It was Quirrell trying to steal the stone, not Snape. That actually made Harry a little angry. It was Quirrell that they had been quietly supporting when it seemed that Snape was trying to get the secret of his defense out of him. Ron had gone so far as to tell others of for making fun of the man. For him to be behind everything was like a kind of betrayal.
"But Snape tried to kill me," he said, trying to make sense of things."
"No, fool boy," said Quirrell, "I tried to kill you. If it hadn't been for Snape and his counter curse, I would have succeeded."
"Snape was trying to save me?" asked Harry. Forget a little angry. Nearly tossing a kid off his broom was the kind of thing that could put a boy off flying. Not that it had, but still.
Harry had hoped to keep the man talking a little longer, but after Quirrell explained why Snape had refereed the next match, Harry found himself tied up in ropes with a snap of Quirrell's fingers.
It struck Harry as odd that for a man who intended to kill him, Quirrell was actually quite talkative while he was trying to access the stone. Perhaps he was making up for a year of nervous stuttering, but Harry suddenly found himself with more information than he knew what to do with, as Quirrell answered his every question and comment.
Then, a second voice came from Quirrell, a voice that, given the circumstances, could only have belonged to Voldemort.
"Use the boy."
And so, Harry found himself freed from the ropes and standing in front of the mirror. As he had begun to suspect, the mirror went ahead and showed him just where the stone was located, which turned out to be inside of his left pants pocket. Quirrell asked him what he saw in the mirror and Harry lied. Drawing on Ron's experience with the mirror, Harry told Quirrell a tale of winning the Quidditch Cup. Quirrell believed him and threw him aside. Unfortunately, Voldemort was not so easily fooled, and had Quirrell reveal him to Harry. It was grotesque, like something out of one of the horror movies that Dudley liked to watch. And then, Voldemort surprised Harry, by trying to recruit him instead of just trying to kill him. For one horrible moment, Harry pondered Voldemort's offer; could he really have his parents back? But Harry didn't need anyone to tell him that Voldemort couldn't be trusted, and even if he could, even if Harry could have his parents back, they had been enemies of Voldemort and, he had been told, very good people. He doubted that they would want him to make such a deal on their behalf. And so, Harry found himself in a fight for his life.
Harry had been alone when he had entered the final chamber. Alone by necessity. It was something he had become used to when he was just the boy under his relatives' stairs, but that had changed; Harry had changed. He had friends now, good friends who had stood beside him, supported him, and made s'mores with him by the fireplace in the Gryffindor common room. His friends would have stood beside him if they hadn't had to stay behind. Harry refused to die alone.
Knowing that he would die if he gave Quirrell a chance to curse him, Harry latched onto the man's bare arm. He wouldn't let the man point his wand at him. Quirrell cried out in agony, and tried to wrench himself free, but Harry clung on desperately. He felt something rise up in him, a warmth that spread through his hands, where they met with Quirrell's skin, and in his scar, where the pain grew exponentially. That was when he heard the voices.
"KILL HIM! KILL HIM!" shouted Voldemort.
"Harry!" cried someone in the distance.
The voice he heard in his head though was far more profound.
"Naïve boy, did you think your mother's protection could end me? You can't detach me without your own death. Embrace me, welcome me into you, and I will make you more powerful than you could ever imagine."
His strength gone, Harry fell from professor Quirrell's arm.
'This is it,' he thought to himself. 'I'm going to die.' The last thing he saw before the world faded to black was a flash of gold.
Ron stood beside Harry's bed, feeling a little awkward. He had been incredibly relieved to hear that his friend would be alright, especially after he had heard Madam Pomfrey say that he could have died if Professor Dumbledore hadn't arrived sooner.
He had known before hand of course, that any of them could have died going after the stone. Hell, he would have thought Snape capable of killing them without already thinking that he was working for You-Know-Who. But it hadn't been quite real, not until he had seen Professor Dumbledore levitate Harry's body into the infirmary, not until he had heard Madam Pomfrey say what she had. His best friend, his first real friend (little sisters didn't count, did they?) had nearly died at the hands of none other than You-Know-Who. He had been so scared in that moment, as mortality stared him straight in the face. It kind of put things into perspective. Ron decided that he didn't really like perspective, it was far too depressing.
Ron shook his head. It was time to stop worrying. You-Know-Who was gone; Harry had chased him away! The three of them had gotten around all of the Professor's enchantments protecting the stone, and Harry was going to be just fine. Better than fine, actually; he'd just proven that it was more than just a fluke when he beat You-Know-Who as a baby, after all. That had to count for a lot. He leaned over and patted his friend on the shoulder.
"Cheers, mate," he said. "Hope you wake up soon." He nodded to himself and turned to leave the hospital wing, as he'd been cleared just a few minutes before. He made his way up to Gryffindor tower whistling an aimless tune. The tower seemed mostly abandoned when he got there, morning classes were starting in just a few minutes. He found Seamus in their dorm, searching through papers, most likely looking for his homework.
"Morning Seamus," he said jauntily.
"Ron," said Seamus in surprise, turning around. "You're out."
"Yeah, Madam Pomfrey just let me go."
"Are you going to let on what happened then? Only Hermione's hardly said anything."
"Oh, you'd hardly believe the things we've been through." Actually, judging by the rapt expression on Seamus's face, it wouldn't be a tough sell.
The voice continued, even as Harry swam in darkness. Whispers spoke slyly in his ears. Threats of death, coupled with promises of glory. Harry tried to tell the whispers to go away, but found that he didn't have a voice of his own. He seemed to float in the black for an eternity.
Finally, Harry came back to consciousness. He looked around himself, finding that he didn't know where he was. Professor Dumbledore was sitting next to him.
"Sir!" he exclaimed. "The Stone! It was Quirrell! He's got it, and Voldemort was there. Quick-"
He tried to get out of bed, but found himself to be too weak to manage.
"Calm yourself, dear boy, you are a little behind on the times. It has been a most worrying five days. Voldemort does not have the stone, and alas, Professor Quirrell is dead."
"Dead?" asked Harry, "then I…"
The Professor's face became grave. "You are not responsible for his death, my boy. Your actions, which saved yourself and the Stone, did do irreparable damage to Quirrineus. However, it was Voldemort fleeing his body that sealed his fate. You see, Voldemort is as merciful to his followers as he is to his enemies."
"I see," said Harry, troubled. "And the Stone?"
"The stone has been destroyed. Voldemort will never again have a chance to use it."
Harry's eyes widened. "But your friend, Mr. Flamel-"
"You know about him, then?" asked Professor Dumbledore, seeming quite pleased. "You did do things properly, didn't you? Well, Harry, Nicholas and I met with each other while you were unconscious. We agreed that it would be for the best."
"They're going to die then?" asked Harry.
"They have enough Elixir stored to set their affairs in order and then, yes, they will die."
Harry's shock must have shown on his face, for Professor Dumbledore continued. "To one as young as you, I'm sure it seems incredible, but to Nicolas and Perenelle, it really is like going to bed after a very, very long day. After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure. You know, the Stone was really not such a wonderful thing. As much money and life as you could want! The two things most human beings would choose above all - the trouble is, humans do have a knack of choosing precisely those things that are worst for them."
"Sir… you said that Voldemort had fled Professor Quirrell. That means he's still out there, doesn't it?"
"Indeed, Harry. He is still out there, perhaps looking for another body to share… not being truly alive, he cannot be killed as he is. However, he is weaker now than he was before. I do not believe you will have to worry about him for some time."
"Harry nodded at the reassurance; briefly though, because it made his head hurt.
"Sir, there are some other things I'd like to know, if you can tell me… things I want to know the truth about."
"The truth." Dumbledore sighed. "It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution. However, I shall answer your questions unless I have a very good reason not to, in which case I beg you'll forgive me. I shall not, of course, lie."
Somehow, Dumbledore's promise to not lie was ominous to Harry, what if Dumbledore did tell him a terrible truth? There were a dozen things Harry wanted to ask about, but one thing took precedence: the Voice. As though it had heard this thought, the voice spoke up, though far quieter than before. 'He would kill you, if he knew the truth. He would destroy you to destroy me.'
Another voice spoke up against the first, louder, one of his own, though it sounded suspiciously like Hermione's. 'Dumbledore would never do that. He's the greatest sorcerer alive.' Perhaps it sounded a bit like Hagrid at the end.
Harry swallowed, nearly as afraid as he had been when he had faced Voldemort.
"When I was fighting with Professor Quirrell," he said quietly, "I heard a voice. Not yours, or Quirrell's, or Voldemort's, not really. It was in my head. He said I could only get rid of him by dying. Him, the Voice, I mean. And then he said he could make me powerful if I embraced him." Professor Dumbledore looked shocked, a look that Harry could not have imagined, but Harry pressed on. "I heard it when I was unconscious too, and I can still hear it. And, well, he sounds like Voldemort did." Professor Dumbledore drew in a sharp breath. "So I suppose my question is, could there be a part of Voldemort in me, in here?" He touched a hand to his scar.
"I don't believe…" Professor Dumbledore started, perhaps remembering his promise. A non response was no option to a yes-or-no question either. Instead he said. "That is not a question that I can begin to answer reliably. However, yes," he said gravely, "it is a possibility."
"Oh," said Harry. He had been expecting the answer. Had he thought that the truth would make him feel better? He had defeated Voldemort, again, he should feel elated. All he felt though was a sense of dread growing in the pit of his stomach.
"How can we be sure though," said Harry. "Maybe I'm crazy." It didn't occur to him to think it odd that he was wishing himself insane.
"I do not believe that you are crazy, Harry," said Professor Dumbledore. "However, there is a way to find out."
"How," asked Harry, certain that he wouldn't like surety any more than he did mystery.
"It is quite simple, my boy. Calm your mind, focus on the memory in question, and look into my eyes."
Harry wondered what could possibly be simple about calming his thoughts at a time like this. He closed his eyes, and tried to quell the tide of thought and emotion in his mind. Seeing him getting nowhere, Professor Dumbledore spoke again.
"Take slow, deep breaths, Harry. In through the nose, out through the mouth… that's it." He spoke in a remarkably calm and slow voice himself. "Imagine your breath entering your body and massing in your center. Feel it cleanse your chest of all impurity, to be expelled when you let out your next breath." He went on like that for another minute longer, before Harry felt he could look the man in his eyes.
"Now Harry, I'm sure you have guessed what it is I mean to do?"
"You're going to read my mind," Harry suggested.
"In a manner of speaking," said Dumbledore, genially. "You will see flashes of memory. I promise that I will only look to the pertinent information. All that you must do is remain calm. Keep breathing as I have instructed."
Harry nodded, and the Professor muttered a word under his breath that Harry couldn't make out. Suddenly, it was as though Harry was back in the room with Professor Quirrell and Voldemort, even though he could still feel the mattress underneath him.
'Naïve boy…' he heard the voice again as he relived the last moments with Voldemort, and then the moment where the voice had spoken up only minutes prior.
Suddenly he was back in the Hospital Wing. Dumbledore looked down at him sadly. "I am sorry, my boy. You are most assuredly sane."
Harry swallowed, and it felt as though there was something stuck in his throat. "Is that why he didn't die that night? Did he get stuck on me?"
"I'm afraid that a piece of Voldemort's soul may have somehow torn off from the whole and imbedded itself here," he said, pointing to Harry's scar. "If that's true, then yes, you are helping to keep him alive."
Harry looked away. "He said that you would kill me in order to destroy him. Is that the only way?"
"I do not know enough to answer that, Harry, but-"
"I want to be alone," said Harry, not knowing if he could stand to hear what Dumbledore might say. In his heart, he knew it to be true.
Dumbledore nodded somberly and stood, turning to leave, but he paused after taking a step.
"You never asked why Professor Quirrel was unable to touch you Harry," he said without turning back around. "I believe that on that night ten years ago, your mother willingly sacrificed her own life to save your own. That sacrifice, her love, latched on to you and kept you safe from Voldemort. Quirrel, so corrupted, could not stand to be in contact with something so pure. This protection is strengthened by a charm I placed on your Aunt's house, based on the common blood between her and her sister. Unless I am much mistaken, you will stop hearing the voice again when you return home. It should also lose it's awareness of your thoughts and surroundings."
Harry didn't say anything to reply, and Dumbledore walked out of the infirmary. Alone, Harry curled up on his side.
Hermione bit her lip anxiously as she watched Harry pick despondently at his food during the leaving feast. She'd never seen him like this, not even after they had lost so many points for Gryffindor. What could have possibly happened in that last chamber to have affected him so? He had won after all, and he hadn't been so terribly hurt.
Of course, he'd already told them what had happened, and there didn't seem to be anything missing from his retelling, but then what was it? She had wondered if he had been upset by Quirrell's death, but he hadn't seemed so upset about that part when he had told them about it. And that worried her. Not that Harry should be overly affected by Quirrell's death; as awful as it was, Harry had done what he had to. What worried her was that something much more awful must have happened if Quirrell's death didn't give him pause.
Hermione watched as Harry put a small smile on his face at something Ron had said, but it didn't reach his eyes. She sighed. She had been quite surprised to learn that it had been Quirrell after the stone, but it put a lot into perspective actually. She hadn't told anyone, but she had written Professor Snape a thank you card for what she now knew had been his attempts to keep Harry alive during the quidditch match. She left out the part where she had been the one to set his robes on fire; he didn't really need to know about that part. So far, the Professor hadn't acknowledged the card, which she supposed made sense; just because he was one of the good guys didn't make him any more pleasant.
Then, Professor Dumbledore did something wonderful. Oh not the points for Ron, Harry, and her, but giving Neville those points and letting him be the one that swung the balance of points in Gryffindor's favor. She had felt horrible hexing him before in the Gryffindor common room, and she had already apologized, but this had to be so much better than her apology. She saw Harry grin and slap Neville on the back, and she just knew that he would be okay. He was sensitive for a boy, and he probably was upset over Quirrell and trying not to let on, but he'd feel better in time.
Harry knew that Voldemort was in his head. He accepted the fact that he was probably keeping the man who had murdered his parents alive. But did that all mean that he had to die to kill Voldemort once and for all? Harry turned over restlessly in bed, his mind full of thoughts he couldn't stop. As soon as he put one down, he found another had taken it's place.
Hagrid had told him that Dumbledore was the most powerful wizard there was, the only one that Voldemort had ever been afraid of, but he couldn't tell him if he had to die or not. But surely, surely he could find a way. He'd done so many amazing things already, surely he could save one little boy. Surely if anyone deserved a break, it was him.
'Idiot', he thought to himself angrily; life didn't work like that. 'Fool,' he heard the voice whisper weakly. Suddenly, he felt a pain well up in his chest as though he were going to burst. Harry landed on the floor next to his bed in a sprawl and ran shakily to the bathroom, his chest heaving as though it could not take in enough oxygen. Taking refuge in the closest shower stall, Harry pounded on the wall as he started to weep on the floor. Never before in his rotten life had he felt such grief. Letting his hands fall, Harry let out a low cry before working to take in some deep breaths. Either he died, or Voldemort lived; that's all there was to it. Somehow, the knowledge calmed him, but it didn't stop the flow of tears down his face or the shaking of his shoulders. What would happen now?
Albus watched the children make their way to the carriages that would take them down to Hogsmeade station. His impulse had been to keep Harry from the Dursleys, he knew that they would be no help in this difficult time. He could find a way to allow Harry to stay in the castle, or perhaps foster him off on the Weasleys or Grangers but, as always, taking care of Harry meant choosing the lesser of two evils. Harry needed the protection offered by his Aunt's blood now more than ever.
Albus was nearly certain now that Harry was a Horcrux. That meant that there were likely no good options for Harry anymore. Albus feared now that it would come down between the life of one boy, and the fate of the wizarding world.