AN: I'm not dead yet! And neither is this fic!
So yeah. About that ridiculously long absence… Let's just say that I had to deal with some stuff, had probably the worst writer's block in the history of writer's blocks, and was constantly distracted by new games. First Ark: Survival Evolved, then Fallout 4, and finally 40,000 nerds in EVE Online decided to be like 'let's have a big old war that you can't miss'. And it went downhill from there. Curiously Mass Effect: Andromeda had much less of an impact because it's… not completely bad? That's probably the best I can say about it. 2019 addendum: Reading this again makes me realize how shamefully long I have left this sitting.
Anyway, this chapter is going to be slightly different. Because of the long hiatus I decided to split the original chapter 19 (was getting a bit long anyway) and tack on a short 2 pages summary of what happened so far. Chapter 20 will then wrap up the first year at Hogwarts - don't worry, you won't have to wait as long as it's already finished. Obviously you are more than welcome to skip the summary part and go right to the new part or reread the old chapters. I've marked the place where the new stuff starts; you can't really miss it.
By the way, I decided to skip a chapter number to bring them in line with the actual number of chapters, so this will be chapter 19 despite the last chapter being labeled chapter 17. It's a purely cosmetic thing and if I ever go back and fix up some of the earlier chapters this will be one of those fixes.
Additionally, I posted a short 'essay' in my outtakes story that explains a bit more about the polity that is Magical Britain.
Previously on Blue Magic
Liara T'Soni, an Asari Xenoarchaeologist, had been assigned to covertly study the newly discovered Human race in order to ascertain if they pose a future threat to the galactic community. This was done without the knowledge of the other council races as there is a ban on traveling beyond the known Mass Relays, huge structures left by the Protheans, that allow fast travel across the galaxy.
Near the end of the planned ten year observation period she encountered seven year old Harry Potter being cornered by his cousin Dudley and his gang. Witnessing his escape by mysterious means Liara first assumed Harry was a biotic, a sentient being like herself that can control Mass Effect fields to lower or increase mass as well as exert force directly in a certain area. The only issue with this theory was that the Mass Effect is linked to the very rare Element Zero which to her knowledge cannot be found on Earth in sufficient concentrations to produce biotics.
After two weeks of observing Harry and witnessing the cruelty the young boy experienced from those around him, Liara decided to intervene and take Harry away from his abusive relatives and a generally uncaring community. He gladly followed her home to the planet Thessia. As one of the most important political, economical, and spiritual figures in the Asari Republics, Liara's mother Benezia maintained a cloistered off household where only her most trusted acolytes had access. Her vast resources allowed Harry to remain undetected on Thessia although the isolation wasn't always easy. Outside the T'Sonis and Benezia's devout followers contact with others, especially peers of a similar maturity, was limited to either the anonymous virtual world of the Extranet or under heavy disguise. Thankfully Humans and Asari are physically very similar even if the aliens are monogendered, have blue skin, tentacles instead of hair and live for over a thousand years. Other than that they look just like Human women.
Nevertheless life on Thessia was good for Harry. He thrived in this new environment and after some initial hiccups showed great control over his biotics, even if he was rather weak by Asari standards.
Three years later Liara got the opportunity to be the first researcher exploring some recently discovered Prothean ruins on Medes, a planet in the middle of the Attican Traverse, an almost unexplored region of the galaxy. Since the life of an explorer appealed to Harry (and it being one of the select few professions he could conceivably follow later in life) he was allowed to accompany Liara to serve as her assistant. For several weeks their expedition remained unremarkable but everything changed when a group of pirates attacked and cornered Liara.
At the same time Harry had been wandering the ruins and discovered a hidden underground room with a mural depicting three figures, one of them a dragon straight out of Human mythology, and a strange glowing orb that he felt compelled to touch. As soon as he did his whole being was subjected to the close scrutiny by three distinct entities with only the one later identified as a Phoenix being sympathetic to him. Left frightened and disoriented Harry stumbles out of the room and right into an ongoing confrontation between Liara and the attacking pirates. Due to his highly agitated state, his magic reacted to the new danger and all pirates wound up being transfigured into pigs, making it abundantly clear to Liara that Harry wasn't just a biotic but something else entirely. Unbeknown to Liara or Harry, the entire incident was witnessed by Garred Vakarian, an undercover Turian Spectre and father to one of Harry's best extranet friends, although that connection isn't known to anyone just yet. He doesn't immediately start a full blown public investigation, deciding a more careful approach would be better.
After returning from Medes, some effort was spent to uncover what Harry's strange powers could be but no real progress is made until unexpectedly answers arrived in the form of Fawkes the Phoenix. Back on Earth Harry's disappearance didn't go unnoticed by Albus Dumbledore who spent several years trying to find him. Finally he used a slightly desperate ritual with the purpose of sending his familiar to Harry, wherever he may be to deliver Harry's Hogwarts letter - even if he, unbeknownst to the Headmaster, was halfway across the galaxy.
With some misgivings, mainly concerning secrecy, Harry and Liara returned back to Earth in order for Harry to attend Hogwarts and to study this completely hidden society where everyone had access to unbelievable powers. They are backed up by a friend of Liara's, the Quarian Engineer Tika, who helped them turn the Potter ancestral home, recently rebuilt by Dumbledore, into a more permanent base. Unlike crude muggle technology their space-hardened equipment remained mostly unaffected by magic.
Meanwhile Harry's studies at Hogwarts started off well. His biotic training had given him a great deal of focus for his age which also helped him excel at magic. The wonders of personal computing and the technology to quickly scan entire libraries' worth of books and organize and access the information contained in them gave him a huge leg up, which left Hermione Granger as the only real competition among his peers. Unlike her however, Harry was generally well liked which can be attributed to his fame and to his generally approachable personality.
Unaccustomed to playing second fiddle in school and not helped by feeling lonely in a strange and foreign place, Hermione snapped on Hallowe'en when Ron Weasley said some hurtful words about her behind her back which she overheard. Harry, feeling badly for her and being brought up by a race of diplomats and counselors, sought her out while the rest of the school was at the feast and tried to cheer her up. He mostly succeeded and offered his friendship when a troll burst into the bathroom they had been talking in.
Harry tried to distract the troll so Hermione could flee but in doing so got injured, shortly followed by Hermione. Only the timely arrival of Liara who was using the distraction of the feast to scan the Hogwarts library saved the pair.
With the attack of the troll a more sinister side of the magical world revealed itself. Cursed brooms, gigantic three headed dogs, rumored retuning Dark Lords hunting unicorns and the often volatile nature of magic itself made Harry and Liara wonder if coming back was such a good idea after all.
Chapter 19: Preparations
Sunday, May 10, 1992
Dumbledore sighed as he brushed his fingers through the mane of the fallen unicorn. He grieved for the majestic animal, slaughtered by the eternal folly of man.
Things were coming to a head now; Albus could feel it in the tip of his beard. Soon everything would be ready and the trap would snap shut, hopefully securing another decade of peace. Even so he couldn't shake the feeling that the dead unicorn was a bad omen.
"Innocence is forevermore the first victim of war," a pleasant baritone spoke behind him, the tone reverent.
"I had hoped to avoid another war," Dumbledore responded as he rose. "Greetings, Firenze. I trust your wife and colt are well?"
He greeted the centaur that had appeared on the other side of the clearing with a hand raised in salute in the manner of the ancients, which was replied with the slightest of bows. Even that little gesture was a sign of high regard from a centaur towards a wizard.
"Hope is a good thing, but what do our hopes matter to the stars?" the palomino replied cryptically. Dumbledore had to struggle to keep a smile from his face; Centaurs always spoke like they just sprang out of a classical Greek drama. Albus always enjoyed playing along. Everyone could do with a little bit of silliness once in a while.
"Hagrid told me you saved one of my students last night. For that you have my thanks. I'm in your debt," Albus stated formally while bowing deeply.
Giving curfew breakers detention in the forest was a time-honoured tradition, a scare tactic that hopefully taught them not to do it again. Sometimes it didn't work though, as the teachers had found out most recently with the Weasley twins. It took the teachers almost a year to catch on to the fact that they purposely broke curfew just so they could wander the forest at night. Gryffindors through and through they were delighted by the foreboding mysteriousness of the dark woods.
Unlike what many believed the Forbidden Forest wasn't forbidden because of dangerous dark creatures - well, not just because of them. One had to travel very far from the castle to encounter the more dangerous forest dwellers and even then they were not always easy to find. Most were smart enough to know not to touch his students. No, it was forbidden because it was very easy to get lost in it. The teachers simply didn't want students turning up missing all the time.
It was also a refuge for all those creatures and beings that couldn't stay anywhere else because of the Statute of Secrecy, and most liked to be left alone; like the Centaurs who lived closest to the school. Though they might not appreciate wandering students they could be relied on to guide them back to the schools or at least kept them from the more dangerous parts of the forest. They also did a superb job at scaring students to stay out of the forest in the future by being rather abrasive to interlopers.
But last night was different from the usual scary but harmless excursions. What had Hagrid been thinking, taking children into the woods when something was hunting unicorns! A thorough reprimand had to wait though, first Albus needed to see the scene with his own eyes.
"I did only what I thought was right. Even the heavens must not always be obeyed," Firenze stated ominously, dragging the wizard's thoughts back to the present. That was surprising. A Centaur would rather let a Human ride him than go against at what he perceived to be the will of the stars.
"I would wager the others of your herd weren't too pleased with you," Dumbledore probed, sensing there was more to the Centaur's defiance of Fate.
"They were not, but we must each walk our own path," Firenze confirmed. They both lapsed into solemn silence for a few moments, paying respect to the fallen unicorn.
"Mars was bright last night," the centaur finally filled the quiet between them in the tone of a farmer perfunctorily worrying about an approaching storm that threatened his crops. "It has been growing steadily brighter over the last moons. The last time I've seen it this bright was over ten years ago and once again the innocent are hunted."
"So it is as I feared," Dumbledore said, mostly to himself. He might not hold much faith in personal divination, but centaurs were well known for their insight in the ebb and flow of history. There was a reason why divination wasn't complete poppycock. "A new threat is looming."
"No," Firenze denied, pawning the ground with one of his forelegs in agitation. "Not a new threat, an old one. The same one as last time."
"The same?" Albus pinned the palomino with a piercing gaze over his half-moon spectacles, not having much patience for jokes in bad taste or needless fear-mongering.
"The same." There was no doubt in the centaur's voice.
"Voldemort." The name was bitter in his mouth, his second greatest failure. "How do you know? I thought the stars never gave such precise knowledge."
"They don't, although in hindsight the signs are there," Firenze agreed with a nod but paused for a moment. "Last night Hagrid called my kind 'ruddy stargazers' when we though we wouldn't hear."
"Well, you must agree that you centaurs are more preoccupied with the Above than the Below," Dumbledore chuckled at the non-sequitur.
"That is true enough, I suppose, but not all of us are ignorant of the world around us. Many beings enter the forest to seek solitude, never noticing that one is never quite alone in here." For a moment the centaur smirked. It was such a boyish look on the regal being that Albus had to chuckle again. "He has taken up residence in the forest since summer. I have found many small critters dead without apparent reason. At first I dismissed it as one of your students coming into the forest to practise that which you do not teach, as has happened many times before. I resolved to watch more closely."
Dumbledore nodded to himself. It happened from time to time. The Dark Arts were alluring to some and on occasion a student decided to practise them in the forest, believing themselves far from prying eyes. Most of the time they were eventually caught, either by the Professors or by one of the forest dwellers. How they were dealt with was dependent on the circumstances. Some could be turned away by dire warnings, punishment, or object lessons. Some couldn't. And some managed to never get caught; like Tom Riddle had.
"However, it was no student that came but one of your teachers," Firenze continued. "He came to do the bidding of his master. At first I thought the man mad, speaking as he had with two voices, but that is not the madness that has gripped him. Eventually I pieced together the identity of his master by how he spoke about Harry Potter."
"What have they been talking about?" Dumbledore asked, now realizing that what he had assumed to be a form of magical communication - mirrors perhaps - was something far more sinister.
"He-who-must-not-be-named is impatient but also fearful. He punished his servant for almost getting caught, yet drives him on regardless. They talked at length about the protections of the Stone and the need not to arouse suspicion. He believes you to be the final hurdle in his way, as you have been in the past, and has been looking for ways to lure you out of the castle."
After another moment of silence Firenze bid the Headmaster a good day which was returned absentmindedly. He left the ancient wizard deep in thought as Dumbledore tried to adjust his planning to the new circumstances.
That it was Voldemort who was after the Stone was both a source of dread and relief. As terrible as the man had been he was also a known quantity and evidently nowhere near full strength and might never be again. Dumbledore had taught him and later fought him for years. To him Tom Riddle was not as unpredictable as many proclaimed him to be. Voldemort might have been the wizard with the most indomitable force of will Albus had ever encountered, yet will alone was not everything. Voldemort still had many flaws that could be exploited which a more traditional dark wizard might not have.
What troubled him though was this unpreceded form of unlife, almost like a Skindancer - a wizard that took over his victim's body and claim it for his own - yet not quite. Leaving aside the incredible ease with which Voldemort seemed to exchange bodies including animals, the Headmaster doubted that Voldemort went fully down that particular road towards immortality, as in time he would incorporate some of his victims' traits with each possession, slowly becoming an amalgam of several persons, losing his original self. Of course there was also the possibility of being repelled by the intended victim, leaving the Skindancer's original or not-so-original body and soul vulnerable and the latter potentially drifting forever.
No, he could see Voldemort studying this magic, perhaps even adapt it to his needs, but the reason for his continued existence - finally confirmed now - had to be something else. The disembodied spirit of a Skindancer couldn't survive long without a suitable host - minutes at best - and even that required careful preparation. A Skindancer also would not have survived a forceful expulsion of their soul like what presumably happened that Hallowe'en night.
Therefore before anything could be done Albus needed to find out more about what Voldemort had done to tether himself to this world and in his foolishness his former student was presenting Albus with an unique opportunity. All Dumbledore had to do was coax Voldemort into the trap - which he would need to modify of course - so his current form could be studied. Maybe he could even be tricked to give away some of his secrets. He only needed a little bit more time. Thankfully, the elections for the new Minister of Magic would have to be soon - an ideal excuse to be out of the castle for him and encite Tom to act.
As Albus pulled out his wand to excavate a grave for the fallen unicorn he briefly contemplated engineering a confrontation between Harry and Voldemort. The Dark Lord must be truly desperate if he was trying to steal the Philosopher's Stone from right under Albus' crooked nose. With a little luck the prophecy could be resolved without much fanfare and Harry freed from its looming spectre.
The thought was soon dismissed though. Harry more than anyone deserved to have a childhood and the risk of failure was still too great; however weak Voldemort must surely be in his current form Harry was still only in his first year. Also, he had been sincere when he had vowed to Miss T'Soni to do his best to keep Harry safe. Trying to meddle with prophecies was never a good idea anyway.
No, Dumbledore would do nothing in regards to Harry Potter and his destiny. He would help the lad when the time came, but he would try to interfere as little as possible, at least for now.
With that decision made, Dumbledore buried Voldemort's first victim after his return, morbidly fitting as he had also arranged the funeral for Lily and James, the Dark Lord's last victims, and made his way back to the castle.
Monday, May 11, 1992
History of Magic Classroom
"I've told you last week, we were going to start with revisions this week, but an important event that may not repeat itself during your time at Hogwarts has come up that I would like to cover. Does anyone have an idea to which event I'm referring to?"
Cuthbert Binns looked from student to student expectantly while they shared puzzled looks. The class had come a long way since September and even the densest of Ravenclaws realized that there was more to history than what was written in books. Finally Mr. Boot raised his hand hesitantly and Binns acknowledged him.
"Sir, do you mean the election?"
"Precisely. Later this month the Wizengamot will convene to elect a new Minister for Magic to replace leaving Minister Bagnold. It's likely going to be interesting as the usual factions are quite out of balance. Perhaps I should start by explaining more about the election before we discuss it further.
"As I've said the minister is elected by the Wizengamot in a closed session. Typically they choose a senior ministry official as they are already familiar with the inner workings of the ministry. However, everyone that is eligible to be called to the Wizengamot is in theory also eligible to become minister. Yes Miss Granger?"
"What does 'eligible to be called to the Wizengamot' mean? Can't everyone become a member of the Wizengamot?" There were several sniggers from those that grew up in the magical world but the girl didn't react to them.
"Certainly not!" the ghostly professor didn't mind the question even if he could understand the perplexion his other students expressed. "The Wizengamot members are selected mainly from certain families that have displayed a continuous drive to better our society and several senior Ministry administrators. Those outside these families can still be considered if they personally made an extraordinary contribution to our community and were awarded an Order of Merlin for it. Take for example our own Headmaster: The Dumbledore family itself is not eligible for consideration but because of the Headmaster's defeat of the Dark Lord Grindelwald he was awarded the Order of Merlin First Class which guaranteed him a seat on the Wizengamot. Before this he held the Order of Merlin Second Class for his academic accomplishments including the discovery of the twelve uses of dragon blood which would have allowed him to compete for an open seat. This measure was put in place to assure a certain competency of potential candidates and is as close to the Platonic ideal as can be reasonably expected. If everyone could vie for a seat on the Wizengamot, why that would be chaos!"
"And who decides who gets onto the Wizengamot?" Harry Potter interjected. For some reason he seemed distracted, the question almost perfunctory. Binns frowned; usually the boy was one of the most attentive students he had had the pleasure to teach.
"Well, the public does through vote," the ghost explained. "Although if there are too many candidates the sitting members of the Wizengamot may reduce that number before it comes to voting or postpone it until there are more seats open. They can also reject to recognize someone as a new member, but it happens very rarely."
"No wonder! They already have full control who has a chance of being elected anyway! It's self-perpetuating!"
"So?" Terry Boot responded to Granger's outburst before he could. "They are the ones that know how to make laws. Do you want some werewolf on the Wizengamot so he can make it easier for them to bite people?"
"Honestly! One member alone couldn't change all laws! But at least werewolves would get someone to represent them."
"Miss Granger, Mister Boot, I think we have strayed from the topic," Cuthbert interrupted them. "Perhaps… Hmm… Yes. It's been years since Hogwarts had a debate club but if you wish we can have a formal debate on the election rules of the Wizengamot next week. Please see me after class.
"Now let us go back to the election of the Minister of Magic. Something the muggleborn under you might find curious is that before the actual person can be elected the Wizengamot needs to decide how long his tenure will be. As some of you that grew up in our world know different numbers have different meanings. The number seven for example is considered the number of power and traditionally only Ministers in times of war or severe unrest serve for seven years. While Arithmancy tells us that there is indeed a magical meaning to some numbers, personally I always thought that in this instance the Wizengamot wishes to tell the future Minister on what he should focus on. Do they want to see change? Preserve the status quo? Focus on the economy or social reforms?
"After the wizengamot has decided upon a length, members can nominate candidates, though it's considered bad form to nominate oneself. After nomination candidates are fetched, if necessary, and allowed to speak and let up to three others speak for them. If there are too many a voting is held to reduce the number. After another round of discussion the final vote is held and the winner is sworn in."
"But doesn't the Queen appoint Ministers? My mum always said Her Majesty should just keep the Tories out from 10 Downing Street."
"The what now, Mister Thomas?" Binns asked perplexed. "Ah, you mean the muggle monarch. They do still have those... Yes… Well… The magical community always had a… somewhat... tepid relationship with the muggle monarchy. Nominally they ruled over us, as dictated by Merlin of course, but in reality few wizards were comfortable with this. The monarchs certainly didn't make it easy either, what with their demands that we fight for them and solve their problems with magic with nary a please or thank you. This came to a head in 1688 when the muggles once again quarrelled who would be King - just because the old King liked one sect of Christianity over the other! - the wizengamot of the time decided to help the new contender along a little in exchange for being granted sovereignty. Shortly afterwards, as you know, the Statute of Secrecy was signed and that was that. The statue in fact makes it illegal for wizards to subjugate themselves to muggles and is grounds for an ICW intervention."
From there the lesson went on largely unremarkable, though Miss Granger confused most of the class when she mentioned a concept called 'Separation of Powers' and how apparently the Ministry and the Wizengamot went against it. Cuthbert was rather intrigued but he could tell that the magically raised students didn't quite grasp the arguments.
Yes, reinstating the debate club might be beneficial.
Friday, May 22, 1992
History of Magic Classroom
Harry's last few weeks at Hogwarts were filled with trepidation and a smouldering need to do something. The killer of his parents was not as dead as anyone thought he was; in fact he was actively trying to come back to life. It didn't take a genius to figure out why Voldemort was after the Stone that produced the Elixir of Life. And all around him life went on as usual.
His dorm mates had quickly dismissed the story Neville had told them about a cloaked figure drinking unicorn blood and him being saved by a centaur. It was madness; Voldemort was gone and the thought of his specter haunting the Forbidden Forest was simply ludicrous. Not that any of the boys slept well that night. The next day in typical boyish bravado they joked about it, switching between teasing Neville for believing the superstitious centaurs and congratulating him on telling a good fib until even the shy boy himself didn't know what to think anymore. After a week everybody had put it out of their minds.
Not Harry though. He believed Neville, although he was careful not to let anyone besides Hermione know - his mates would tease him even more than Neville and there was no telling what Liara would do; storm Hogwarts to get him out, most likely. He couldn't tell why but for some reason the story had the ring of truth. The hidden scar, given to him by Voldemort as he now knew, that sent a stabbing pain into his forehead every time he met Quirrell these days was just further proof.
While a large part of Harry was equal parts fearful and indignant, his inquisitive side wondered how Voldemort was still alive and what his hurting scar meant. Sadly, for all the knowledge he could access definite answers were not to be found. Not that there was nothing of interest.
In fact during his research Harry must have read dozens of stories with Dark Wizards trying to achieve immortality and sometimes even temporarily reaching their goal through gruesome means. Yet all those stories he had access to were lacking real, substantial information. They were morality tales, delivering the message 'Do no evil - or bathe in virgin blood'. Nothing good will come of either of those; also, Virgin Blood? Disgusting! Although in Harry's opinion they never properly explained why gaining immortality itself was evil, just asserted it.
He had also poured over dozens of medical texts, as well as some books on mind magic, but what little information he found boiled down to cursed wounds being contrary on general principle. They were notoriously difficult to heal and could have a host of lingering effects that may or may not dissipate with time. Phantom pains were among the more mundane in that regard, even if no text described it as only ever happening in the presence of the caster, nevermind a mere follower of his. Harry suspected it had something to do with how the Dark Lord had bound his followers to him and the fact that the Killing Curse was itself rather unique.
Though he was not successful in finding any truly helpful information on the problem at hand the subject made him think about something unusual for an eleven year old boy: his own mortality.
With all that reading on evading death, deadly diseases and curses, also considering his experience on Medes, it was really no wonder that his childlike illusion of his personal immortality that all young children enjoy started to crack early. He was a wizard, gifted with a long lifespan and a sturdy constitution that was second only to the Krogans', but ultimately he was still Human. He would probably see a hundred and fifty years, with luck even two hundred, but not many more than that. At that age an Asari's life was just beginning!
While he did not know how it was done and doubted that the darker rituals held any appeal to him, his reading showed him that it didn't have to be that way. Obviously there was a way to extend one's lifespan through magic: the Flamels' continued existence was proof of this and they weren't the only multicentenarians that somehow escaped the moralizers' wagging fingers. It was in those weeks that his personal quest to extend his life started.
For now though the most important thing was to keep Voldemort away from the Philosopher's Stone. If he could get a closer look at the stone in the process or get an introduction to Nicolas Flamel out of it that would be simply a bonus. He wasn't about to steal the stone for himself though.
So Harry kept his head down but his eyes and ears open. It was clear that Quirrell was in league with Voldemort but unless something had changed since he overheard Snape and the Defence professor in the forest Fluffy was still an obstacle that had yet to be surmounted. Harry made a point of listening for Fluffy's rumbling snore through the door as many times as possible.
Exams came and for a time they were a nice distraction, although the burning pain in his scar never quite left him during the day. Hermione seemed to have replaced worry for the Stone with her worry about exams and would rattle off all the things she thought would be important in the upcoming exams, or talk about them afterwards.
They had just finished their last exam for the year - History of Magic, which wasn't nearly as bad as the older students claimed - and Harry was stalking towards his hidden room with Hermione in tow as she happily repeated the answers she had given just half an hour prior. Harry usually enjoyed a spirited discussion with his friend, but Hermione with her mouth on full automatic after an exam could be a pain at the best of times. Today he certainly wasn't in the mood. On top of the whole Voldemort issue his head ached more than what had become the norm and just to prove the galaxy truly hated him, a popup appeared on his contacts' HUD, notifying him about another desperate message from Primus. Their colony in UW was being invaded and their incompetent chieftain was apparently incapable of turning the war around. Just a few months ago Harry would have taken this threat to his beloved VR world his utmost attention, demanding hourly updates and sending back advice, but how could he care about a game when the murder of his parents was trying to come back from the freaking dead?
"Hermione, could you please shut up for a moment?" Harry snapped at her, massaging his forehead as his migraine had sharply worsened thanks to this newest and still incessantly blinking problem. Out of the corner of his eyes he could see several girls openly gawking at him in adoration. The stares and hushed whispers that accompanied him everywhere he went during the first months of his stay at Hogwarts had died down considerably but the near-worship was still there, simmering beneath the surface. He saw it in how his peers - and most of his teachers - treated him differently, often deferred to him and always seemed to watch him more closely in the hopes to pick up some new gossip. Especially now with Voldemort still alive their high regard made him feel like a fraud. He hadn't done anything to deserve it, even if at the same time he resented the closer scrutiny he was subjected to.
He was near certain that several cliques around the school would soon titter over his poor treatment of his friend. He could imagine Hermione shooting him a hurt look behind him and he had to suppress a guilty wince and refrain from scowling at the nosy onlookers, but thankfully for his pounding head Hermione stayed silent as they continued towards his hideout, ducking in and out of hidden passageways to frustrate any would-be followers.
Once there Harry quickly moved to one of the bubbling cauldrons in the back and scooped up a bit of a gooey blue potion to rub on his aching head. The concoction had a strong but not unpleasant smell and felt as cold as ice, despite coming directly from a slow, simmering fire. With a sigh of relief he let himself fall into one of the couches and closed his eyes. The shifting weight of Hermione sitting down on the other end reminded him that he wasn't alone.
"Sorry about earlier. It's just…" he apologized lamely, gesturing at his head with his still blue fingers.
"If it hurts so much, why don't you go to Madame Pomfrey?" Harry could tell Hermione was still a bit miffed, which was probably why she brought the subject up again. They had had this discussion before.
"I doubt there is anything she can do. It's probably just curse residue," he deflected, as he had half a dozen times before.
"At least tell Professor Dumbledore…"
"No! A hundred times, no!" Harry interrupted, perhaps a bit too harshly. He didn't need to hear her out to know what she meant to say. "Either he already knows and doesn't care or he wouldn't believe me anyway. We don't have any actual proof!"
"Why are you so against that idea?" Hermione shouted back, a pink hue creeping over her cheeks. "Even if he didn't believe us about Voldemort, he probably wouldn't dismiss our concerns."
"It's not really about Dumbledore," Harry replied glumly, quieting down again. "It's about Liara. She would know if I talked to the Headmaster and if she knew Voldemort was still crawling around, she would no doubt pull me out of Hogwarts immediately."
He could see the conflicting emotions warring on Hermione's face as she worried her bottom lip. Although she had little faith in the professors left, she didn't want to deal with Voldemort - not that Harry blamed her, he didn't either. On the other hand she didn't want to lose her best friend either. The latter won out in the end and she reached out with her hand to give his a small squeeze.
"At least we know even Voldemort can't get past Fluffy on his own and Hagrid would never betray Dumbledore."
"Right, nobody would get him to let something slip."
They looked at each other and smiled. Hagrid's devotion to Dumbledore was just as legendary as his fascination with dangerous beasts. Then Harry's eyes widened in fear, followed quickly by Hermione's.
They both scrambled for the door and rushed towards Hagrid's hut.
"I can't believe that… that man!" Hermione ranted as they stomped back to the castle, echoing Harry's own thoughts on the matter. It hadn't taken long to weasel out that Hagrid had told the shady character, whom he won Norbert's egg from, how to get past Fluffy. Just play some music and the big cerberus would be put to sleep immediately. Bloody brilliant.
"This settles it. We have to tell Dumbledore," Harry said with determination. Liara might pull him out of Hogwarts but that mattered little now. With a little bit of luck the Voldemort issue would be resolved quickly and she wouldn't have a reason to anyway.
They were halfway up to the Headmaster's Office when they spotted McGonagall coming towards them with an armload of books. Swallowing his misgivings towards her for the sake of expediency, Harry pulled Hermione to a stop.
"Mister Potter, Miss Granger, what can I do for you?" the stern professor asked at their approach. After Neville's detention and the essay fiasco a sort of truce had been struck. They could tell their Head of House wasn't pleased with them but she had been unfailingly professional since then.
"Professor, we need to see Professor Dumbledore. It's urgent," Harry said rapidly.
"See Professor Dumbledore?" she looked at them with suspicion. "Why?"
"It's sort of a secret. Please, could you just tell us the password to his office?" Harry pleaded.
"Professor Dumbledore left ten minutes ago. He received an urgent owl that his presence is required at the Ministry of Magic for the election," McGonagall explained coldly.
"He's gone? Now?" Harry asked frantically. "Is he mental?"
"I do not like your tone, Potter. Professor Dumbledore is a great wizard with many demands to his time..."
"But this is important!" Harry interrupted "It's about the Philosopher's Stone!"
The transfiguration teacher lost the grip on her books which sent them tumbling to the floor, for the moment forgotten as she spluttered "How do you know..."
"Look, that's not important. Someone is trying to steal it! We've got to talk to Professor Dumbledore," Harry pressed on.
"Professor Dumbledore is expected to be back tomorrow evening," McGonagall declared finally, after she had overcome her shock. "I don't know how you found out, but rest assured the Stone is well protected."
"Rest assured that I know what I'm talking about," she said shortly and bent to pick up her fallen books. "Now I suggest you go outside and enjoy the sunshine." Her tone brooked no argument.
Five minutes later they were back in their hideout.
"It's going to be tonight," Harry stated. "Voldemort knows how to bypass all the protections and now that Dumbledore is out of the picture it's his best shot. I bet he lured the headmaster away so he could steal the stone without him interfering."
"But what can we do?" Hermione asked fearfully.
"We are going to stop him."
Dumbledore surveyed the dungeon cell, which looked like the lovechild of Salvador Dalí and M. C. Escher thanks to all the little gadgets he had spread out in it, whistling Barnabas the Barmy's third sonata. The melody was one of his favourites, although it just wasn't the same without authentic troll drums. He remembered fondly the time he had first experienced Barnabas' work thanks to a great-aunt who insisted to take a young Albus with her to the hundred year jubilee of the composer's death. That experience taught Dumbledore that even the insane could be geniuses and admired for it; to never dismiss or shun someone just because they were odd.
The room he was in was usually an unremarkable out of the way place, mostly used for storage of items that were soon forgotten. What made it special was its isolation and the hidden tunnel leading to a cliff south of Hogwarts; the same tunnel Dumbledore had used to return to the school after his staged departure.
He chuckled at the thought of his masterful performance, if he did say so himself. Little tidbits strewn into the conversations in the teachers' room over the last few weeks had manoeuvred Quirinius and Voldemort exactly where he wanted them to be. A word here, a comment there, sprinkled with a few historical anecdotes, everything confirmable from a dozen books, and he had successfully stalled the thiefering duo and subtly forced them into a schedule of Albus' choosing.
Everybody knew that the elections of the new Minister of Magic were coming up soon, just not exactly when. He, as the Chief Warlock, of course had some measure of control over it. Getting them scheduled just after the last exams were held at Hogwarts had not been difficult at all, although he mock-complained often enough about the early date and that they could at least have waited for the school year to end properly.
Like most things in the magical world there were traditions involved with the whole affair. The official summons were sent out the day before and were meant to be followed immediately, to prevent delaying tactics. Of course, this tradition originated in a time before modern magical travel when everyone still used brooms or coaches for long distance travel.
Once inside the Ministry the Wizengamot members weren't allowed to leave nor communicate with anyone on the outside until the new Minister was elected. It mirrored the election of the Catholic Pope and not by accident. In a strange twist the Vatican and magical Britain shared a lot of similarities back in the seventeenth century. Funnily at several points in history the College of Cardinals housed more wizards than the Wizengamot, granted only because witches weren't officially allowed to become cardinals.
Like with many traditions, however, things got a bit muddled over the centuries as the necessity for those traditions ceased to be and sometimes made them inconvenient or illogical. Thus most only paid lip-service to those traditions; for example the summons were still sent out just the day before and were still meant to be followed immediately, but in reality almost nobody cared when and how the members actually arrived as long as they were there in time before the opening ceremony - which was officiated by Dumbledore himself, giving him some additional leeway.
Ultimately it had been easy to spin the illusion of a single night, guaranteed to be without Dumbledore in the castle to interfere. It was Voldemort's best opportunity to seize the stone, even if he must realize that the other teachers would be especially attentive that night. The next day his advantage would be lost, as he had places he was expected to be, highly visible places, and there was no telling when exactly Dumbledore would return. Ministerial elections could last anywhere between hours to days, and even if weeks weren't unheard of, Voldemort couldn't risk Dumbledore being back before lunch was served.
As he surveyed all the trinkets, some of which would have made Euklid weep, he couldn't help but feel that he had overlooked something. He checked each of his instruments that would let him keep a metaphorical eye on Quirrell as he made his way through the gauntlet and found them all working perfectly. It must be his nerves being stretched too taut after a year of worry.
He was as ready as he would ever be, all he could do now was wait for his opponent's first move.
There! The twirling smoke coming out from a silver instrument that Dumbledore had kept an eye on ever since he entered the room changed direction and at the same time didn't, the smoke itself still raising straight up but the column taking an almost horizontal bend to the side, indicating that someone had just bypassed the locking spell on the door to Fluffy's room by confounding what meant open and closed to the spell.
The headmaster concentrated on his other senses, senses any good wizard developed over time, and twirled his wand through the smoke, feeling with his magic for the change. He chuckled. Clever as the approach to foul the locking spell was, the caster was still rather unrefined in his execution - Quirinius then, as even a diminished Voldemort would not make such a metaphorical tangled mess.
While the ancient wizard in the dungeon was chuckling on the other end of the castle in a tower high above the ground a young boy sent a slightly panicky look at the young girl by his side. Judging how his friend went a bit green she had understood his silent message.
Earlier today Harry had hidden the small camera that usually guarded his hideout opposite to the same door for the same reasons why the old wizard currently twirled smoke with his wand. Only in his case the alarm was a slightly more sensible video feed displayed by his contacts in a corner of his vision.
The result remained the same.
Cursing Snape under his breath for driving them away from the third floor corridor, Harry considered the situation. Quirrell was currently trying to break into the room of Fluffy while he and Hermione were stuck in Gryffindor Tower until they could slip out. Right now there were still too many people around to use the cloak safely, but thankfully most of the students still in the common room looked pretty tired after the last two weeks of exams. Particularly Percy looked almost dead on his feet.
It was an unforeseen hurdle in his plan as he had no desire to follow Voldemort's agent and face whatever other traps the teachers had set out, but it couldn't be helped now. He could only hope that Quirrell cleaned out most of the wards and obstacles while hindering him just enough for them to catch up. And then… well, he hadn't really planned that far. In a traditional magical duel Harry would be hard pressed to even last a few seconds, but Harry knew that with the help of biotics he could match Quirrell in physical strength and completely outclass him in speed. He would need to be fast and get close before the Professor transfigured him into a toad or did something even nastier.
Another trickle of students went up the dormitory stairs. Harry glanced at the clock over the mantelpiece. He would give it half an hour then they would try to sneak out, even if McGonagall herself came to play tacky songs on a guitar in front of the fire surrounded by a gaggle of Gryffindors. As if.
AN: There. Done. Damn, that chapter has been sitting around for a long while. The next chapter is already written and will be published by the end of next month. Hopefully I'll manage to get back into the one chapter per month schedule. I'll also try to keep a one chapter buffer, just to have some extra breathing room.
I want to take this opportunity to thank my longstanding beta Aella for all his help over the years. This chapter has been mostly beta'd by him about two years ago but I've changed things around since then, so assume any errors are purely mine. I've decided to publish this chapter right after doing the final touches in hopes of keeping the momentum I managed to regain over the past two weeks.
I like to think that I will stick to this story now, but who knows? I didn't intend to take such a long hiatus. Until I'm certain that I got my mojo back I don't want to waste anyone else's time.