Joe's Note: Sorry for the delay; I had a bit of a school thing going on and then I also got caught up working on a bit more background information for this story along with helping my sister launch her own project called Love In Wartime. At any rate, there is a present of sorts to make up for the absence. Make sure you have some way of opening up PDF files, and then check out tinyurl dot com slash 3t9g5nt.
"…Harry? Are you even paying attention? The others may be busy obsessing about the upcoming exams but if you're not even going to listen to what I'm saying, I can go talk to Jessica or Cho, or find something else to do other than standing here talking to myself."
Looking from Dumbledore to Su, Harry shook his head. "Just a second, Su." He turned away from his sputtering friend, focusing his attention on where Dumbledore and McGonagall were standing just outside the front doors of Hogwarts, chatting pleasantly. Reaching behind himself, the headmaster produced a broom and mounted it, lifting off gracefully and slowly picking up speed as he crossed the grounds in a southerly direction. South. Where London was. Where the Ministry of Magic was. "My God, I completely forgot. It's tonight."
Su's slim hand came up to tug on Harry's sleeve until he looked down into her curious violet eyes. "What's going on, Harry? What's tonight?"
His instinctive reaction was to reach for a lie, but then Harry remembered who he was talking to. Su was aware of his future knowledge; not only could he tell her the truth about what was coming, but he didn't need an excuse to cover why he knew it. On the other hand, while he'd shared that secret with Su back in January, he hadn't even thought to try his hand at leading the Angels around by their noses, 'uncovering' clue after clue with them so they could 'discover' the secrets of the forbidden third floor corridor for themselves. So while he could tell Su the truth, he had no way of explaining to Hermione - assuming she somehow ended up accompanying them to face Quirrell and Voldemort as she had in his dream - how he knew about the Philosopher's Stone, how he knew the headmaster was on a fool's errand, or how he knew what Quirrell was planning. "Tonight's the big night. With Dumbledore out of the castle, Voldemort will use Quirrell to make an attempt on the Stone."
"Oh. Bugger. Well, at least I've finally gotten the hang of those three spells you told me I'd need for tonight." Su's head slowly turned as she watched the headmaster disappear off into the distance before looking back up at Harry. "Well, seeing as how you're the one who's done this before, I think that means you're in charge. What do we do now?"
That was the question, wasn't it? If they went after the Philosopher's Stone now, they might be able to recover it before Quirrell arrived but they'd either be stuck waiting for hours after that for Voldemort's host to deign to join them or their Defense professor would turn back before reaching them and carry on serving as Voldemort's willing vessel. On the other hand, if they waited too long, Quirrell might actually prove himself competent in this world and secure the Stone. And that didn't even take into account Neville; had Dumbledore dropped all the necessary hints via Hagrid to put the Boy-Who-Lived on a collision course with his real mother's killer tonight?
Finally, Harry arrived at a decision and gestured for Su to follow him as he began heading for the school's large front doors. "Last time, I went to a professor and was told not to worry about it, then sat around the common room for a while before sneaking out to… well, do something about it. Let's skip the first part. I know about when we snuck out last time; if Neville and his merry band of idiots sneak out, we follow them but otherwise we wait until about the same time and then sneak out ourselves, sealing the portrait hole behind us. We go to the third floor corridor, force our way through the protections, kick Voldemort's butt, grab the Stone, and get a few hundred points for Gryffindor from the headmaster."
"Gotcha. Well when you put it like that, it sounds really easy. Maybe we can stop in the kitchens along the way and see if the elves will give us any snacks to eat while you get us through the protections around the Stone?" Harry shot Su an odd look at that, which prompted the Chinese girl to offer a defensive shrug. "What? You got past the Stone's protections as a first year the last time around, and You-Know-Who wasn't that much harder for you, was he? You're much more powerful now, so the whole thing's bound to be even easier for you. The only reason you're even thinking of bringing me with you is because you put too much stock in those stupid dreams of yours."
Harry scoffed as he pulled a tapestry aside and ushered Su through into a hidden passageway, guiding her up a narrow, winding stairwell that allowed them to bypass several flights of temperamental moving staircases in favor of emerging on the sixth floor near the Ancient Runes classroom. "You can mock my dreams all you want, Su, but they haven't been wrong yet. Why shouldn't I believe them?"
Groaning, Su leaned against the banister as they waited for the stairs to realign so they could ascend to the seventh floor. "Assuming you don't mess something up and get us both killed - or worse, expelled - I'm going to have you look up the term 'self-fulfilling prophecy' and write it out fifty times for me… with the definition."
A grunt escaped Harry as he tripped over a step, caught off guard by Su's use of a classic Hermione-ism. While she wasn't nearly as prolific as that American baseball player one of his Second War trainers had enjoyed quoting - and he still didn't quite get how people whose funerals he went to could come to his unless there were inferi involved - she did have the occasional gem and that was one of her best. Then Su's words sunk in and Harry frowned as he considered her assertion. It was the classic 'chicken and egg' paradox, essentially. Was he seeing the future or was he just seeing something that would end up coming true because he thought it was supposed to be the future and so he went out of his way to make it happen? Like Cassie attending Beauxbatons? Were his friends meant to join him tonight or was he dragging them into danger to fulfill the images seen in what might be ordinary - albeit frequently recurring - dreams? "Well, you can stay in the common room if you really want. No reason for you to risk yourself."
"Are you kidding me? Even if Dumbledore destroys it right after we give it back to him, we'll be the only ones in our entire generation to ever see the Philosopher's Stone. Touch it. There's no way I'm passing that up." Pausing in front of the Fat Lady, Su offered up the password before heading through the portrait hole, lowering her voice as they were greeted by the sounds of others in the common room. "Besides, when else am I going to get a chance to unleash the Breath of the Imperial Dragon without my tutors yelling at me the second I get more than a spark?"
Harry rolled his eyes at that. His primary backup was only interested in coming along so she could indulge her inner pyromaniac and the inner niffler she claimed she didn't have. Great. Well, it was still better than having someone like this world's Neville at his back. Speaking thereof… Harry shot a look over at where Neville, Seamus, and Larry were clustered around Anne Weasley, who was serving as podium for the book the trio was reading out of. He nodded in their direction and Su followed behind him obediently as he slowly looped around past them on the way to the area he and his Angels normally occupied. While he couldn't get quite close enough to hear what they were talking about, the familiar red stone that featured prominently on the current page of the book Anne was holding said it all. "They know too. Looks like we're going to have to deal with them, then the protections, then Voldemort. Alright, if I were you? I'd think about heading upstairs to grab a quick nap before dinner. We didn't even head out until everyone was asleep last time, which is when we're leaving this time unless Neville does something to make us leave early. Long night."
It looked for a moment like Su was going to argue with him but then she nodded and turned away, heading for the stairs that led to the girls' dorms. Harry did likewise, only to have something occur to him, making him look back over his shoulder at the staircase Su was ascending. She could deride his dreams all she wanted, but tonight would prove him right once and for all. He hadn't said anything to Hermione yet or invited her along, and if he was up in his dorm taking a nap until just before the time they left, the chance was very small that he'd be able to. So if Hermione did somehow end up coming with them tonight, it would prove that his dreams were genuine oneiromancy and not just dreams that he turned into self-fulfilling prophecies, wouldn't it?
Harry continued to ponder that as he wandered up the stairs to his dorm, opening the door to find Megan stretched out on her stomach on Dean's bed, reading a book as her legs kicked slowly in the air. Dean himself was perched on the edge of Larry's bed with a sketchbook in one hand and a pencil in the other. Harry's chuckle made both of them look up at him and freeze, but he just waved them off. "We're not allowed in the girls' dorms but there's no rule against them being in ours, remember? You might want to be done before the Three Stooges come up here and find you, though. Bad enough that you're both 'mudbloods'; he'd probably make fun of you for drawing by hand with a pencil and not using some kind of fancy wizard invention that does all the work for you and requires absolutely no talent."
"What do you and Su have against him, anyways? I mean, it's pretty obvious that the house is split into thirds in our year: there's him and his friends, me and Megan, and you and your girls." Setting down his sketchbook and pencil, Dean ticked off the members of Harry's group on his fingers. "I know Hermione's beaten him up twice - probably for good reasons - and there was that stupidity in the common room our first night here that had Daphne stunning him. But with you and Su… is it just loyalty to your friends or something else? Because you seemed pretty anti-Neville from the minute we got here."
Wandering over to his bed, Harry sat on the edge as he untied his trainers. "Well, part of it has to do with some issues between our families that go back about a decade. Then I got here and… you've seen him. He's a bully. I don't like bullies. Even if I hadn't made friends with Hermione and Daphne, we never would have been friends. Look on the bright side, though: having me and my friends to fight with keeps him from having time to pick on you two for being muggleborns." Looking down at himself, Harry gave a mental shrug; he was still in his uniform but a few simple charms would get it unwrinkled and looking fresh from the house elves in time for dinner. "But on that note… I'm going to nap until dinner. Try to keep the scratching of pencil on paper to a dull roar?"
Dean let out a chuckle at that as he went back to work and Harry flopped back onto his bed before flicking his wand to close the velvet curtains, adding a few extra charms to keep him from being disturbed if the pair did want to talk. Then, after casting a charm to wake him ten minutes before dinner began, Harry closed his eyes and cleared his mind.
Making it through dinner was much easier the second time around than the first for Harry, mostly because he knew he could and would succeed that evening. After all, he'd done it once already. On the other hand, proving that she probably shouldn't pursue a career as an unspeakable, the normally calm Su had been visibly more keyed up than usual during dinner, to the point that the others had noticed. Harry had blamed it on uncertainty over exam scores and if they hadn't believed it, they hadn't called him on it.
Now, in the ultimate moment of irony, Harry found himself sitting in the very chair where Neville had waited for him, Ron, and Hermione seven years and an alternate dimension ago. Fingering the note-turned-airplane in his lap, Harry watched and waited as the quartet made their final preparations before sneaking out the portrait hole and as soon as the Fat Lady's portrait swung shut behind them, he was on his feet and moving. Throwing the paper airplane in the direction of the girls' dorms, Harry drew his wand and added the charm needed to send it spiraling up the stairs to seek out Su in her dorm. One very long minute later, two voices began to descend the stairs. One was the girl Harry had been expecting. The other was a girl who… Harry had also been expecting, if he was honest with himself. Su didn't look too pleased to have a companion and she was quick to try and explain away the muggleborn's presence. "Fine, she's here. But only because she caught me sneaking out and told me she'd go wake up a prefect if I tried to leave her behind."
"Coincidence or providence, Su?"
"Do you even know what either of those words mean?"
"If I wasn't using them the right way, would you be trying to change the topic?" Grinning as Su stuck out her tongue at him, Harry turned his attention to Hermione and used a quick charm to pull her hair back into a ponytail with a conjured scrunchy before transfiguring her pajamas into a black shirt and trousers. "Come on. It's adventure time."
Hermione managed to keep quiet as they trooped through the portrait hole and snuck down the corridor that led to the Grand Staircase. As they waited for the constantly shifting stairs to realign so they could descend to the third floor, though, her patience ran out. "Alright, time out. Even ignoring the transfiguration, charms, and freaking conjuring that you shouldn't be able to do yet, Harry… I wasn't actually expecting Su to agree when I told her she either had to bring me along or I'd go tell a prefect. Didn't even think she was actually sneaking out to be perfectly honest; she's too much of a goody-goody for that. But it's obviously you two actually are up to something, so I want an explanation and I want it yesterday!"
Then, before Harry could so much as think of how to explain what was going on - which he really should have done earlier, he realized - much less try to sell it to Hermione, a new voice spoke up from behind them. "Three of my firsties, out after curfew? I think I'd like that explanation too…"
Drawing his wand, Harry slowly turned to face the last person he wanted to see. If it had been any other prefect - from his house or one of the others - or even one of the professors, Harry wouldn't have felt the slightest bit of guilt about what he was going to do. Cherise, though… they were friends. Not on the same level as him and his Angels, but friends nonetheless. But if Harry had to choose between Voldemort acquiring the Stone and having to beg for forgiveness later… "Reese? I just want to say three things. First of all, it's not what it looks like. Second of all, I am so, so sorry about this. And third… stupefy!" A jet of red light emerged from the tip of his wand and Cherise instinctively raised a shield to block it. Her shock at it shattering was still on her face as she crumpled to the ground.
"…you just attacked a prefect. Harry, what's going on? Are you trying to see if your parents have enough money and pull to get you out of being expelled or something?" Ignoring Hermione's questions, Harry quickly cast a Disillusionment Charm over each of them followed by a version of the Muffliato Charm that would follow them as they moved. That done, Harry brushed past Hermione as the stairs finally locked into place, eager to catch up with the quartet he could see drawing closer and closer to the third floor landing. He hated the idea of leaving Cherise just lying in the corridor, but knew that the professors would most likely find her in short order. If not, Dumbledore could send McGonagall to revive her after they retrieved the Stone. "Oh look, more magic you shouldn't know. Harry, time to start coughing up answers. Harry? Harry! Answer me!"
Except he couldn't answer. He had nothing to tell her other than the truth and… screw it, he decided. He'd just tell her the truth. She could choose to believe him or not and if she chose not to? He'd give her the entire length of the protective gauntlet to change her tune before deciding to either bring her with him to face Voldemort or send her back to 'go get help'. "You-Know-Who is possessing Quirrell. Dumbledore is hiding the Philosopher's Stone in the third floor corridor we're not supposed to go down. You-Know-Who tricked Dumbledore into leaving the castle tonight so he can go after the Stone. Instead of wasting time trying to convince the professors we might possibly know something they don't, Su and I decided to do something about it ourselves. This is us doing something."
One of the sets of footsteps behind him came to an abrupt halt and then Harry was treated to a low buzzing noise as Hermione dropped far enough back that he and Su ended up outside the bubble of her Muffliato Charm. Looking back over his shoulder, Harry eyed Hermione's wavery, disillusioned form as her mouth moved soundlessly. Then comprehension dawned and she rushed down the stairs towards him, the buzz fading as her bubble once again enveloped them. "Harry! You can't be… are you serious?"
Harry shot a hopeful look over at Su, who rolled her eyes before gesturing for him to proceed. "Of course I'm not Sirius. He's my godfather." Twisting to one side to avoid the inevitable punch, Harry chuckled. "Okay, fine, I am serious. Even if I'm not Sirius. And not only is all that true, Hermione, but Dumbledore spent the year dropping hints for his tarnished Golden Boy to follow, so right now Longbottom and his friends are about to walk into a trap thinking it's just Snape at the end of the line. Which means we have to do two things tonight: save Longbottom from himself and keep You-Know-Who from getting the Stone."
"…right then. I am going to want a proper explanation of all this as soon as we're done, though. How you knew about You-Know-Who and Quirrell and the Stone and Dumbledore and Longbottom and all." Hermione fell silent for the remainder of the trip, only speaking up again as they reached the third floor landing and began making their way towards the forbidden corridor. "So, what's the plan?"
To be honest, Harry had been expecting a bit more in the way of resistance from Hermione… but then he realized it was probably just being delayed until they sat down for that eventual explanation she'd demanded of him. Or maybe she was too curious about what was going on to fight him at the moment. Whatever the reason for her amenability, though, he certainly wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Peering around a corner, he held out one hand until Su ran into it, stalling his friends for the moment. Harry then stepped out of his hiding place, sending a quartet of silent stunners racing down the hall at where Longbottom and his minions were standing in the open doorway of Fluffy's room.
Silence reigned for a few seconds and then Harry abruptly realized how stupid his actions had been when Fluffy snarled and lunged forward, forcing Harry to summon the unconscious students to keep them from becoming a midnight snack for the cerberus. After canceling the charms he'd cast on himself to keep himself unheard and unseen, he did the same for the girls and then gestured for them to follow him as he strode down the hall towards Fluffy and his first confrontation with Voldemort… at least in this dimension. "Part one of the plan was saving Longbottom and the others from themselves. Did that. Now we plow our way through some ridiculously simple protections that I can't believe the professors actually thought would stop a thief, confront You-Know-Who, and save the Stone."
Hermione pondered that for a moment before gesturing to Fluffy. "I hope your plan actually has more steps than that, because I don't fancy having to try and 'plow' through that thing."
He hadn't really thought about it, really; his two trains of thought had been to either stun the massive beast or put it down if necessary. Having to apologize to Hagrid was better than letting Voldemort gain the secret of immortality, after all. Now that he was forced to think about it, though, neither was really an option: chances were Fluffy would fall on the trapdoor and block their passage if stunned and the same was a risk if he killed the cerberus, to say nothing of the hell he'd catch from his companions for his actions. Then it hit him… how big of a threat would Fluffy be if Harry shrunk him back to the size he'd been in the picture Janae showed him, or perhaps even further? "Reducio." The innate magic of the cerberus fought him but in the end, he had more than enough power for the task and Fluffy found himself reduced to roughly the size of one of Marge Dursley's bulldogs. After looking around curiously, Fluffy took off down the corridor barking madly. Harry turned just in time to see Missus Norris yowl and disappear around the corner, Fluffy in hot pursuit. "Right then. If they haven't found Cherise yet, the professors are going to know we're here soon. Down the rabbit hole we go. Su, you're up first."
"Yay. Time to play with fire." Harry rolled his eyes as he lifted the trapdoor for Su; they'd definitely be talking about her emerging pyromaniacal tendencies before he let her anywhere near Potter Manor. Peering down into the blackness, Su drew her wand. "Huǒ!" A burst of brilliant, unnaturally red flames erupted from the tip of her wand, roaring downward and incinerating the Devil's Snare. Letting out a low whistle, Harry found himself comparing Su's ability to Hermione's in his original world. On one hand, Hermione's bluebell flames were an accomplishment because they produced heat and light without needing oxygen or fuel. On the other, Su could create fire capable of incinerating some of Professor Sprout's best Devil's Snare in one blast. "Harry? Please tell me that drop isn't as far as it seems?"
Well if she could use Hermione-isms on him, why not break a Ron-ism just to make the day complete? "Are you a witch or aren't you?" Leaning over the edge, Harry drew a quick swirl in the air with his wand. "Spongify." A burst of purple light shot down into the hole, impacting the pit that had been hidden beneath the Devil's Snare and making the stone glow faintly for a moment as the Cushioning Charm took hold. "Ladies first."
Hermione snorted as she stepped up to the edge. "Yes, ladies first into the strange dark pit of the unknown that Su had to burn something out of before we could enter. You're a real gentleman, Harry." That didn't stop her from being the first one through the trapdoor, though, dropping feet first and landing with a grunt on the now-padded surface below. "Lumos." A ball of light appeared at the end of Hermione's wand and she waved it back and forth, inspecting her surroundings. "Charming."
"Yes, because you're such a posh and refined girl, Hermione. I'm sure whatever's down there must be simply dreadful for your complexion and your hair and…" Su trailed off as Hermione raised her free hand and offered a two-fingered salute. Letting out a snort, Su shook her head in amusement before jumping down the hole herself, landing in a crouch and slowly rising to her feet. "I don't know, Hermione, I kind of like it. Sure it's a dark and a little dank and the bare stone isn't really too homey, but the smell of torched plants really gives it that special something."
Rolling his eyes at the banter, Harry flicked his wand and slammed the door shut behind him, adding a few different security charms to delay any pursuit before casually walking over to the open trapdoor and jumping down to join the girls. Which was a much nicer experience when you didn't have a cerberus trying to bite your head off and then vines trying to strangle you to death, he mused. Landing on his feet, he looked back over his shoulder at the set of stairs leading up to somewhere - which he'd noticed last time too but never explored, assuming it was some way for the staff to circumvent having to deal with the Devil's Snare when they came to check on the Stone - before gesturing for the girls to follow him as he took off down the set of stairs opposite. "So we've gotten past Hagrid and Sprout's protections. That leaves Flitwick, McGonagall, Quirrell, and Snape. And the headmaster's at the end. Flitwick's is easy, he…"
Pushing open the door, Harry led his two companions into a small room that was home to nothing but a simple table with seven bottles of various sizes and shapes standing on it in a line. As soon as Su crossed the threshold, Harry began counting; after two seconds, the expected purple flames sprang up behind them with the black fire blocking the doorway leading onward bursting to life exactly three seconds later. "Hmm. Stuff in bottles. Never would have guessed this was Snape's room."
Before he could explain what to do, though, Hermione stepped forward and grabbed the roll of parchment lying next to the bottles. Opening it, her mouth moved soundlessly as she read it to herself, eyes scanning the parchment from top to bottom twice before looking back up at Harry. "It's a logic puzzle. The perfect defense against most wizards; they haven't got an ounce of logic and would be stuck in here forever."
Harry nodded. "Snape's a half-blood, so he'd both know that and know how to take advantage of it." Leaning against the wall beside the doorway full of purple flames, Harry caught Su's eye before shaking his head. He already had the answer, yes, but letting Hermione figure it out would give her a way to contribute to the mission, much like how he'd let Su handle Sprout's protection. "So, Hermione, which one do we drink?"
"Well give me a minute, won't you?" Hermione read the parchment several more times, walking up and down the line of bottles as she muttered to herself softly. Finally, she grabbed the smallest bottle and lifted it high. "This will get us through the black flames. Except… there's only enough here for one of us, Harry. Maybe two if we take really small sips."
Harry took the bottle and examined it for a moment before passing it to Su. "Bottoms up." The diminutive Chinese girl nodded before knocking back the potion in the tiny bottle. Her skin took on an unnatural, bluish-white cast for a moment before returning to normal, and then Su was diving through the wall of black flames. Turning his attention back to Hermione, he raised his wand. "Do you trust me?"
Scoffing, Hermione gave him a gentle - for her - kick in the shin. "Considering where we are and why we're here, do you really need to ask that?"
…right then. The entire exchange was straight out of the dream he'd had shortly after returning to school, but Harry's plan to get Hermione through the flames - and the battle to come - certainly wasn't. "Adamafors." White mist poured from the end of his wand, enveloping Hermione and seeping into her tanned skin. Peering down at herself curiously for a moment, Hermione raised an eyebrow but Harry knew the spell would take a second to take hold even for someone as powerful as him. After all, he was completely rebuilding one of the most complex things a wizard could ever attempt to work with: an entire human body. Then with the spell's characteristic crack, Hermione's body transformed into a glittering, vaguely whitish substance. Her clothes were still fabric and would burn away as she passed through the flames, but he could always conjure her some replacements when they were done and the transformation didn't leave her anatomically correct enough to let him see anything he shouldn't while she was in this state.
Not that he wanted to with a twelve-year-old girl.
He had, on the other hand, tried with Luna back in the day.
As much fun as fighting in that form could be, Harry really couldn't afford the loss of magic that accompanied it nor did he have someone present to transfigure him. So, after casting a quick Flame-Freezing Charm on himself, Harry waved his hand in front of Hermione's face to get her attention before pointing at the black flames. "Through the flames now, stare at yourself later." Hermione shot him an indignant look and started to raise her hand, only to stop when Harry reached out and grabbed her wrist tightly. "Su can't hold off Quirrell - and You-Know-Who - forever. Staying or coming?"
Yanking her arm out of his grasp, Hermione whirled and charged towards the wall of black flames Su had disappeared through. Wand at the ready, Harry was right behind her, finding Su right where he'd told her to be: kneeling behind a rippling bronze shield that was ably soaking up the abuse that Quirrell was handing out. His arrival caught their professor's attention and the barrage of spells slackened and died as Quirrell stared at them with a mixture of curiosity, uncertainty, and annoyance. "Potter! I wondered who had led these two down here. What are you doing here? Where's the Longbottom boy and his friends?"
"They're a bit busy lying in the corridor upstairs. We stunned them on the way in. Sorry. You'll have to deal with us instead." Or at least the professor would have to deal with him and Su; Harry wasn't sure how useful Hermione would be in the upcoming fight but at least in her current state, she wasn't a liability. And if things got really nasty… well, he knew plenty of ways to dispatch Quirrell in a hurry. Slipping into the sideways combat stance he'd come to prefer, Harry looked to his right. "Head for the mirror, Hermione. We'll cover you! Reducto!" Rolling away from the thick bolt of azure light with agility that would have surprised anyone who'd sat through one of the man's classes, Quirrell attempted to fire off a spell at Hermione's back as she ran, only to snarl and dodge to the side as Harry send a bolt of bright pink light racing towards him. Harry grinned and waggled the smoking tip of his wand reprovingly at the man, glad to have wheedled the secret of that particular spell out of Narcissa over Christmas hols, before following it up with one of his favorites. "Reiffl trydan!"
"Hmmph." Quickly conjuring an iron rod, Quirrell slammed it into the floor in front of him, creating a ground that drew in the electricity and protected him from Harry's attack. "You don't seem surprised to see me, Potter. I was sure people would suspect Severus over me. After all, who would ever suspect p-p-poor st-stuttering P-Professor Quirrell over that vile black bat?" He countered with a series of relatively minor curses, seemingly more intent on testing Su's shield than genuinely causing them harm. "Although, in all honesty, I must say I am surprised to see you. Longbottom… him I could understand rushing down here to challenge me, what with how his parents and Dumbledore have filled his head with stories of his own supposed greatness. You, on the other hand… I've watched you. You may be more powerful than him, but you're smarter as well. You should know that interfering in the affairs of the Dark Lord is folly, Potter. You must have known that you would die at my hand, as would your friends. So why? Why did you come?"
After watching Quirrell casually deal with one of his favorite spells, Harry opted to switch to a mixed bag of stunners and other less powerful combat spells, more to keep the man busy than anything else as he pondered both a response and his next move. "Even if you were the Muggle Studies professor, you're still a pureblood and so I'm betting you wouldn't understand a joke about great power and great responsibility. And Riddle was a teenager back in the 1940s, so he wouldn't get it either. What about… hey Riddle, did Dumbledore ever hit you with that one about making a choice between what is right and what is easy?"
Quirrell reached up towards his turban with his free hand, staring at Harry in shock before going rigid as a low hiss emerged from the back of his head. "You are either very brave or very foolish to use that name, boy. Knowing who your father is, I am inclined to think the latter…" Slowly unwinding his purple turban, Quirrell continued to stare at Harry until the length of fabric dropped to the floor to reveal his bald head. Then, in a major deviation from his old universe, there was a sickening crack as Quirrell's head abruptly turned a hundred and eighty degrees to reveal Voldemort's smirking visage. "Hello, Harry Potter."
…bugger. That definitely hadn't happened the last time. Sure, Voldemort had been giving the orders but he'd still only had to face what basically amounted to a slightly supercharged Quirrell's magical prowess. This… this was something else entirely. Not that Harry feared this fragment of Voldemort's soul playing parasite in another man's body, of course, but it did promise to make things a good deal more difficult for him. "Hello, Voldemort. I'd say 'fancy seeing you here' or something just as witty, except I actually was expecting you and so… why bother?"
"You know my true name, something not many can say. How?" Harry pantomimed zipping his lips and Voldemort snarled, raising Quirrell's wand. "So be it. Perhaps a bit of pain shall loosen your tongue. Crucio!" Rolling his eyes at the man's predictability, Harry slid one step to his right and let the spell race past him as it pierced the barrier Su had erected, the spell losing a bit of its speed and power as it hit the shield and caused a series of outward ripples but piercing it nonetheless as it passed between him and Su. Really, didn't Voldemort know… oh, right, this was the first time this Voldemort had met him apart from Halloween of 1991. He didn't know how Harry fought. And didn't seem inclined to learn, either. "Crucio! Crucio! Stand still, you irritating little boy! Crucio!"
As he continued twisting from side to side to evade Voldemort's spells, Harry found himself reevaluating his plans. This… Quirrellmort… hybrid seemed weaker than the post-resurrection Voldemort he'd become accustomed to dealing with, but was definitely faster. And even a weaker Voldemort was still stronger than any Quirrell. This called for a change of plans. Thrusting his wand out, Harry jerked it upward and pulled the stone floor up into a barrier that would protect him and Su from a spell or three. "Su, collapse your shield and start gathering power for You-Know-What." Looking back over his shoulder at the Mirror of Erised, he whistled to get their companion's attention. "Change of plans, Hermione! Forget the Stone for now; we'll retrieve it after we take care of Voldemort!"
Hermione looked from the mirror to him and back a few times uncertainly before nodding and rushing over to join them behind the transfigured barrier, arriving as Su waved her wand in a wide arc and collapsed her shield. There was a rushing noise accompanied by a burst of bright green light, and both girls flinched as the Killing Curse impacted, sending shards of stone flying away in every direction. Scowling, Hermione turned and punched Harry on the left shoulder. "This is not what I signed on for! You told me all I had to do was follow you through some stupid traps and then stare into a mirror for a bit! Not fight You-Know-Bloody-Who!"
"Yeah, well, I wasn't expecting him to turn Quirrell's head the hell around and start throwing Unforgivables!" And oww. Girl's punch was even nastier when she was made of diamond. Although that did give him an idea. After hastily adding an extra layer of protection to his crumbling barrier, Harry peered around the corner and fired off a random assortment of slightly stronger spells that - while not truly dark arts - would cause enough pain if they connected to stagger Voldemort and open a wider firing window for Harry. Alas, it wasn't to be. "Listen, you can sit this out if you want but then Su and I are probably leaving here in body bags. Assuming there's anything left by the time Dumbledore gets here. You're made of diamond; it's hard to control, torture, or kill a girl who's not alive at the moment. Which means that even if I didn't need Su for the next part of my plan, you make the best decoy. So what's it gonna be?"
Without warning, Harry found himself stuck between a rock and a hard girl as Hermione pressed herself against his back, peering out around the edge of the stone barrier to assess the situation. "Fine. But I'm moving in this summer so I can fly whenever I want, so Tara better clear out part of her room and get a bunk bed. And there will be no more mocking me for staring at your mum's arse. Or hugging her too long. Or other stupid things I may happen to do but most certainly are not signs I have a crush on her." She pulled back, allowing Harry to take a deep and very much needed breath, before eyeing him curiously. "So, got any ideas or should I just stand there and let him curse me a few times?"
Harry momentarily debated trying to argue her terms but seeing as how they were under attack by Voldemort at the moment and hiding behind a crumbling wall… "Su and I need twenty seconds. Thirty tops. Pretend he's Longbottom or Carrow and punch him a few times, tell jokes, run in circles around him to confuse him… I don't really care. But get out there, annoy him for thirty seconds, and then get the hell out of the way. Sound doable?"
"Sounds stupid, but since I've been following your crazy plans all damn night… what the hell?" Looking away, Hermione reached out to tap Su on the shoulder, waiting for the younger girl to turn and face her before leaning in to plant a quick kiss on Su's lips. Su remained motionless in shock for a moment before reaching up to wipe at her lips with the back of her free hand. She opened her mouth to demand an explanation only to be cut off by Hermione. "For luck."
"I don't need luck, I have skill."
"Who said it was for you?" Leaving Su to ponder that, Hermione dove out from behind the stone wall and ran towards Voldemort with a fierce war cry. Morbidly curious, Harry let the already damaged wall crumble into rubble so he could watch as he and Su prepared to put the next stage of their plan into action. A burst of brilliant green light erupted from Voldemort's wand and Harry sucked in a breath; he hadn't technically told a lie in that one couldn't kill what was already dead… but he'd never had a chance to test the diamond transfiguration as a defense against that particular curse in the past. Fortunately for Harry, the Killing Curse hit Hermione head on and then splintered, tiny bolts of green flying off in every which direction as it passed through her body. Then Hermione was on him, driving one fist into Voldemort's stomach and spinning as he fell past, setting up a double axe-handle punch that she delivered to his back to send him sprawling to the floor. "Hah! And my mother said that all those Saturdays spent watching Star Trekwith my father were a waste of time!" Voldemort's response didn't come in the form of words: he merely grabbed her by one ankle as he surged to his feet before pivoting and hurling her into the nearest wall. Hermione impacted with a horrific crash but came bounding back out, fists flying like a barroom brawler.
As fascinating as the spectacle was, Harry knew he and Su were essentially sitting in the open and Hermione couldn't distract Voldemort forever. Turning to Su, he raised his wand. "Alright, I know we didn't practice the whole thing but you have your half down, right?" She nodded. "Okay. So just form the symbols and when you go to activate the spell, try not to freak when a second wand shows up."
Nodding, Su brought her wand up to rest against her chest and closed her eyes for a moment. Then the tip began to glow a brilliant red and her eyes shot back open as she began whipping it back and forth in front of herself in a series of tight, controlled motions, drawing a pair of glowing orangish-red hànzì in midair in front of them. Finishing her work, Su used a flick of her wand to rotate it to face Quirrell before stabbing her wand into the center of her creation. "Huǒ gōng!"
Harry ignored Hermione's outburst as the hànzì collapsed inward on itself, turning into a tiny, flickering ball of flame that seemed innocent enough until it burst into a torrent of fire with a roaring, billowing noise. Unlike the previous times he'd cast the spell, he could feel the cursed fire clawing and struggling against his mind like an Imperius victim fighting his control, but the sensation was muted and the spell's draw against his power reserves was far reduced. That had been the core of the plan he and Su had come up with: use her own affinity for fire magic to fuel a blaze that he would warp into fiendfyre and control.
Judging by the fierce Chinese Fireball racing towards a suddenly nervous-looking Voldemort… they'd succeeded rather handily on that front.
"Why the frown, Riddle? I could have sworn Dumbledore told you… death is the next great adventure!" After swirling the serpentine dragon around Voldemort's borrowed body so closely that Quirrell's purple robes began to smolder, Harry led the head high up into the air with his wand before reaching the top of the chamber and slashing his wand down. Releasing a bone-shaking roar, the dragon shot down and enveloped Voldemort whole, incinerating him. A few seconds later, when no fragment of Voldemort's soul emerged, Harry nodded in satisfaction before reaching out with his mind and magic and shattering the spell he'd cast, the Chinese Fireball losing definition and collapsing into raging fire before Su too cut her end. "One down, sixty-three to go."
The room was deathly silent for moment and then Hermione rose from the corner she'd hidden herself away in during the last exchange of the battle, one side of her face and body slightly blackened and smoother than the rest of her diamond form. Putting her hands on her hips, she glared at the pair of them, foot tapping rapidly. "Okay, I think now is a perfectly good time to ask… what the fuck was that?"
Someone clearing their throat behind him had Harry whirling around to point his wand at a very familiar figure in purple robes as he melted out of the shadows. Dumbledore merely raised one eyebrow, looking from Harry to the scorched stone and back. "I dare say that is a question I would like answered myself, Mister Potter."
You have reached the end of "Harry Potter and the Second Life" – so far. This story is incomplete and the last chapter was posted on 25 Apr 11.
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