesn't have eyes?" Heath said, and Herman held up a hand to say he was getting to that.

"Orsino, how's your stunning spell?" he asked, and Orsino shrugged.

"Knocked Gideon out cold for about an hour," he said, and Gideon nodded.

"Too right," he said. "Missed Herbology, at that."

"Alright, you lot hit it with stunners," he said. "If that still doesn't work, everyone cluster together, me and Heath'll hit it with a blasting hex."

"And if that doesn't work?" Heath asked.

"Run like hell back the way we came," Herman said. "It's clearly too big to fit through the door, so it won't be able to come after us."

The group all exchanged glances then shrugged. What the hell?

"On three, right?" Herman asked, and they all nodded, readying their wands. "One…."

"Wait, fire on three, or one-two-three-fire?" Orsino asked, and Herman rolled his eyes.

"One-two-three-fire," he said, and Orsino nodded. "Okay, one…two…three!"

He slammed the door open, and they all caught sight of the largest troll any of them had ever even heard of before twin conjuctivitus curses and three stunners shot at the beast. The conjunctivitus curses hit first, and the massive creature clutched at its face with equally massive hands before the stunners hit as well. It rocked precariously on its feet before plummeting to the ground with a massive ker-THOOOOOM!

"Let's stun it again, just to be on the safe side, eh?" Herman said, and the others nodded, hitting it with five more stunners. "Okay, now let's get out of here."

"I sure hope there's a backdoor once we reach wherever this leads," Orsino said. "I don't fancy fighting that thing again now it's probably pissed off."

"If it is awake when we come back 'round, we'll just bust out the blasting hexes," Herman said as the made their way to the next room.

"So what d'you think's in this one?" Merton asked as they walked. "Treasure?"

"At the rate we've been going, it's probably a chimera or something," Gideon said, and Orsino nodded in silent agreement.

"Aw, where's your spirit of adventure, fellas?" Herman said with a grin. "Think about it; once we do make it to the end of this, we'll be famous! We'll go down in Hogwarts history as the ones who found…whatever it is we're moving toward."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, let's just keep moving forward, eh?" Orsino said, and they stepped into the next room to find what looked like a miniature version of the Great Hall, though without the see-through ceiling and only one large table with seven unique bottles of unidentifiable substance.

"What the hell?" Herman muttered, picking up a bottle at random and examining it before setting it back down. There was a shout from the entrance, and they all turned to see Merton jumping forward as purple flames shot up in the doorway he'd just walked through. Simultaneously, black flames filled the exit on the opposite wall.

"So, we're stuck here," Orsino said, staring curiously at the purple flames. "Unless someone knows some kind of extinguishing spell that works on enchanted purple superfire."

"I'm tapped out," Heath said, smirking at the black flames. "Enchanted purple superfire isn't in the curriculum this year, I suppose."

"Maybe they haven't reached it yet," Merton said, and Herman laughed as he studied the table of potions.

"Hey, all, looka this," he said, picking up a sheaf of parchment. "It's got some kind of riddle on it. Reckon this is the way to get through."

"Well, let's hear it."

"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 among our number hold only nettle 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 tries to hide

You will always find some on nettle 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, all are different size,

Neither dwarf nor 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."

"The fuck's that mean?" Orsino asked, and the rest shook their heads, except for Gideon, who stepped forward and studied the parchment. Herman started to ask if he understood it, but Gideon held a hand up for silence.

"'Kay," he said, pointing at a very small bottle near him. "That's the one to get us ahead." He pointed at another, much larger bottle across the table. "That'll get us back."

"Which ones are the wine?" Orsino asked, and they ignored him.

"So, that's not enough to get us all forward," Herman said, staring calculatingly at the bottle. "Barely enough for one."

"Plenty to get us all back, though," Heath said, picking up the much large bottle of purple-flame retardant. He popped the top, gave it a sniff, and set it back down. "Smells like lime. I hate lime."

"So what do we do?" Merton asked, staring at the black flames. "One of us press on? See what's through there?"

They all looked at Herman, who held up his hands defensively. "What're you lot looking at me for?"

"This whole thing was your idea," Orsino said, plucking up the potion and passing it to him. "Wanna find out what it's all about?"

Herman stared at the potion, turning to look at the black fire that blocked the way to wherever this thing led. They'd come too far to just turn back now; on the other side of those flames waited…something. Whatever it was, it was important, important enough to set all this up. If he got through and reached it, he would surely be remembered for generations to come. Plus, it would be such a "take that" to the teachers that five students managed to blow through all of these security measures. Imagining the looks on the professors' faces was the clincher. He turned to the others, popping the top on the potion.

"You sure this is the one?" he asked Gideon, who nodded.

"Absolutely."

"Only drink half," Herman cautioned him. "Otherwise, you'll be stuck over on that side."

"Right," Herman said. "Cheers." He raised the bottle to them before taking a swig, emptying half of it. It was the coldest thing he'd ever drank in his life, like ice with frostbite. The chill spread to his limbs, and he shuddered involuntarily. "Cold enough, I guess. Wish me luck."

He turned and marched at the black fire, stepping through. The flames should have probably vaporized him, but instead, it was like walking over a large vent that was pumping out mildly warm air. He stepped out of the fire and into a rather large round room whose only feature was a small wooden table in the center. Upon closer inspection, he saw a grubby-looking package on the table, slightly ripped and definitely worse for wear.

"That's it?" he muttered to himself, glancing around the room, waiting for something else to jump out and try to kill him as soon as he stepped forward, but the room looked to be deserted. Maybe the teachers didn't think anyone would make it this far. He took a tentative step toward the table, gripping his wand so tight he was afraid it might snap. Nothing. Emboldened, he took a few more steps forward, ready to start firing stunners at a moment's notice. It was probably two minutes before he reached the package. He was about to reach out and snatch it up, but he could almost imagine Heath batting his hand away.

Idiot, his imagined voice said. It could be booby trapped.

"Right," he said, poking it with his wand. "Specialis revelio."

The package glowed in impossibly bright white, which Herman remembered meant that there were no dangerous enchantments on it, but the sheer blinding light meant it had to be immensely powerful

"Fuck yes," Herman said, picking up the package and unwrapping it. Into his hand fell a blood red stone, and he stared at it in puzzlement, holding it up to the light from the torches on the wall. It glittered strangely, the light seeming to pulsate as it went through the stone, like a heartbeat. Curiously, it was warm to the touch and heavier than its size implied. Herman was no jeweler, but even he could tell that this wasn't just some enchanted ruby; the very stone itself was a magical construct.

He stuffed the stone into his pocket, tossing aside the wrappings, and pulled the remainder of the black-flame retardant out, popping the top the draining the bottle.

"Right," he said, heading back the way he came. "Let's see what the prize is."

"So, Filius, what was it you wanted to discuss with me?" Albus asked, smiling across his desk at his Charms teacher.

"Albus, I believe the security of the Philosopher's Stone has been compromised," Filius said, his face full of worry, and Albus frowned. "Earlier today, six of my students told me that not only had they managed to get into Fluffy's chamber with a single charm, they've heard a disturbing number of accounts that other students are devising ways to get past Fluffy and into the chambers we've set up. Albus, even if they survive Fluffy, the Devil's Snare – "

"They were warned," Albus said.

"And what good has that ever done with children!" Filius asked. "Albus, I've sat idly by for now because I've trusted your judgment, but you've stuck a cerberus behind a badly locked door and done nothing more than told the students to stay away. If the Board of Governors, if the parents find out about this, you know who's going to get blamed."

Albus nodded. "Filius, I promised Nicolas that I would put the finest protection measures on his stone – "

There was a knock at the door, but a voice shouted, "Aw, heroes can just barge in, Heath!"

Albus's office door burst open, and he finally decided that maybe he was slightly mistaken in his methods as a student Albus remembered as Herman Wintringham, a seventh year from Gryffindor, strode in, hoisting the Philosopher's Stone aloft with a huge grin.

"Tell me I get some kind of trophy," he said.


"Not bad," Lily said. "Actually, really good. I can see why you've got so many fans. And why James loves your work so much. You wouldn't know it, but he's a grammar freak."

"Really?" the author asked, surprised. "That so?"

"Yep," Lily said, standing with the manuscript and leading the author to the posting point. "Something I understand you two have in common."

"Very true," the author said, following her and trying not to stare at her butt. "Um, do you know where you're going?"

"I'm sure I'll get there eventually," Lily said with another smile, and the author rolled his eyes.