The antidote, as it turned out, was harmless. That didn't stop Milo from buffing himself up with a Resistance spell and keeping his Antitoxin on hand before taking his dosage, however. Despite the fact that, aided by Snape's potion, Milo recovered from the after-effects of his poisoning fairly quickly, the rest of Autumn at Hogwarts was, well, unpleasant.
Harry and Ron made absolutely no progress in their hunt for information about the Philosopher's Stone among the teachers, and for such a powerful and famous artifact, Milo could barely find anything about it in the Hogwarts Library. He Scholar's Touch-ed his way through mountains of thick, dusty tomes without even opening their covers, and while he learned a lot of apparently useless information, there was little that seemed relevant to him. Scholar's Touch didn't grant any special powers to aid in memorization, so the fact that he 'read' the books so rapidly actually made it harder to keep his facts straight. Still, he reckoned he'd absorbed enough general setting information that he could start making Knowledge (History) checks about this world.
It was during this period that Milo noticed something unnatural about the people here. The more he watched them learn, the less he was sure that they were even human at all—they looked human, sure, but...
Well, to start, there was the food. The people here were obsessed with it, and kept comparing the various flavours of dishes that the house-elves cooked up for them (Milo was dying to meet one of the elves here, he was sure they could help him. Elves were annoying, sure, but the pointy-eared pansies and magic went hand in hand). Some even developed favourite foods and avoided certain ones altogether. To Milo, food was a logistical challenge to be overcome while adventuring and a source of danger if it ran low (thus, the Everlasting Rations, which were all that Milo ever ate). The actual taste of food was something that only came up in plot-relevant situations – like smell, and the weather. The people of Milo's world only smelled things when they were important, like a Troglodyte's stench or a potential clue (or red herring, for that matter). Otherwise, why bother even mentioning it?
Another peculiarity in these people was the inordinate amount of down time they required. Milo had to spend eight hours sleeping and an hour memorizing spells, but that left fifteen hours a day to put to use attending class, fighting monsters, and crafting items off-screen. Milo knew an Artificer by the name of Alton who, when he finally got his hands on a Ring of Sustenance, spent two hours sleeping, eight hours crafting magic items (the maximum amount per day) and the other fourteen hours in a day mass-producing baskets to fund his adventuring. Alton did that every day for three hundred years straight, with breaks to fight monsters to recover lost Experience Points, until he'd amassed a fortune large enough to attract the attention of a wandering Blue Dragon. Alton's unfortunate demise aside, it was just good sense to put their hours to use—they were only given twenty-four in a day, after all. And besides, manual labour was the sort of thing done during a timeskip, anyways, it's not like it got in the way of the story. Even Hermione seemed shocked by the amount of time he spent reading and working. In just one week, Milo managed to custom-tailor his fifth-hand Hogwarts uniform (untrained, but with +2 for masterwork tools (which Milo also made himself) and +4 from his Intelligence) until it rivalled Draco's in quality, read more books than any of his classmates (save Hermione) could in a year, and carve holy symbols of Pelor, Heironeous, St. Cuthbert, and Boccob into key locations around Gryffindor Tower. That had earned him some strange looks, despite the fact that the residents there were fully aware that there were vampires on the same continent as them. That was all in addition to the daily chores all first year Gryffindors were required to do as punishment for trying to kill or maim the Slytherins back in September. Milo theorized that, while he had to spend an hour poring over his spellbook, performing arcane research, and memorizing spells every morning, the Wizards here had to spend at four to eight hours a day (judging by comparisons between Hermione and Ron, it was an amount of time equal to eight minus their Intelligence Bonus, in hours per day) sitting around on armchairs and talking about the weather.
But that wasn't the really weird thing. The more Milo watched these students in their classes, the harder a time he had sleeping at night. The way they were learning was wrong. It was oh, so, incredibly wrong. Ordinary people learned in discrete increments: they levelled up, their powers, skills, and abilities increased, and then they plateaued until attaining enough Experience Points to go up another level. It was just obvious. That was, intuitively, the way everyone—humans, elves, dwarves, kobolds, mindflayers, small fluffy hamsters, everyone—learned.
Watching his fellow Gryffindors, Milo wondered, though it seemed impossible, if their skills didn't develop gradually. There seemed to be a slow, constant growth in magical ability, historical knowledge, broomstick skills, or whatever, that depended on that student's particular aptitude in that area. Hermione, for example, was the fastest to learn in Defence Against the Dark Arts, Charms, Transfiguration, Potions, Herbology, Astrology... actually, pretty much all of their classes except for Broomstick Flying (which went to Harry, who was also, to be fair, pretty close to even Hermione in Defence), and History of Magic (to Milo's intense embarrassment, it was the only class he seemed to be doing any good in, and even that was only as a result of his supersonic library binge).
That wasn't to say that Milo was completely useless in class, it was just... he had to wait and hope that whichever particular Charm (this world had a totally different definition of Charm than Milo's, which caused him no end of confusion) they were about to learn was fairly close to his limited repertoire of spells so he could fake his way through. If it wasn't... well, having to be helped by Neville Longbottom when attempting to learn the Cutting Charm was somewhat embarrassing. Transfiguration wasn't too bad. He managed to get by, to a certain extent, with using Prestidigitation to change the colour and, on one memorable occasion, taste of the object he was attempting to transfigure. He started out ahead, but now he was barely scraping a A (which stood for Acceptable, and was counter-intuitively, the lowest passing grade) but if he didn't get some new spells soon, he'd slip into P (for Poor) territory with alacrity. Charms was going distressingly poorly until Flitwick announced they'd be learning how to levitate objects. Milo simply cast Levitate quietly then said "Wingardium Leviosa" with the rest of them, and astonished the class and earned him five House Points by lifting an entire table, complete with Neville (who had been leaning against it and grabbed one of the legs in a panic as it started to float away) and lowering it back down again.
Defence Against the Dark Arts was kind of pointless. Quirrell, for all the mystery surrounding him, didn't seem to care whatsoever about teaching. What they did learn was mostly limited to dealing with magical household pests. Milo was forced to wonder what the Muggles did when confronted with a Bowtruckle in their trees, or if the magical creatures had an inbuilt sense of decency and fair play, and as a result only targeted humans carrying wands. Milo caused quite a stir when he suggested the best way to deal with vampires was to impair them with Webs, Glitterdust, and Grease so that your non-spellcaster allies can take them out with wooden stakes.
"You would bring Muggles with you?" Quirrell had asked, sounding genuinely shocked.
"Well, sure. You don't see many a Wizard pumping irons or practicing hand-to-hand combat, now do you? Deck 'em out in full plate, give 'em a pointy stick, and point 'em in the right direction." It was incredible. They seemed to never have heard of the concept of a meat shield, and even the Slytherins were shocked and appalled when he attempted to educate them. That there was something morally questionable about sending the heavily armoured, greataxe-wielding barbarian with mighty thews out front to soak up damage had never occurred to Milo. It seemed to him that the wizards here were remarkably selfish, never giving a thought to how their nonmagical allies would feel when the spellcasters hogged all the glory and XP with their vastly superior powers.
Broomstick lessons, however, were dreadful. Milo had come to the conclusion that the broomsticks weren't actually magical at all, but that the local wizards had a spell or class feature that let them animate certain broomsticks (probably with a specific cost requirement, which is why they didn't use ordinary cleaning mops) for flight. Milo, not having said spell or perk, was completely unsuccessful at making the thrice-damned stick float, and finally gave up and Levitated the accursed thing. This let him go up and down, but to move horizontally he had to awkwardly kick off of walls and objects. He felt like a six-year-old who'd accidentally been signed up for swimming lessons for eight-year-olds, and was desperately trying to dog paddle around the room while everyone else was demonstrating backstrokes.
The worst, the absolute worst, was Potions. Snape seemed to go out of his way to make Harry's life as miserable as possible, which was annoying, but the concerning thing was how he always kept a very close eye on Milo. The thing was, the potions didn't work. He chopped up the ingredients exactly how the book suggested and made sure to turn the spoon clockwise three times and counterclockwise one-and-a-half times, or whatever, but nothing happened. Even Neville's potions occasionally exploded, or melted, or screamed, or caught fire, or in one case got up and ran out of the room blabbering about the Kennedy Assassination. But Milo's potions, though Milo would bet his spellbook he was doing everything right, were just water with stuff floating in them. Whenever one of Harry's potions failed catastrophically, Snape would deduct house points and scold him, but whenever he noticed that Milo's was use-impaired (Milo was hesitant to call them useless, because they could still be, and frequently were, employed to put out fires) Snape just smiled to himself and made a note in the compact, leather-bound notebook he carried about his person.
It was that evening that Milo learned about Hallowe'en.
"So, what are you going as?" Hannah Abbot asked him. She seemed to enjoy sitting next to him at meals for some inexplicable reason. Milo only bothered to go to the Great Hall for dinner (as opposed to munching on Everlasting Rations in his dorm) because he'd noticed a correlation between mealtimes there and having important conversations.
Milo blinked in surprise. Being knocked out of a timeskip was rather like spending the whole day reading a good book, then remembering you had a party to go to, but the book was so good that you read it the whole way on the bus and were completely distracted and absent-minded all evening, until you hear someone say your name from the other side of the room, and snap. Broken out of your reverie, just like that.
"Sorry, say that again?" Milo asked. "I was distracted."
"I was just asking what you were going to dress up for on Hallowe'en," Hannah asked.
"No, that still doesn't make any sense. What's Hallowe'en?"
Hannah blinked, shook her head slightly, and blinked again. She looked like someone had just asked her what a Natural 20 was.
"You don't even know? Everyone knows what Hallowe'en is!" she exclaimed.
"Look, I've been over this. I wasn't raised by wizards, etcetera etcetera, fill me in?"
"No, but even Muggles know about Hallowe'en!" Hannah said.
"I'm not from around here, remember?" Milo reminded her.
"Well, I guess, it's a holiday where everyone dresses up as monsters and goes around taking candy from strangers," Hannah said. "Which always confused me a little, because that's exactly what me mum is always reminding me not to do."
"I see," Milo said. "that seems... terribly mundane, actually. Surely I didn't get pulled out of compressed time for that?" Milo frowned. "Harry," Milo said, turning to his left, "is Hallowe'en written on your list, anywhere?"
"Ah, lemme check," Harry said, and flipped through his lengthy list of notes. "Nope, not at all."
"Try All Hallows' Eve," Hermione suggested, "and Samhain."
"Hey, I thought you weren't helping?" Ron pointed out.
"I'm not," she said defensively. "I'm just... advising. Oh, and Harry, try just looking for October Thirty-First."
"Advising is helping. And of course Hallowe'en is significant for Harry," Ron said. "Everyone knows—oh, right, sorry. I forgot. Anyway, it's the day that Harry defeated You-Know-Who ten years ago."
"You mean, the day when my parents..." Harry sighed.
"Uhm. Right. Sorry," Ron said apologetically.
"Still don't see what's important about that," Milo said. Hermione shot him a look that could curdle milk, nodding slightly towards Harry. "I mean, aside from, you know, being tragic. Just tragic. Uh. Terrible, that is. Tragic and terrible."
"Don't worry about it," Harry said quietly.
"Oh, phew." Milo said, relieved, before moving on to what he saw as more pressing issues. "Anyways. Tenth anniversary of You-Know-Who's alleged demise? Dumbledore doesn't look very concerned," Milo said, nodding to the eccentric Headmaster at the Head Table, "meaning there was nothing about it in the Prophecy."
"Wait, what Prophecy?" Hermione asked.
"There's always a Prophecy, Hermione," Milo rolled his eyes. "Everyone knows that."
"Point for his side," Ron muttered.
"I hadn't realized we were keeping score," Hermione said sharply.
"We're Quidditch players," Ron said nodding to Harry, "we always keep score."
"So, when's this Hallowe'en thing?" Milo asked.
"October Thirty-First," Hannah supplied. "Tomorrow."
"Hermione," Milo said. "If I'm right, and something dramatic does happen tomorrow evening, will you admit that I'm right, that Snape is evil, that the Philosopher's Stone is involved—that it's maybe even at Hogwarts, in or about the clearly relevant third floor corridor—that You-Know-Who isn't really dead, and that... wait, was there something else? No, I think that's about it. Anyway, will you?"
"Nope," Hermione said simply. "Because there is absolutely no correlation between any of those events. Say, tomorrow, the Chamber of Secrets is opened and Muggleborns start dying. There's no connection between that and You-Know-Who being alive. If You-Know-Who is alive, that's absolutely no reason to think that Snape is, quote, evil. If Snape is evil, that's no reason to think the Philosopher's Stone is in Hogwarts. Unless Snape releases Slytherin's Monster to use as a distraction so he can get the Stone to bring You-Know-Who back to life. That would make perfect sense, actually. Can the Philospher's Stone do that?"
"The great Hermione Granger, asking a question?" Milo laughed. "Well, mine can. That is, Philosopher's Stones' from my universe can bring back the dead –"
"What?" Harry asked quietly. "Really?"
"Sure," said Milo. "Of course, any old Cleric can do the same for a few gold pieces and some diamond powder, so I don't really see what the big deal is."
Harry choked on his food.
"Wh-wh-what?" he asked.
"Raise Dead, Resurrection, True Resurrection, Reincarnate, Revivify, Miracle, and Wish," Milo said, ticking off his fingers as he listed the spells, "are all spells that can bring back the dead, to name a few."
"Y-you can bring the dead back to life?" Harry asked.
"Me? Ha! Boccob, No. It's really more Divine spellcaster territory. I think, but I'd have to do a little research to be sure, that Wizards have to use Wish to do it, and it's really powerful magic. Demands a huge sacrifice of Experience, and in any case it's way beyond my abilities."
"Oh," said Harry, looking crestfallen.
"Milo," Hermione said acidly, "You and I will have words about this later. You're going to have to learn some tact one of these days, even if I have to shove it down your throat at wandpoint."
"Point for her side," Ron said.
"Oh, shuttup. So the Philospher's Stone can bring back the dead?" Hermione asked.
"What? Oh, haha, no. Yours can't, anyways. From what I found in the library, it just turns stuff into gold and lets you live forever."
"Well, that's a—ah. Nevermind," Hermione said, glancing at Harry.
"That's a what, Hermione?" Harry asked.
"Well, it means You-Know-Who can't come back, so it's kind of a..."
"A relief, isn't it? That the Stone can't bring back the dead?" Harry pushed.
"Yes, if you must know, that's what I was going to say. But that was before I thought about it, and stopped myself, because I didn't initially think it through the whole way."
"Fair enough," Harry said.
"I think I missed something there," Ron admitted quietly to Milo.
"Hermione was about to say it was a relief that the Philosopher's Stone can't bring back the dead, but right now Harry's thinking about his parents," Milo explained in a whisper, "so she was as good as saying it'd be worth it that we couldn't bring back Harry's folks, as well as anyone else decent who'd died, just to keep You-Know-Who down."
"Let's try to stay on topic, okay?" Harry asked.
"Right. Sorry," Hermione apologised.
"Forget it. What should we do about tomorrow?" Harry wondered.
"Tell a professor," Hermione shrugged.
"We can't very well go up to McGonagall and say, 'excuse me, Professor, tomorrow's Hallowe'en and Milo's Spidey Sense is tingling so can you lock down the school, just to be sure?' she'd think we were nuts, for sure," Harry said.
"What's a Spidey Sense?" Ron asked.
Harry suppressed a grin.
"Blimey! You don't even know what the Spider-Sense is? Everyone knows that! It's Spider-Man's ability to sense danger before it happens," Harry said. "How on Earth did you become eleven years old and not know that?"
"Point for his side," Hermione smirked. "But Harry makes a good point. The reason it sounds crazy is because it still is crazy."
"You're too hung up on actual, you know, facts, Hermione," Milo said. "Just be on your toes tomorrow, okay? That goes for everyone," Milo added.
"In all seriousness, what could I possibly do, even on my toes?" Hermione asked. "Use the Levitating Charm to save the day? Transfigure up some sewing needles? I've only been a Witch for two months. I'll stay inside the castle tomorrow, not that I have much choice, because someone got us all a full year of detention. Aside from that, I don't know about you, but I'm going to enjoy Hallowe'en in family tradition, passed down the Granger line for generations: by revising and doing homework. Exams are only eight months away, after all." She sighed, a slightly dreamy expression coming over her, "I do so love Hallowe'en. Which brings me to the matter at hand: Harry, Ron, and I have to go now."
"What?" asked Harry.
"What?" asked Ron.
"I said that already," said Harry.
"Yeah, but, I was confused, too, right?" said Ron.
"I just don't think it added much, is all. It was, what's it called... redundant."
"I think it's considered polite to say learning disabled now, actually," said Ron primly, "and I don't care for your tone at all."
"Right. Why were we leaving, Hermione?" Harry asked.
"For a very important thing that we have to do far over there," she said, pointing frantically to the far corner of the Great Hall. "You know? The thing?"
"Uh, nope, Hermione, sorry," Ron said. "I think you've lost a marble or ten. I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Oh, just get up and walk, Weasley, Potter, or I swear I'll... I'll... I'll think of something," she threatened. "and mark my words: I am very good at thinking of things. Very, very good. Bwa, ha, ha."
"Did you just say Bwa ha ha?" Harry asked.
"Pardon," Hermione said. "I appear to have caught the hiccups."
"Only that didn't sound like a hiccup," Ron said. "It was more of a, you know, evil laugh, sort of thing."
"Nope, it was a hiccup. What would an eleven year old girl be doing laughing evilly? I hiccupped. I even covered my mouth and everything."
"Only... only, aren't you twelve?" asked Ron.
"Ron, mate," Harry whispered. "I think we should just go with her. It's less painful that way."
"Fine," Ron muttered, and they stood up and walked away. Hermione kept glancing surreptitiously back at Milo and Hannah.
"Well," Milo said, taking a bite out of his Everlasting Rations. "That was... weird."
"Yeah, kinda," Hannah agreed evasively. "Anyway, about Hallowe'en tomorrow...?"
"He thinks he's so clever," Malfoy sneered. "He has no idea what's coming to him."
"Yeah!" said Crabbe (or Goyle).
"Right!" said Goyle (or Crabbe, but you get the idea, right?)
"After the last one, he acted like he didn't care, but you could tell. Oh, man, you could tell, if you looked close. Real close," Malfoy said. "I got him, like, right to the core. Just wish I saw him read the paper."
"Yeah, we got him deep down," said Crabbe.
"Yeah, we got him so deep you'd need a Bubble-Head Charm to swim down there to see," said Goyle.
"Yeah, so deep you'd die from the pressure," said Crabbe.
"Okay, guys. Seriously, stop that," said Malfoy. "You aren't helping."
"Yeah, you're not helping, Goyle," said Goyle. Wait, Crabbe. Said Crabbe. Phew, close call.
"Yeah, you're just making things worse, Crabbe," said Goyle.
Draco rolled his eyes.
"This time," Draco said, "this time, it'll get him so bad he won't even be able to hide it. He'll be begging for mercy. And you know what I'll do then?"
"Relent, as he's seen the error of his ways, and demonstrate your kind, forgiving personality?" suggested Goyle.
"Relent, and buy him a puppy," said Crabbe. "A fluffy one. So he doesn't feel so bad about losing."
Draco gave them a peculiar look. Seriously, what was with these two?
"Nah, I'll kick 'im!" he cackled.
"Yeah!" said Crabbe.
"Yeah!" added Goyle, not wanting to feel left out. Goyle frowned, which made his forehead looked a little like Mount Etna would if it collapsed – slowly – and said, "So, boss, what's the plan?"
"The plan? You want to know the plan?"
"Yeah, boss, so's we can help," said Crabbe.
"Yeah, boss, so's we can... know the plan," said Goyle.
"I'll tell you the plan! It'll all go down tomorrow," Draco said. "Do you know what day it is tomorrow?"
"Uh," said Crabbe. "Thursday?"
"No!" shrieked Malfoy. "Well, actually, yes. Tomorrow is Thursday. But that's not what's important!"
"Uh," said Goyle. "Friday?"
"No!" shrieked Malfoy. "Wait... what? Look, Goyle, I just said that tomorrow is Thursday. Surely even you... I mean, really?"
"Well, you also said it wasn't what was important, so I thought, maybe the important thing about tomorrow is that, while it's Thursday, it's really Friday. You know?"
"Uh," said Malfoy. "No... not... really..." he frowned. "Look, guys, we're getting off topic. It's not about the day of the week, okay?"
"Oh! Oh! I love this game," said Goyle. "Is it smaller than a breadbox?"
"Uh. Well, kinda, I guess, in an abstract sort of sense, tomorrow is bigger than a breadbox... wait, no! We're not playing Twenty Questions! Just... just... just guess, okay? It's like, really obvious. Here's a hint, even. Today's the Thirtieth of October, so tomorrow is..."
"Friday!" said Crabbe.
"You're fired. You're both fired."
"The Thirty-First!" said Goyle.
"Yes!" Malfoy resisted, barely, the temptation to fist-pump. "And what happens every year on October Thirty-First?"
"Hallowe'en!" said Crabbe.
"NO! Well, actually, yeah, again, kinda. But once again, you're right but completely wrong! Tomorrow morning is the Northwestern Regional Semi-Finals for the UK Quidditch League!"
"Bwa ha ha!" Crabbe cackled.
"Mwa ha ha!" Goyle cackled, too.
"I'm confused," Ron admitted.
"Well, there's a surprise. Look," Milo explained, "a sidequest is a short adventure at most tangentially related to the major events of the story used primarily for character development."
"Character development?" asked Ron.
"Yeah. Getting hauls of XP, magic items, and gold, and thus making your character more powerful, or developed. Character development."
Harry frowned. "Look, unlike you two, I actually went to primary school, and I'm fairly certain that's not actually what character development means."
"Irregardless," Milo began.
"Not a word," Harry muttered.
"Says the boy on the Quidditch team. Anyways, regardless — there, happy? — of the meaning of character development, sidequests are brief excursions, more focussed on a single idea, generally simpler, and also where most of the best loot comes from."
"And that's why you're going on a date with the cute blonde?" asked Fred (or George, but we're not starting this again, okay?).
"Not a date. A sidequest," corrected Milo. He, Ron, Harry, and the Weasley twins were sitting in a corner in the Common Room. Milo had planned to co-ordinate his Hallowe'en schedule with them, so that they'd all know where the others would be at any given time (for when, inevitably, disaster struck) but the conversation had taken an unexpected turn when he'd filled them in on his conversation with Hannah.
"On a secluded, dare I say, private walk around the Hogwarts lake," said George, "where, being right out in the open, of course, everyone can see you."
"Yeah. An adventure past a body of water filled to the brim with monsters of every sort," said Milo.
"Ah, I see," Fred said knowingly. "So you can protect the fair maiden, eh?"
"Well, if I have to. She's a witch, though, should be more than competent at defending herself."
"I think, Fred," said George, "that he's not really getting into the spirit of things."
"I'm forced to agree, George," said Fred.
"She said she wanted to talk to me alone for a while," Milo shrugged. "So I just assumed she had some critical information she has to pass along, or possibly a magic item. For all I know, she'll give me a quest."
"Maybe she has some sensitive information, if you know what I... ah, nevermind, you know?" said Fred.
"Yeah, it's just not working. He seems to be immune to teasing," admitted George. "Such a shame."
"A missed opportunity."
"A wasted chance."
"A moment passed, never to return."
"Such a shame."
"No, we actually said that one, already," said Fred.
"Ah, nuts," said George. "And here I was, getting all Zen."
"Well, one way or another," Fred said, "I think you're going to have a very interesting Hallowe'en."
Quirrell paced back and forth irritably in his office. He just had to think. There must be some way to get rid of that boy... how did he know? How could he possibly know that the Dark Lord was returning? Dumbledore must have told him, Quirrell thought. No... that explains nothing. How could Dumbledore himself know?
And the boy had just told him. He'd just come out and said it was obvious. Obvious! To anyone with half a brain! He'd even named his three friends as accomplices... Was it a trap? A test of some sort? Perhaps the boy had been bluffing, trying to gauge Quirrell's reaction?
Irregardless, it didn't matter. The boy had to die. Snape would make things difficult, though... he seemed to know, somehow. The only times the accursed Potions Master isn't watching the boy, Quirrell thought, he's watching me. He must be trying to protect the boy... they're all in it together. That's what they were doing out in the forest... Snape went out to meet Milo in the Forbidden Forest, to discuss how to stop me. It's too much of a coincidence to be anything else. They must think they're so clever, but if they were really clever they wouldn't have let me notice. No, they weren't half as sneaky as they thought. Well, it'll all happen tomorrow, if everything goes according to plan... No. No, there's no if about it.
"A Power He Knows Not..." Quirrell heard the horrible, hissing voice say behind him.
"W-w-what was that, Master?"
"Nothing that need concern you," the voice lashed out at him, like a cobra. Then the pain started.
It would be a long night for Quirrell.