Chapter Nineteen - Questions and Answers

When Harry returned to consciousness, he was a bit disoriented. Then everything came back to him in a rush. He sat up hurriedly and instantly regretted it as his head began to throb. Wincing, he sank back down on the white linen sheets.

"Good afternoon, Harry," Dumbledore said in a friendly tone.

"Hello, sir. Is everything all right? Professor Quirrell was after the Philosopher's Stone, and we tried to get there first, but he caught us, and-"

"Calm yourself, Harry. All is well. I assure you. Let me catch you up, hmm?"

"You're sure everything is okay? Pansy?"

"Miss Parkinson is quite all right. She woke up with nothing more than a nasty headache here in the hospital wing. She is quite recovered, I assure you."

"How long have I been here?"

"Three days," Dumbledore answered him. "Your friends have been most worried about you. They and your admirers sent many tokens of esteem."

Harry noticed for the first time the flowers, pot plants, balloons, and boxes of candy.

"What happened down in the dungeons between you and Professor Quirrell is a complete secret." Dumbledore's eyes twinkled behind the half-moon spectacles. "So, naturally the entire school knows."

"I assume Draco told you our side of things?"

"He did. Being under the Full-Body Bind, he was also able to hear the entire conversation between yourself and Voldemort."

"What happened, sir? I was wrestling with Quirrell, and his skin was dissolving wherever I touched him."

"That is what did him in. Though he had managed to subdue you, his body was too badly damaged for him to survive. When he saw that he could no longer win, Voldemort's spirit fled. Without a body to make the Elixir, the Stone was as useless to him as food."

"Where is the Stone now?"

"The Stone is destroyed."

"Destroyed?" Harry said blankly. "But your friend Flamel, he-"

"Ah, you know about Nicholas, do you?" Dumbledore said, sounding pleased. "I say, you did do this thing properly, didn't you? Nicholas and I have had a little chat, and we agreed it's all for the best."

"But he'll die, won't he?"

Dumbledore nodded solemnly. "He has sufficient Elixir to last until he has set his affairs in order, but yes, very soon he will die."

"I- I'm sorry, sir." And he was. Flamel was a great wizard, and his death would be a great loss to the world.

"To one as young as you, I'm sure it seems quite incredible, but to Nicholas and his wife Perenelle, it really is like going to bed after a very long day. After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure. You know, the Stone was not really such a wonderful thing as all that. Yes, it gives limitless wealth and endless life, but in acquiring the skills and knowledge to make such a substance, one rises above such petty wants and desires. They are the two things that most human beings would choose above all, yet these are precisely the worst sort of thing for them."

Dumbledore went silent, and Harry tried to wrap his brain around everything. Dumbledore hummed a little ditty and looked up at the ceiling, giving Harry time to think.

"Sir?" Harry asked after a time. "Even if the Stone is gone, he is still out there."

"He, Harry?" Dumbledore asked him pointedly. "Say his proper name. A fear of a mere name only increases a fear of the thing itself."

"Yes, sir," Harry said. "Voldemort, he's going to try other ways to come back, isn't he?"

Dumbledore nodded. "Yes, I'm afraid he will. He is still out there somewhere, most likely looking for another body to share. He left Quirrell to die, for he shows just as little mercy to his followers as his enemies.

"Nevertheless, Harry, while you may have only delayed his return power, it will merely take someone else who is prepared to fight a losing battle next time, and if he is delayed again, and again, why, he may never return to power."

Harry nodded, but stopped quickly, because it made his head hurt. Then he said, "Sir, there are some other things I'd like to know. I'd like to know the truth."

"The truth," Dumbledore sighed. "The truth, Harry, is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution. I shall answer your questions as best I am able, unless I have a very good reason not to, in which case I must beg your forgiveness. I shall not, of course, lie to you."

"That's fair enough," Harry agreed. "Voldemort said that he killed my parents because they stood up to him, stood in his way. If they had stood aside and let him kill me, they would have lived. What I don't understand is why he wanted to kill me in the first place."

Dumbledore sighed again, very deeply this time. "Alas, the first thing you ask of me, I cannot tell you. Not today, not now. I must ask you to put the question from your mind. I will tell you one day, Harry, when you are older. It is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe you are ready now. When you are, you will know."

Harry knew it would be no good to argue. He lay back on the pillow. "I'm very tired, sir."

Dumbledore nodded. "I'm sure you are. I've taken the liberty of anticipating some of your questions and have written you a short letter." He placed a folded bit of parchment on the table. "Ah, Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans. I was unfortunate enough in my youth to come across a vomit-flavoured one, and since then I'm afraid I've rather lost my liking for them."

He held up a pale green candy. "However, I think I should be safe enough with a nice mint, don't you?" He popped it into his mouth. "Alas," he said, still chewing. "Pickle relish."

Madam Pomfrey was a nice woman, but she was very strict. Harry pleaded with her for an hour before she finally relented and gave permission for his friends to visit. Even so, she restricted them to coming in one at a time, and then only for five minutes.

"Harry!" Draco exclaimed as he rushed in the door.

"Hello, Draco," Harry smiled. "All right?"

"We've been so worried about you," Draco told him. "Pansy's eating everything in sight that Crabbe and Goyle haven't got to first; Tracy has stopped eating; Millie can't sleep at night."

"I'm fine," Harry assured him. "Just a bump on the head. I've had worse. I should be up and around soon."

"Just in time for the end-of-year feast tomorrow," Draco said gleefully. "The points are all in, and we flattened the other Houses. Gryffindor got smashed in their match against Ravenclaw."

"Good." Harry was delighted that his House had taken both Cups once again this year and proud that he had been a part of their victories.

"How about you?"

"Quirrell only put me in the Bind. I feel bad for Tracy who got knocked out and missed the whole thing."

"Wasn't it scary just laying there?"

"More than you can believe. I nearly pissed myself when I heard You-Know-Who start talking. Don't tell anyone."

"I wouldn't blame you if you had. I might have if I hadn't gone before we started out."

"We got really lucky," Draco said after a momentary silence.

"Yeah. It was pretty stupid to run off half-cocked. I hope Snape isn't mad."

"We won."

"I don't think that'll matter to him."

Madam Pomfrey chose that moment to come bustling over. "All right, Mister Malfoy, that's been five minutes. The others are starting to froth at the mouth a bit. Get you gone."

Draco squeezed Harry's shoulder and got to his feet. Under Madam Pomfrey's stern gaze, he slouched out the door.

"Harry!" Tracy squealed as she flew to his side. She hugged him as best she could, her sudden weight driving the air from his lungs. Blonde hair covered his glasses and the smell of Tracy's shampoo was in his nose. Harry felt her lips mushed into his cheek. Then she sat up and latched onto his hand.

Harry steadfastly refused to give any of his friends the story. Draco could tell it just as well as he. The remainder of the visits were very low-key. Mostly they made small talk; sometimes they just sat with him.

After his visits, Harry felt tired indeed. He was just thinking he should take off his glasses when he fell asleep. His head tipped to the side, and the unruly black hair fell away from the scar on his forehead.

Madam Pomfrey gently removed his glasses and folded them on the table. She pulled the blanket up and tucked it under Harry's chin. "Rest easy, Mister Potter," she whispered.

After a good night's sleep, Harry felt almost himself again. He was awake bright and early in the morning when Madam Pomfrey came around to do bed checks, but had his hopes of being able to return to the dungeons dashed.

"Certainly not," she huffed. "You're to stay here all today for observation."

Harry was dreadfully bored for most of the day. He couldn't keep his attention on a book, and there were only so many times he could count the cracks in the ceiling (twenty-two). He was desperate for some sort of distraction when Madam Pomfrey bustled over and told him he had a visitor.

"Who is it?" he asked curiously. She placed the back of her hand against his forehead.

"You're not too busy to see me, I hope, Mister Potter," came a smooth baritone voice from the doorway.

"Professor!" said Harry, delighted at this development.

"How are you feeling, Mister Potter?" Snape asked, taking a seat by the bed.

"I'm bored, sir," Harry admitted. "I'd really like to leave."

Snape shook his head slightly. "I'm afraid you won't be leaving until Madam Pomfrey gives her say-so."

Harry sighed. He felt perfectly all right and just wanted to move about freely. He wanted to see his friends and relax in the Slytherin common room.

"What you did was highly risky, Mister Potter," Snape said in a lightly reproving tone.

"Yes, sir," Harry answered. He looked up at his Head of House seriously. "But not doing anything would have been riskier."

Snape nodded. "Indeed, it would have been. What I'd like to know is why you didn't tell one of your prefects - why you didn't tell me."

Harry shifted uncomfortably. This was likely to be embarrassing. Haltingly, in half-sentences, he eventually gave Snape the whole story of everything that had gone on during the whole school year. He told about how the young Slytherins had suspected their Head. He told about how he had discovered the Mirror of Erised. He left nothing out.

When Harry had been silent for a few moments, Professor Snape leaned back in his chair. Tiredly, he rubbed at his eyes. "I don't know what to say, Mister Potter," he said. "You've certainly been up to no end of trouble this year."

Harry flushed slightly. "Yes, sir," he mumbled.

"But in the course of your adventures, the whole lot of you have displayed every exemplary trait of Slytherin House. I'm very proud of you all." Snape's voice was still low. Harry almost imagined he heard a slight catch in it.

"Thank you, sir."

"Though it's rather a paltry reward for some truly phenominal actions," Snape continued, "I'm awarding each of you five points. It should be many more, but Slytherin has already secured the House Cup this year."

"Thank you, sir," Harry said, repeating himself. Points had been the last thing on his mind while down in the hidden chambers. "What time is the end-of-year feast, Professor?" he asked to change the subject.

"Around teatime," Snape answered.

"I'll be allowed do go, won't I?" Harry asked anxiously.

Snape smiled. "I'm sure that not even Madam Pomfrey would forbid you from spending some leisure time with your friends. Still, you will have to ask her."

"I can go to the feast, right?" he asked Madam Pomfrey as she came by to straighten up his bedside table.

"Professor Dumbledore says you are to be allowed to go," she said sniffily, as though in her opinion Professor Dumbledore didn't realize how risky feasts could be.

"There, you see, Mister Potter? All is well. I shall see you there." Professor Snape rose to his feet.

"Good-bye, sir."

Madam Pomfrey continued to fuss over him, and Harry put up with about half of her last minute final checkup. Finally the clock read five to, and he pushed her hands away.

"I'm going to be late," he said, adjusting his robes. He ignored her cross look and ducked out of the hospital wing. Trying not to run, he walked as quickly as he could down to the Great Hall where the first year Slytherins were standing outside the doors.

"You're late," Draco drawled at him.

"Draco!" Daphne admonished him.

"I'm lucky to be here this early," Harry told his friends. "Madam Pomfrey wanted to do all kinds of last minute checks. She's convinced the feast is going to be dangerous in some nefarious way."

"Nefarious?" Tracy giggled, poking him in the side.

"You be quiet," he teased her back.

"Can we go eat now?" Crabbe asked.

"You shut up too, fathead," Draco said.

"Don't tell him to shut up," Millie said, grabbing Draco by the arm and yanking him towards the door. "I'm famished too."

The doors opened and the nine students were bathed in a glow of light. The Great Hall was completely decked out in the Slytherin colours of green and silver to celebrate Slytherin's winning of the House Cup, which was displayed at one end of the Slytherin table with the prefects. The Quidditch Cup was on display at the other end with the Quidditch team. A huge serpent banner covered the wall behind the High Table.

The dull roar in the Hall hushed suddenly, and then after a couple of uncomfortable moments, Harry raised his chin and marched over to sit down with the team. The others took the seats that had purposely been left empty nearby.

Dumbledore and the other Professors arrived moments later. The babble that had gradually resumed died away. As the Professors took their seats, the Headmaster remained standing.

"Another year gone!" he said cheerfully. "And now I must trouble you with an old man's wheezing waffle before we tuck into our delicious feast. What a year it has been! Hopefully your heads are all a little fuller than they were. You have the whole summer to get them nice and empty before next year starts.

"Now, as I understand it, the House Cup needs official presenting. The final points stand thus: In fourth place, Gryffindor, with three hundred seventy points; in third, Hufflepuff, with three hundred eighty-three points; in second, Ravenclaw, with four hundred twenty and Slytherin, five hundred three."

A storm of cheering broke out across the Slytherin table, Harry cheering as loud as the rest. Flint raised up the Quidditch Cup in both hands and waved it around. Bole and Derrick started a chant of "Sly-Ther-In!"

The cheering took some time to die down. Harry could see Professor Snape looking very eerie, wearing what appeared to be a smile. He looked over at Harry, as if he knew he was being watched, and nodded slightly as if to say, 'Well done.'

"Congratulations, Slytherin," Dumbledore said at last. "And now, let us feast!"

Harry set to the food with a ravenous appetite. He would have liked to avoid questions about what had happened down in the dungeons entirely, but his teammates were eager to hear about the test with the keys. He stayed away from the subject of Quirrell and anything having to do with Voldemort. After awhile the topic changed, and he began to actively participate in the conversation.

By Merlin, he loved life at Hogwarts. He couldn't bear the thought of leaving. He wrenched his thoughts away from that inevitability. Time enough to brood about it later.

Harry knew that he would remember the feast for the rest of his life. He would not forget the feeling he'd gotten when one of the sixth year girls, Heather Duke, brought out a camera to take pictures of the Quidditch team together with the prefects and both Cups. Pictures of all kinds were taken, at both the feast and the after-feast which happened back in the Slytherin common room.

The after-feast involved loud music, lots of sweets, and plenty of silliness on behalf of everyone. Elan assured him that this was typical of the end-of-year celebration when the House had taken both Cups. "Or just one of the Cups," he added reflectively. "Or any time we're not under the stress of school. You'll find out about those parties when you're older."

"Why just for the older kids? We've got stress too," Theo objected.

"It involves alcohol," Pansy said in an exaggerated tone.

Harry didn't know what time he went to bed, but the sun was starting to rise over the lake when he finally shut his curtains. He was out cold in half a heartbeat.

Exam results came the next day at breakfast, and Harry opened his as eagerly as everyone else. To his extreme satisfaction, he passed with excellent marks all around. Harry's best mark was Defence Against the Dark Arts. Quirrell hadn't been lying when he commented about Harry's mark, which was the highest of all the first years. His second-best mark was in Potions. Harry knew he'd earned it all.

The morning was spent comparing marks with everyone else. Theo and Tracy had done the best of the first year Slytherins. In fact, only Terry Boot of Ravenclaw and Hermione Granger of Hufflepuff had scored higher marks in the rest of their form, the latter making both Draco and Theo furious. Even Crabbe and Goyle had managed to pass everything and earn at least one high mark.

After lunch, Harry went up to the High Table to speak with the Headmaster.

"Professor Dumbledore? Could I have a moment of your time, please?"

"Certainly, Harry. Shall we go up to my office?"

"Any room will do."

"Of course."

Dumbledore led him out of the Great Hall and to the room the first years had waited in before the Sorting Ceremony.

"What is on your mind, Harry?"

"Thank you for telling Madam Pomfrey to let me come to the feast."

"I would hate for you to have missed out on the chance to celebrate winning both the House Cup and the Quidditch Cup."

"Yes, sir. I also wanted to ask you if it would be possible for me to go home with the Malfoys. They've invited me to stay the whole summer."

"You don't wish to go home?"

"Not on your life. The Dursleys will be just as glad to be rid of me."

"I'm sure that's not true, Harry. You're their nephew."

Harry really didn't want to start telling the old man just how the Dursleys treated him and ruin all the good cheer he had from the feast and his high marks.

"Whatever. May I go?"

"I'm afraid I have no say over the matter, Harry. I am only your teacher. During the summer holiday, such a matter is to be decided by your guardians. The Dursleys have not given any such permission, so I must say no."

"It's not fair!" Harry struggled to keep his temper under control. "Why should Muggles be able to tell a wizard where he can or can't go?"

Dumbledore looked at him for a long time. "I'm sorry, Harry. I really am."

"May I go, sir?"

"Yes. Have a good holiday."

"Too late for that."

In the few short hours they had remaining, wardrobes were emptied, trunks were packed, and notes were handed out to all students, warning them not to use magic over the holidays.

The next morning after an early breakfast, they all piled into horseless carriages for a bumpy ride down to Hogsmeade Station. Chaos ensued as they all boarded the Hogwarts Express, loaded their trunks into compartments, and took their seats. The Slytherin first years took two compartments and loaded all the luggage in one, fitting themselves in the other. It was a bit cramped, but none of them wanted to be separated until it was absolutely necessary.

They talked of everything and nothing as the countryside passed, growing greener and tidier with each passing kilometre. Eventually they changed out of their school robes and into regular clothing. Harry still blushed when the girls began to undress and went into the other compartment by himself.

All too soon, they were pulling into Platform Nine and Three-Quarters at King's Cross Station. It took quite awhile for them all to unload their trunks, stack up the carts, and get off the platform. Harry wasn't looking forward to going back through the barrier and meeting the Dursleys.

"Draco!" It was Mrs. Malfoy, waving as she started towards them.

"I can't believe you're stuck going back with the Muggles," Draco said, sounding upset. "You'd have loads more fun staying at Malfoy Manor this summer."

"Harry," Mr. Malfoy said, shaking Harry's hand firmly. "It's a pleasure to see you again." Draco's father was as distinguished as ever. He still carried his black and silver cane.

"Thank you, sir," Harry answered. "Thank you for the Christmas present."

"I received your note, dear, very thoughtful," Mrs. Malfoy said to him. "Some people could take an example from you."

"Um, yeah, thanks for the crystal, Mum," Elan said, flushing.

"What did you name him?" Mr. Malfoy asked Harry of his owl.

"Regal, sir," Harry replied. He'd thought for quite awhile before deciding on that name.

"An eminently suitable name," Mr. Malfoy noted with a smile. "Take good care of him."

"I will," Harry promised.

As they stepped through the barrier, they came face to face with the Dursleys. Uncle Vernon, still purple-faced, still moustached, looked absolutely furious at the nerve of Harry carrying a caged owl in a station full of ordinary people.

"Harry, these are your relations?" Mr. Malfoy said icily. He was staring directly at Vernon, his eyes cold and hard as agates. He was clearly speaking directly to Vernon in the third person.

"In a manner of speaking," Uncle Vernon said gruffly, sounding highly offended that this wizard was even looking at him. Behind him, Aunt Petunia stood with Dudley, who was looking terrified at the sight of the Malfoys. "Hurry up, boy, I haven't got all day." He turned and walked away, his family following.

"Friendly much, that lot?" Elan said coolly. "More of that sort," he sneered. "Harry, I'm sorry we couldn't get you permission to come to the Manor."

"I'm still working on it, Harry," Mr. Malfoy said smoothly. "It can be absolute murder at the Ministry sometimes; piles of paperwork and red tape."

"As soon as possible, please," Harry reiterated, making sure his cart was secure. "I'll write."

"Bye, Harry!" Elan waved at him.

"I'll see you real soon," Draco told him. Harry nodded. They shook hands. Then Harry turned and pushed his trolley after the Muggles.

Fin?/p