The chamber was oval, as Harry remembered, with stone pillars at the perimeter. In the center depression was the Mirror of Erised, along with Quirrell.
"Well, well, Harry Potter," Quirrell turned to face him.
"Piss off, you bloody wanker," Harry growled. "I've always wanted to say that to you."
Surprise flitted across Quirrell's face. "No exclamations, Potter? No surprise? No denial? You seem almost composed, as if –," his eyes narrowed. "You were expecting me."
"I know all about you," Harry snapped. "I know you tried to jinx my broom, I know you let the troll in at Halloween. I know it was you in the Forest and I know about the monster you've got in the back of your head."
Quirrell staggered back a step. "You – impossible!"
"Go to hell!"
Quirrell suddenly shuddered, putting his head in his hands. "No – no, Master – please –"
Movement in the mirror caught Harry's eye. He saw himself, one hand in his pocket, giving himself a distinct nod. Harry touched his pants, feeling the weight of the Stone resting against his thigh. Right, then. That takes care of that part.
"The boy, Quirrell. The boy!"
Harry shivered. He'd know that voice anywhere. He shuffled back, wand held tight in his hand as Quirrell straightened, hands coming away from his face. The man turned, turban coming undone. Where there should have been the back of Quirrell's head, there was a face that still haunted Harry's dreams.
"Harry Potter," Voldemort hissed.
"Voldemort," Harry bit out.
"You know who I am?" The face attempted a smile. A shudder ran down Harry's back. "Do you see what I have become? Mere shadow and vapor, all because of a silly little baby. Because of…you."
"You lost because you were a fool," Harry snarled. "You're a fool and a coward, and I won't let you hurt anyone, ever again!"
"I, a fool? No, Potter. You are the fool. Now give me that Stone in your pocket!"
"Ah, bravery, how touching. I always value bravery. Yes, boy, your parents were brave, just like you. I killed your father first. He put up such a courageous fight. Your mother needn't have died, you know. She tried to protect you. All she had to do, to live, was let me finish what needed be done. Both of them could have lived, if not for you."
"You're a liar," Harry was so angry he shook. "You're a liar, a thief and a crackpot to boot!"
"GIVE ME THE STONE!"
Harry dodged as Quirrell lunged towards him. The Defense Against Dark Arts professor snarled out a spell Harry didn't recognize – ropes sprang out of thin air and wrapped tight around Harry's body. He cursed, snapping out a cutting curse, but he wasn't quite fast enough. Quirrell's hand closed on Harry's wrist. A needle-sharp pain seared across his scar, stealing his breath. The agony lasted just moments, then Quirrell's hold was gone.
Harry looked up to see Quirrell hunched over in pain, his hand blistering before Harry's eyes. That's right, Harry gulped down a breath. Mum's gift!
"GET THE BOY! NOW QUIRRELL, NOW!"
Harry seized his chance. He darted to the man and pushed him over. Quirrell cried out, one hand flailing, striking Harry across his face so hard black spots bloomed in front of his eyes.
No time, Harry, he struggled to stay conscious. He and Quirrell grappled on the floor. Quirrell's hands locked around Harry's throat for a moment, before Quirrell screamed and jerked away again, hands shiny and the skin starting to peel away.
Thank you, Mum, Harry's throat pulsed in time to his heart. Harry could hear Voldemort's muffled shouts as if from a long distance. The pain from his scar was almost blinding, but Harry knew what he had to do. He lunged at Quirrell, whose kick caught Harry in the side, hard enough that all breath rushed from his lungs and he heard a distinct crack. Blood dripped from his split lip where Quirrell's lucky backhand had caught him.
Harry struggled to his knees, only to have Quirrell land on top of him, hands around Harry's neck once again. Harry struck out, blind, even as Quirrell sobbed and shrieked with pain, his hands never leaving Harry's neck. Harry caught the man's face and held on, fingers digging in as the man jerked and writhed above him. Quirrell screamed and tried to wrench away from him.
The pain in Harry's head was blinding. He couldn't see – all he could hear was Quirrell's terrible shrieks and Voldmort's demands of "KILL HIM!" and other voices, maybe in Harry's own head, calling his name in the tones of his children and – and –
Quirrell's weight was wrenched off of him, but Harry was already lost, falling into blackness, down…down…down…
Something gold was glinting just above him. It looked like the Snitch mobile Harry had gotten James' crib, but that was in the house, the one that had been destroyed and James – his children – Voldemort –
Harry jerked awake with a gasp and glanced around. He wasn't home, it hadn't been a dream – it was – he was – there was somebody by the bed – and –
"Good afternoon, Harry," said Dumbledore.
Harry put a hand over his eyes, avoiding that knowing gaze. What did he see? Did he see anything at all? Oh, Merlin…
"Headmaster," Harry croaked out. "The – there was – the Stone and –," he fumbled for something his eleven-year-old self would say and came up blank.
"Calm yourself, my dear boy," Dumbledore said, voice gentle. "Quirrell does not have the Stone."
It worked? Harry let his hand drop. "It's safe?"
"Harry, please relax. Madam Pomfrey –"
"Does Voldemort have the Stone?" Harry raised his head to meet the man's eyes, confident in his own mental shields once again. I can do this. Come on, Harry. He caught the surprise and sorrow in the old man's face.
"You know," was all Dumbledore said.
"That Voldemort isn't dead? Yes," Harry took a breath. "That he's going to try and kill me – going to keep on trying to kill me until he succeeds? Yes. I know. I know how he killed my parents. I know everything." He hadn't meant for that to come out quite that fierce.
"Ah, Harry. My dear boy," Dumbledore sighed.
Harry shook his head and looked away. "Is it destroyed?"
"Is what destroyed?"
"The Stone. I had it in my pocket, but Voldemort knew where it was. He didn't get it, did he? Did you destroy it before he could use it?"
"Yes," Dumbledore said.
"Professor Quirrell did not manage to find the Stone, but, instead, it seems he decided to go after you," Dumbledore sounded perturbed. "No sooner had I reached London than it became clear to me that the place I should be at was the one I had just left. I arrived just in time to pull Quirrell off of you –"
"So that was you."
"I feared I might be too late."
Harry nodded, eyes on his clenched hands. "You almost were." He caught the Headmaster's slight flinch.
"Your struggles with the man nearly killed you. For one terrible moment there, I was afraid it had."
"But the Stone was kept safe?"
Harry tensed. "What about Neville? And Hermione and Draco and –"
A small smile bloomed on the old wizard's face. "Your friends are fine. Young Mr. Longbottom had a concussion, but Madam Pomfrey was able to heal him right up."
"How long have I been asleep?"
Harry glanced at the side table, which was piled high with what looked like half a candy shop.
"Tokens from your friends and admirers," Dumbledore gestured. Harry made a face, which made the old man chuckle. "What happened down in the dungeons between you and Professor Quirrell is a complete secret, so, naturally, the whole school knows. I believe your friends, Misters Fred and George Weasley, were responsible for trying to send you a toilet seat. No doubt they thought it would amuse you. Madam Pomfrey, however, felt it might not be very hygienic and confiscated it."
Harry hid a faint smile and ducked his head. He took in a breath, "So," he let it out. "What happens now? What about Quirrell? Is he – is he…?"
"Voldemort left Quirrell to die," Dumbledore looked away. "I am sorry, my boy. Voldemort has as little mercy for his followers as he has for his enemies."
Harry nodded and winced, feeling the ache in his head start to throb. "So he's dead. I killed him."
"Ah, my boy. You…"
"It was inevitable, is that you're going to say?"
"It pains me to see you so cynical, my boy."
Harry stifled a snort. "It's the way the world works, isn't it?"
"What about," Harry raised his hands and held them out, derailing the old wizard's speech.
"Your mother died to save you, as you know," Dumbledore gazed at him with a deep frown for a long moment. "If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn't realize that love as powerful as your mother's for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign…to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved you is gone, will give us some protection forever."
If only that worked on spells as well, Harry rubbed at his eyes as Dumbledore looked away. Maybe then my children could have – they could have…His breath caught as his heart clenched. He pushed the memories aside, gently, saving his sorrow for another time and place, when he could be alone.
"So," Harry said, voice rough. "Everyone is safe?"
Dumbledore turned back to him. "Yes, Harry."
"And the Stone's been destroyed, so Voldemort can't get it."
"Is – Is your friend Nicolas…"
"Ah, you did do the task properly, didn't you?"
For a breathless moment, Harry wanted to hate the old man. Then he pushed it away. "Sir?"
"My dear friend Nicolas and his wife Perencelle have enough elixir stored away to set their affairs in order."
"I see," Harry looked away.
"Do not mourn, Harry," Dumbledore sighed. "For them, it shall be like going to bed after a very, very long day. After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure."
Harry nodded. "All right. All...right."
"Anymore questions, Harry?"
Harry glanced up at the sudden hesitation in the Headmaster's tone. What else can I ask that won't draw suspicion? "No," he said after a moment. "I don't think I have any more questions to ask," that you will answer, he finished in his head.
Sorrow, again, seemed to pass over the old man's face. "Then I shall leave you to rest, my dear boy. You should start on your sweets. Ah!" Dumbledore turned to the table. "Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans!"
Harry had to smile at Dumbledore's antics. He thought he saw someone move at the doorway, but when he looked up, the space was empty.
It took some pleading, but Madam Pomfrey allowed Harry's friends to visit, "Just five minutes," she warned.
"Harry!" He heard Hermione call as she darted to the bed. Trailing behind her was Neville, Nott and Draco.
"Oh, Harry, we were sure you were going to – Dumbledore was so worried –"
Harry smiled and then winced as it pulled at the cut on his lip. Why Pomfrey hadn't healed it, Harry didn't know, or why the aches and bruises still lingered on his body. Maybe it's a magical thing. He shrugged the thought away.
"Neville," Harry reached out to touch the boy's arm. "All right?"
"I'm a sight better than you," Neville said, eyes huge.
"The whole school's talking about it," Draco elbowed his way forward and sat on the edge of Harry's bed. "What really happened?"
Harry paused for a moment and then told them a slightly edited version of events; Quirrell's attack, Voldemort's orders and their struggle on the ground. Draco had a hand around Hermione's arm as Harry finished his tale.
"So that's it? The Stone's gone?" Neville demanded. "Flamel's just going to die?"
"Yes. Dumbledore said that to a 'well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure'." Harry wrinkled his nose.
"I always knew he was off his rocker," Nott mused.
"So what happened with you?" Harry looked between them. "After I left?"
"Well, we got back all right," Nott butted in before Hermione could open her mouth. "Draco had gotten Neville to come around. We dashed back to the brooms and used those to get out. We found Professor Snape and Dumbledore in the entrance hall."
"Professor Snape?" Harry went still.
"Yes," Hermione said. "I know. I was wrong. I can't believe it!"
Harry huffed out a laugh.
"Anyway," Nott fussed at them. "We barely got a word out when Dumbledore said, 'Harry's gone after him, hasn't he?' And hurtled off to the third floor. I thought Professor Snape was going to snap."
"He ran after the Headmaster," Hermione cut in. "He was trying to protect you, it turns out."
"I told you," Draco sniffed.
"Oh, stuff it."
Harry watched the interactions between his friends with a smile. Something seemed to have…eased between them, some invisible line had finally been crossed. Madam Pomfrey bustled out moments later to herd them away. Harry waved to them all, but one thought stayed lodged in the back of his mind. Was Professor Snape there to rescue me, too?
After a good night's sleep, Harry felt back to normal. "Please, Madam Pomfrey?" Harry pleaded with the woman as she finished up the last of her spells to mend the bruises and cuts on Harry's face. Finally. "I would like to go to the end-of-year feast, please?"
"Professor Dumbledore says you are allowed to go," she said as she fussed over his blankets. "And you are to eat an entire plate of food, young man. You are far too thin."
"You also have another visitor."
Harry looked up to see Hagrid shuffle into the infirmary. Madam Pomfrey left them alone as the gamekeeper babbled apologies at Harry. Harry hastened to calm the man down.
"It's all right," he told the man yet again. "Here, have some candy. Please."
Hagrid wiped his nose with the back of his hand and said, "That reminds me. I've got yeh a present."
"You did?" Desperate hope leapt into his throat.
"Young Draco helped me, along with Dumbledore," Hagrid handed over a familiar leather-bound book.
"Draco helped you and Dumbledore?" Harry cradled it to his chest.
"We all sent off owls ter all yer parents' old school friends. Draco's mum had some photos, too. D'yeh like it?"
Harry bent over the book, heart full to bursting. "Yes, Hagrid. I do. Thank you so very, very much." A different path to the same place. Oh, thank Merlin. I got the photos back.
Harry made his way down to the end-of-year feast alone that night. He had been held up by Madam Pomfrey's fussing. The Great Hall was already full. Unlike the last time, however, no House color decorated the walls. Students' voices were abuzz about the lack of ornaments, since everyone knew Ravenclaw had won, just over Slytherin, because Ravenclaw had demolished Gryffindor in their last Quidditch match of the season.
When Harry walked in, there was a sudden hush and then everyone started talking at once. He slipped into a seat between Neville and Hermione at the Gryffindor table and tried to ignore the fact that people were standing up to look at him. Harry caught sight of Draco and Nott sitting at the far end of the Slytherin table – but Blaise Zabini had moved to join them, as well as a few second year Slytherins Harry didn't recognize. He gave Draco a brilliant smile and a wave. The blond grinned back at Harry. Nott just rolled his eyes.
Harry glanced at the high table to see Snape's irritated glower and Professor Flitwick's confused expression. Dumbledore arrived before the confusion could go on much longer. The babble died away as Dumbledore took his place at the high table.
"Another year gone!" Dumbledore beamed at them. "And I must trouble you with an old man's wheezing waffle before we sink our teeth into this delicious feast. What a year it has been! Hopefully your heads are all a little fuller than they were. You have the whole summer ahead to get them nice and empty before next year starts."
There was scattered laughter.
"Now, as I understand it, the House Cup here needs awarding, and the points stand thus; in fourth place, Hufflepuff, with three hundred and fifty-two; in third, Gryffindor, with three hundred and ninety; Slytherin has four hundred and twenty-six and Ravenclaw, four hundred and seventy-two."
A mass of cheering went up.
"Yes, yes, well done, students," said Dumbledore. "However, recent events must be taken into account."
The room went still. Harry met Dumbledore's eyes. Don't let Gryffindor win alone, Harry wanted to shout at the man. It wouldn't be fair.
"Ahem," Dumbledore adjusted his glasses. "I have a few last minute points to award, you see, which is why no banners have been arrayed."
Noise burst out in the hall. Professor Flitwick looked livid.
"First," Dumbledore raised his hands for silence. "To Neville Longbottom, for exceptional knowledge of Herbology in a crisis: twenty points!"
Gryffindor cheers erupted around them. Neville's face went scarlet.
"Second, to Draco Malfoy, for the best played game of chess Hogwarts has seen in many years, I award Slytherin twenty points."
Harry watched as Draco froze as still as stone as his house began to cheer.
"Third, to Miss Hermione Granger and Theodore Nott, for the use of cool logic in the face of fire, I award Slytherin and Gryffindor both twenty points."
Hermione buried her face in her arms; Harry strongly suspected she had burst into tears. Nott had wide eyes as Draco clapped him on the back and the school cheered.
"Fourth, to Mr. Harry Potter," said Dumbledore. The room hushed. "For outstanding courage and maturity, I award Gryffindor house fifty points." The Gryffindor table burst into cheers.
Dumbledore nodded, and motioned for silence. "One last, and final award, goes to both Gryffindor and Slytherin house as a whole. For learning how to work together, seeing past enmity and house history, sixty points for each house!"
The din was deafening. Dumbledore beamed at the students, eyes twinkling. "As I am sure you can tell, we now have a record first for Hogwarts history: a tie! Which means," Dumbledore called out over the storm of applause. "We need a change of decoration!" He clapped his hands. In an instant there was a mix of both Slytherin and Gryffindor hangings in the Hall. Both the Slytherin serpent and the Gryffindor lion went up against the wall behind the high table.
Harry didn't dare look at Snape. Or McGonagall. Instead he threw his arms around Neville and laughed as Hermione started to babble out Hogwarts historical facts. He caught Draco's eye in the din and grinned – the Slytherin rolled his eyes, but grinned back. It was one of the best evenings in Harry's new life.
Harry had almost forgotten that the exam results were still to come, but come they did. To no one's surprise, Hermione had the best grades of the first years. Theodore Nott was right behind her. He swore he'd pass her next year when they all met up at the lake to go over their scores.
Harry and Draco had passed well, with Draco in fifth place over all, Harry in seventh. Harry had held back at the exams on purpose, so he didn't mind his score. Neville was floored to come away with good marks – even passing Potions, which he had thought he had failed. Fred and George were ecstatic for them, and even Ron was acting halfway decent towards Harry for the last few days of term.
Then it was as if time began to speed. Term came to an end with a raucous house party full of sweets and cake. Then their wardrobes had to be emptied, their trunks were packed, Neville's toad was found lurking in the corner of the toilets; notes were handed out to all students, warning them not to use magic over the holidays, all of it the rush of end of term that Harry remembered.
Hagrid came to take them down to the fleet of boats that sailed across the lake – Harry wasn't sure who was more surprised when Draco gave the man an impulsive hug and darted away. They boarded the Hogwarts Express; Harry, Hermione, Neville, Draco and Theo, as he asked to be called with an annoyed huff, all piled into one car as they rode back to King's Cross Station.
It took a while to pile out of the train and into the station. Harry spotted wizarding families waiting for their children on the platform – he and Hermione, he knew, would have to go across the barrier to meet up with theirs.
Draco pulled them aside before he left. "I'd introduce you to my mum, but my father's here," the Slytherin said in a rush. "He's – he's – he's not a bad man. He's – it's just…"
"He's your dad," Harry shrugged. "I get it." Draco seemed to sag in relief at Harry's words.
"Owl us," Hermione said, surprising Harry – and Draco by the look of it. "What, he can't forbid you, can he?"
A slow smile spread across Draco's face. "I – I will," he said.
"So will I," Theo came up and nudged Draco. "Harry, Hermione, Neville," the Slytherin gave them a strange, formal nod. "See you next year!" Then he pulled Draco away. Harry saw them approach an aristocratic group, then the crowd surged and he lost sight of them in the rush.
"Do you – would you like to come visit this summer?" Neville asked as families started to depart. "Both of you?"
"Oh, really?" Hermione lit up.
"I'd love to," Harry said.
"Ah, Mr. Potter," Mrs. Longbottom's voice called. They turned to see Neville's Gran approach, her stuffed hat making people move out of her way. "And you must be Ms. Granger," Mrs. Longbottom said. "A pleasure to meet you."
"Can they come visit, Gran?" Neville asked. "Please?"
Mrs. Longbottom smiled, a small dimple appearing at the corner of her mouth. "We would be delighted to have you," she said. "Come along, Neville. The floo lines are horrendous."
"I'll owl you!" Neville called as his Gran led them away.
"Hasn't it been amazing?" Hermione gushed as they waited in line to pass through the barrier.
"It's been one wild ride."
"Harry! Hermione!" Fred and George appeared behind them. "Where have the others gotten to?"
"They left already," Harry smiled at the twins.
"Bother," said George.
"We were going to have you all over," finished Fred. "Can you just imagine Ron's face?"
Harry had to laugh. "You can invite me any time," he said. "The less I spend –," he broke off and shrugged. He ignored Hermione's look. Then it was their turn to pass through the barrier, Fred and George hot on their heels.
"There he is! Mom, look! There he is!"
Harry froze at the familiar voice. He turned to see the Weasley family gathered on the platform, waiting for Ron and the twins.
Ginny, Harry felt his heart lurch. Oh, Ginny.
"Come on," the twins herded Harry and Hermione to the group of red heads. Ron's habitual scowl seemed to be softer than usual. "Mum, Dad, this is Harry and Hermione," Fred and George said together.
"It's very nice to meet you," Mrs. Weasley smiled down at them.
"Thank you for the fudge and sweater," Harry smiled back at her, unable to look at Ginny.
"Oh, my parents must be lost again," Hermione was saying when they were interrupted.
"Ready, are you?"
Harry turned to see Uncle Vernon, purple-faced and furious as he glared at Harry. He didn't see Aunt Petunia or Dudley anywhere. Harry did see, however, Snape standing by the barrier, watching all of them.
Oh, Merlin, Harry sighed.
"You must be Harry's family!" Mrs. Weasley held out a hand.
"In a manner of speaking," Vernon snapped, dismissing her with a sneer. "Hurry up, boy. Come one, come on," he grabbed for Harry's arm. Harry dodged, but that put a glitter of rage in Vernon's eyes.
Merlin, what the hell is going on now? Harry had never seen Uncle Vernon that angry before.
"See you over the summer," Harry told Hermione and surprised them both with a hug. Vernon made an impatient noise behind him.
"Ah, Harry?" Hermione clutched at his shoulders.
"Don't worry about it," Harry let her go and waved at the Weasleys, not liking the speculative looks on Fred and George's faces. Harry couldn't even look at Ginny – it hurt too much. He let Vernon take his arm and hustle them out of the station, ignoring the sharp bite of the man's fingers or the growling curses the man spat at the loiterers in their path.
Harry twisted back once to wave, seeing the Granger family arrive for Hermione. Snape, he noted, was still at the barrier, watching Uncle Vernon and Harry with an unreadable expression on his face.
Bizarre, Harry sighed and ducked away from a cuff on the ear. Merlin, I hope this summer is different than I remember. I'd love to get Dudley's second bedroom sometime this year…
He tuned the muggle world out as Vernon hustled them to the car. He had passed one test – and done it differently, as Ollivander had said. Now he just had to figure out how he was going to survive the rest of his life – and accomplish everything he meant to achieve using different ways to get the same ends.
I can do this, he promised the memory of his children, the memory of everyone he had lost and loved and outlived. I promise.
Thank you all for reading!
Final disclaimer: This work is in no way mine, I do not make any profit from it.