Chapter 12: The Door to the Stone
"This is a bad idea!" Arf insisted. "A terrible idea."
"We'll be fine," Fate said. "Stop worrying."
Arf ground her puppy teeth and trotted after the four first years. "Why do you think Snape's going after the Stone now?"
"My scar hurt," Harry said.
"Fluffy's not making any noise," Ron added.
"Dumbledore's away so it's a good opportunity," Nanoha threw in.
"And the year's almost over so it's not like there will be many opportunities after this," Fate finished.
"So your plan is to get to the Stone first?" Arf asked incredulously.
"McGonagall didn't believe us," Harry snapped. "Why would Dumbledore?"
"Here it is," Ron said, voice suddenly dropping to a whisper. Given how loud the children were, the attempt at stealth was actually quite pathetic.
"How do we unlock it?" Harry whispered back.
Nanoha walked up and opened the door. "Um, remember that duel you didn't have with Malfoy? We kinda broke the lock that night."
Harry beamed. "Brilliant!"
The five crept into the room and Harry, Ron, and Arf got their first look at Fluffy.
"She's...not that scary," Harry said. It sounded like he was trying to convince himself.
"Kinda cute," Ron added in a very, very small voice.
"Trap door," Nanoha said, not paying any attention to the dog. If she didn't see it, it wasn't there.
"Wands out," Fate ordered. A quick rustle and everyone had a wand in hand. That was comforting, even if not one of them knew a spell that could stop a giant three headed dog.
"Her paw is on the door," Nanoha hissed.
"I got this," Ron said confidently. "Wingardium leviosa." Fluffy's paw lifted up away from the door.
Which woke the cerberus up.
And she was not happy.
Fluffy growled at the intruders. The big man that smelled like chickens and called himself Mummy had told her to guard this room. Mummy rewarded Fluffy when she did good. She would rip the flesh from the bones of these small screaming things. Mummy will be so proud!
Nanoha and Fate quickly realized their mistakes as Fluffy charged and their devices weren't ready. They scrambled to correct and orange light flashed over their heads. Arf, now a fully grown wolf, crashed into Fluffy and knocked the larger animal over, onto her back with Arf snarling on her chest. "GO!" she yelled. "I can handle this!"
Nanoha and Fate took the reprieve to activate their devices Nanoha held Raising Heart in her left hand and her wand in her right, while Fate put her wand away to get a double handed grip on Bardiche. Both wore barrier jackets. "Arf, are you sure?" Fate asked.
Arf snorted and orange chains formed to hold Fluffy down. "I'm sure. Get out of here!" She jumped out of the way of one of the heads.
"Trapdoor's open!" Harry yelled.
"Alright," Nanoha said worriedly. "Be careful, Arf!"
The children disappeared down the trapdoor and Arf turned back to Fluffy. One of the bonds snapped and the others wouldn't last long. And the beast was between her and both exits. She snarled at it. "You tried to hurt my master. I am so far beyond being careful."
Nanoha flew down the trap door with Fate. "How deep is this thing?"
"Harry and Ron can't fly," Fate answered.
Nanoha's blood chilled. There weren't screams below them...which after this distance was a bad thing. "Cushioning charms?"
"I hope so," Fate said grimly.
"Lumos," Nanoha said, holding her wand forward. The tunnel lit up. The green floor was still a ways away, but they could make out the boys. They seemed fine.
Harry looked up. "Wish we had thought of that," he said cheekily.
"Lucky there was a soft landing," Ron said.
"Soft," Fate sputtered. "Look at yourselves!"
Harry and Ron looked down and screamed as they saw vines wrapping around them. They squirmed but couldn't move an inch.
Nanoha carefully took Raising Heart in a two handed grip without dropping her wand. "Okay boys, stay still a moment."
"Stay still?" Ron howled. "How is that going to help!"
"Let's shoot it. Axel shooter."
Ron's eyes grew huge even as vines gagged him, preventing him from objecting to this plan. This was a bad plan. This plan was going to hurt so very much.
"Shoot!" Nanoha yelled.
Six balls of pink energy shot from Raising Heart and split into two groups of three. Nanoha closed her eyes and concentrated.
This did not inspire confidence.
Each trio surrounded a boy, circling them at high speed. Nanoha frowned, then nodded once. "Shoot!" she called again.
At once the pattern changed and the six bullets all converged on the two boys. They tore through the vines and left pulped and charred plant in their wake. In seconds the boys fell through the plant to the floor below. Nanoha recovered her bullets and used them to blast a hole for herself and Fate to follow. They joined the boys, hovering just above the floor. It brought their eyes level with the older boys. Well, eye level if Ron wasn't on his knees gaping for air. Harry helped him up.
Harry scowled. "What was that?"
"Good shooting," Ron gasped.
"Devil's snare," Fate answered. "We need to keep moving."
"What about Arf?" Harry demanded.
Fate hesitated. "She can fly. The devil's snare won't get her if she tries to follow. And she's handled worse than Fluffy."
"But," Harry protested.
Nanoha grabbed him by the shoulder. "Sometimes you have to trust your friends to make it without you," she said. "So before those times, you train hard so that when the time comes, you'll all make it. Arf will be fine."
Harry swallowed and nodded. "We have to get the Stone," he said.
The quartet moved on, proceeded by Nanoha's Area Search. Fortunately the stone corridor, while dark, dank, and oppressive, was empty and straight. They soon came to a room with a door and lots of flying keys.
Nanoha's Area Search winked out. "This must be Flitwick's defense," she said.
"So that snare thing was Sprout's?" Ron asked.
Ron walked over to the door. "Locked."
"Shocking," Nanoha said dryly.
Ron pointed his wand at the door. "Alohamora."
"Alohamora?" Nanoha asked.
"Unlocking charm," Ron answered. "Hermione taught it to me after I bollixed a charm essay."
Fate looked at the door. "Stand back," she ordered. She created a glowing yellow circle in front of the door. "Plasma..." Bardiche chuffed once, spent brass clattering to the floor.
Ron and Harry quickly ran behind Fate.
Fate slammed Bardiche into the circle. "SMASHER!" A torrent of magical and elemental energy cascaded into the door and exploded...leaving the door completely unmarked. She walked over to examine the damage.
Nanoha stepped up. "Then we'll just have to try even harder," she said.
"NO!" Harry yelled. "You'll bring down the whole school!"
Nanoha blinked. "You think so?"
"Let's not risk it," Ron said. "We have a locked door and a lot of keys. And look, brooms. Obviously we're supposed to get the right key to unlock the door."
Fate looked up from the doorknob. "You're looking for an old fashioned key. Most of these are too small. You want one that is big and clunky."
Nanoha and Harry scanned the room. They pointed at one key, Harry a halfsecond faster than Nanoha. "That one," they said.
Fate and Ron looked where they pointed and nodded. "That fits. Come on."
Harry and Ron grabbed broomsticks while Nanoha and Fate simply took to the air. They quickly discovered that binds were as useless as busters – Flitwick had carefully charmed the keys to be immune to magic that restrained or moved. But then, the youngest seeker in a century and the Ace of Aces were far and away a match for Flitwick's enchanted keys. They had the door open in less than a minute.
"Remind me again why she plays quidditch and you don't?" Ron asked.
"We wanted you to have a chance at beating us," Nanoha shot back.
Ron paled as he remembered that they didn't fly for Gryffindor. Somehow he kept missing the blue hems on their robes. He turned to Harry. "Catch the snitch fast," he ordered.
"Yes sir," Harry said with a roll of his eyes.
Then they came to McGonagall's defense, the giant chess board. Nanoha and Fate didn't bother blasting their way through the line of pieces that blocked their way.
"Well, chessmaster?" Harry asked, looking at Ron.
"I guess we have to play," he said. "You lot, white goes first!"
The black pieces turned to look at them, expectantly. The white pieces did not move.
Ron frowned and turned to the closest black knight, then paled. "Oh no. Human chess." The knight nodded.
"What?" Nanoha asked.
"Short version," Ron grumbled. "Really long time ago kings and emperors would play chess with peasants as pieces."
"Oh no," Fate moaned.
"Yeah," Ron said. "Nanoha, queen. Fate, rook. Harry, bishop. Me, knight." He looked up at the chess figure. "I'll need your horse to watch the field."
The black pieces moved off and the children took their places.
Ron directed his pawns into an open game, blowing open the center of the board and cementing himself and Harry in that position. Fate he kept on the half-open king's bishop file and Nanoha he held just off the center. She was too tempting a target for the opposition.
Held back as he was by his need to keep his friends safe, Ron's brutal gambit led to him sacrificing pawns far more often than he knew he should, and he only got a lucky break when Harry was able to dart in and snag a rook. He looked over the board and grimaced.
White's development was pathetic, but even with that rook they had a material advantage. Their king was on the back rank and not castled, but Ron didn't see a way to neutralize the queen on the second rank without...
Chess is a game of sacrifice.
Ron closed his eyes. "Harry. Listen to me carefully. You're going to have to take the queen in the next move. Nanoha, you can mate in the turn after that. Got it?"
"Yeah," Harry said. "Ron, what are you planning?"
"Knight to F2. Check," Ron said.
"Ron, no!" Harry yelled. But it was too late. Ron's horse was moving.
"This is what needs to be done," Ron snapped. "This is the test. Look at the board, Harry! Do you think I could have kept four pieces safe this long without losing?"
Harry shook his head, not understanding.
Ron looked at the queen. "Chess is a game of strategy, cunning, and patience. But above all that it is a game of sacrifice. If you're too afraid to lose a piece, any piece, you lose."
Then the queen clubbed him over the head and threw him into a wall.
"RON!" Harry yelled. He glared at the queen and walked over to it. "Bishop takes queen!" he snarled. "Get out of here!"
The queen, unfeeling, not even capable of comprehending the rage in the boy's voice, marched off the board.
The white king shifted towards Harry.
Nanoha looked at all her moves and saw it. She marched across the board to stand next to Harry, protecting each other. "Check mate."
The king ripped off his crown and threw it at their feet.
Fate ran to Ron before the echoes stopped. "He's breathing," she yelled. "I think he'll be okay. I'm calling the Kaithya for a medical emergency."
Nanoha nodded and grabbed Harry. "Come on," she urged. "We can't do anything more here."
Harry and Nanoha ran the rest of the way, past the knocked out troll ("Is that as bit as the one you fought?" Nanoha asked) and into the final lock: Snape's logic puzzle.
Nanoha read the note twice and rummaged through her robe for a pen and a bit of parchment. "Bloody thing doesn't work as good as a quill on the stuff but I'm glad I have it," she muttered. She scratched out a number of markings, muttering to herself.
"Are you sure one of those shield spells couldn't let you power through?" Harry asked.
Nanoha shrugged. "Only one way to test that and this is easier."
"This is easy?" Harry asked.
Nanoha pointed at the tiniest flask. "That one."
Harry looked at it. "Only enough for one."
"Why doesn't that surprise me?" Nanoha asked. "Well, give it"
But Harry was already through the flames, an empty bottle in his wake.
Nanoha stared after her friend and looked to her staff. "I guess we have no choice but to try it."
"I believe, master. Call me, Exelion mode."
Nanoha nodded. "Right. Let's give it our best. Raising Heart, Exelion mode! Engage drive!"
Raising Heart loaded three cartridges in rapid order. "Ignition."
Nanoha put her wand away, the light of her familiar magic and the flames was enough. "Alright Raising Heart. We're going to punch right through that thing."
"ACS, standby, ready. Good to go, my master."
"Miss Takamachi, stop where you are!"
Nanoha faltered and turned. "Professor Dumbledore!?" she gaped.
Albus Dumbledore marched forward like a mage-hero of legend. "Those flames are enchanted to dispel any protection."
Nanoha looked at the flames and then looked back at Dumbledore. "But..."
"Miss Takamachi, these obstacles were geared towards a singularly powerful and brutal wizard," Dumbledore said sternly.
Nanoha wilted. "I guess it wouldn't make sense for the direct approach to work then, would it?"
"Exactly," Dumbledore said. "Now, where is young Harry?"
Nanoha pointed past the black flames. "He drank the potion."
Dumbledore scowled, a terrible expression in the flickering firelight. "I see. Then we will need to reset the challenge. Fetch that flask, Miss Takamachi."
Nanoha grabbed the potion bottle and placed it on the table where it belonged. Dumbledore tapped the table three times with his wand. The flasks all leaped from the table and spun about in the air to land gently on the table again, filled up. Nanoha looked at the note and saw the four clues had changed. "Sir?"
"Professor Snape is accomplished at more than potions," Dumbledore said softly. "I'm told the puzzle is never the same twice. Ah, here we are." He pulled the second largest bottle. "Hm. I imagine no matter what I say, you will be right behind me."
"Yes sir," Nanoha agreed.
"Then we go together, Miss Takamachi. But be wary, what we face inside will be a foul evil. Do not let it touch you, do you understand?"
"Yes sir," Nanoha said, louder and more assertively.
"Good." The two drank the potion and Nanoha shuddered at the icy prickling, and then they marched into the next room.
The scene that unfolded was a horror unlike any Nanoha had seen. The air stank with burned flesh, Harry panted with exhaustion, Snape...no Quirrell's body lie on the ground with a hideous hole in his head, and a specter raced at Harry, almost visibly radiating malice.
Nanoha heard Dumbledore cast something but she wasn't paying attention. "Protection, Powered," Raising Heart announced, and Harry was sealed in a solid pink dome.
The specter rebounded off the barrier and looked around. Nanoha set Raising Heart to point at the form. "Now, Raising Heart, seal it away!"
"Sealing." Three wings of solid mana flared from the staffhead. "Divine Buster."
The phantom fled before the pink beam could reach it.
Nanoha scowled and Raising Heart powered down, venting excess power. "Sorry, my master."
"That's all right," Nanoha said. She turned to Dumbledore. He was kneeling by Harry. "Sorry, Professor."
Dumbledore shook his head. "You provided an excellent distraction, Miss Takamachi. Voldemort will not be returning any time soon."
"You banished him?" Nanoha asked.
Dumbledore shook his head. "He would have left as soon as Harry was dead. I denied him that prize."
Nanoha looked her friend over and saw burned palms, open cuts, filth. Much of it was healing. "How could he have gotten so hurt so quickly?"
"Voldemort is quite skilled at mutilation," Dumbledore said grimly, "and I fear Harry channeled too much magic for his young body."
"Is that all?" Nanoha asked. She formed a connection to the Kaithya with a visible magic circle. "Agent Takamachi requesting immediate dimensional transfer plus two, medical emergency."
"...he's coming around..."
"...linker core...a few days..."
"Harry! Can you open your eyes?"
"Uhhh..." Harry began to remember what words meant. His own name came a moment later.
"That's it. Take it easy." Dumbledore. That was Dumbledore's voice. That meant something. Oh, right.
"Quirrell!" Harry shouted, sitting upright. Adrenaline charged his nerves and he looked around wildly. "Quirrell! You-Know-Who. Stone!"
"Easy Harry," Dumbledore ordered. "Lie back. I assure you, the situation is under control. The Sorcerer's Stone did not fall into Voldemort's hands, thanks to you."
Harry sagged with relief and collapsed into the bed. "That's...good."
Dumbledore chuckled. "Your friends have spent the past few hours regaling me with your adventure."
Harry tried to sit up again with a new jolt. "Ron? Arf?"
"Look to your left."
Harry turned to look and saw two more beds with Ron and Arf in them. Ron waved weakly. Arf was a bit more lively. Both were bandaged around their arms and head.
"I confess I rather thought you were the worst of them all," Dumbledore said, "but your recovery has been phenomenal thanks to some rather unorthodox treatments."
Madam Pomfrey sniffed. "Mr. Weasley should have been sent straight to me. A few contusions and a mild concussion, he shouldn't be in any pain any more."
"We can hardly fault Miss Harlaown's decision," Dumbledore said mildly. "I doubt anyone else could have snatched her from that corridor." In fact, even knowing where it was, they hadn't been able to drop Dumbledore closer than Fluffy's chamber. Hagrid was taking care of her and was rather appalled at how roughly Arf "played" with her.
Harry sat up, or tried to before he was gently pushed back down. "I don't understand what happened," he moaned.
Dumbledore explained. He had arrived as soon as Arf had subdued Fluffy enough to call for help, missing Fate and Ron by only a few minutes. He charged through the locks quickly and met up with young Nanoha in the Potion Room. The two of them then came to Harry's aid.
"I am not sure if you know this about your young friend, but she is considered in the top one percent of all combat mages, including adults," Dumbledore explained.
Harry gaped. "You're joking. What's she doing here then?"
"I'll let her decide how to answer that," Dumbledore said. "She used one of those impressive barriers to keep Voldemort's spirit from you. Then she asked her ship's doctor to see to your injuries."
Pomfrey scowled at that. "All he needed was bedrest," she objected. "Maybe a few potions."
"I fear, my boy, you were looking at a few days in this bed, not a few hours."
Harry's head spun at all the revelations. "The Stone is safe?"
"The Stone is destroyed," Dumbledore said seriously. Harry gaped again and Dumbledore told the sad tale of Nicholas Flamel and his long-awaited journey to the next great adventure.
The next day saw the Gryffindor-Ravenclaw quidditch match. Pomfrey had threatened to hex something personal and private off whoever asked Harry to play, including the patient himself. Harry listened to the commentary from the infirmary and grew increasingly depressed as Ravenclaw beat the pants off the Gryffindors.
Despite the terrible loss, rumors about their adventure had circulated enough that half a candy store (and one toilet seat) were delivered to their bedsides. He enjoyed them all, sharing a fair amount with Ron and Arf. Ron got the toilet seat, of course.
Hagrid stopped by at least four times a day, trying to make up for letting Voldemort know how to get past Fluffy. Harry gave him a chocolate frog and Arf told him it didn't matter – all he had done was save Fluffy's life. If she could take Fluffy out, she had no doubt Voldemort could.
Hagrid paled when he finally realized how much danger his beloved pet had been in.
Finally they were released from the hospital wing, only to run headlong into the wave of panic attacks as exam results were just around the corner and a good third of Ravenclaw was in hysterics.
The feast that night promised the end of the House Cup. Dumbledore gave his speech. "Another year, gone! Hopefully your heads are a bit fuller, and you have a full summer to empty them. Now, it is my happy duty to award the House Cup. This has been a close year, I must say. In fourth place, with three hundred and fifty-two, Hufflepuff! With four hundred and twenty-six, Ravenclaw takes third! In second place, Gryffindor, with four hundred and sixty-two. And in first, Slytherin, with four hundred and seventy-two." He waited for Slytherin to have their moment of victory. "And now, it is my duty to award end of term points. For selflessness, courage, and a fine game of chess, I award Ronald Weasley ten points."
"Just ten?" Fred cried, outraged. "For getting past McGonagall's chess board?"
"We're tied with Slytherin," Hermione hissed.
"For clear thinking and quick action, I award Fate Harlaown ten points."
Nanoha hugged Fate and the Ravenclaw quidditch team shouted their praises.
"For leadership and calm restraint," Dumbledore's eyes twinkled at this, "I award Nanoha Takamachi ten points."
Fate hugged Nanoha back at that. "Imagine, you getting points for restraint," she whispered.
Nanoha laughed sheepishly.
"And finally, for unflagging courage and pure nerve in the face of the unknown, I award Harry Potter fifteen points."
The Gryffindor table practically exploded with celebration while the Slytherins just looked sick. Malfoy in particular had a horrible mask of horror where his face was supposed to be.
"I think we need a change of decoration!" Dumbledore called over the noise.
"Strange, though," Cho said as the banners changed from green to red. "Forty-five points for facing You-Know-Who? Isn't that a bit cheap?"
Nanoha shrugged. "There was no way we did more than Harry and Ron. Gryffindor was going to win anyway. No need to rub it in."
Fate nodded. "Besides, we broke enough rules to get expelled. Flitwick sat us down privately and told us that we had lost and earned like fifty points in less than an hour and he was just going to let it drop because he couldn't figure out what to do about it."
After the feast was the packing, then loading up the train. Harry showed them the album Hagrid had put together for him. Ron pulled out a deck for exploding snap. Nanoha and Fate walked them through how to use their magic-proof phones again.
And then they were at King's Cross in normal clothes...except Ron who couldn't dress like a muggle for five galleons. Through the barrier and...
"Mom?" Nanoha gaped. "What are you doing here? Dad?"
Momoko and Shiro grinned. "Like we would sit out on your first day home?" Shiro chided.
"Well, no but," Nanoha hedged.
"Mom! Chrono!" Fate ran into the arms of her mother while her brother stood by.
"Same to you," Lindy said, nodding sideways at Shiro. "It took some fiddling to lay over here, but we managed."
"Hurry up, boy!" an unfamiliar voice snarled nearby. Fate's skin crawled at the all to familiar tone, even if the accent, language, and gender were all different. She hugged Lindy tighter and glared balefully at the fat man walking away with Harry.
"Who was that?" Lindy asked softly.
"The boy was my friend, Harry. And the man...I think the man is his uncle."
Lindy frowned. "We'll talk about this back home," she promised.
Nanoha and Fate said their goodbyes and soon teleported away, to Japan and to the Arthra in orbit. It was going to be a long summer.
And perhaps, just perhaps, they'd head back to London and Hogwarts next year.
Lyrical Witch Part One: The end
Well, this has been a ride. Took a long time, too. The simple fact is, Year One is boring.
No, it is. Seriously. BORING. Year two isn't much better. So, why am I starting so early?
Simple. I've read fics where new characters start with even sixth year material. That's absurd. I would burn my notes before I wrote that. Maybe I could get away with second year, but, well...
Well you'll just have to read the first chapter of year two. It's already been posted.
Revised. Thanks to Josh. Good catch, mate.