It was a glint of gold that brought Harry out of the void of unconsciousness. Not much, but it caught his attention and held it long enough to call Harry away from his comfortable slumber. Blinking his eyes open, he saw the blurry, gold-framed spectacles of the Headmaster hovering above him, encompassing two bright, blue eyes.
"Professor Dumbledore?" he asked, noting how his voice croaked with disuse. How long had he been out? Then something a bit more pressing came to mind. "Sir! You're alive! You...but I saw...how...?"
"Calm yourself, dear boy. I assure you that I feel quite well. I was able to cast a protective spell over myself after I did the same to you. Although it took me longer than I care to admit to dig my way out of the rather large shower of stone that had covered me."
Harry blinked at the man and relaxed ever so slightly, relief flooding over him. He hadn't wanted to see the man die. He hadn't wanted anyone to die...
His mouth suddenly went dry. "And Professor Quirrell...sir?"
The amusement in the old man's eyes faded. "Professor Quirrell could not be saved, Harry. When Voldemort realized that his host had been caught, he fled. His abrupt departure ensured that our Defense teacher would never wake. It was inevitable, Harry. Please do not see this as your fault."
Harry wondered just how the Headmaster had known exactly what he'd been thinking, but he felt the earnest tone in the Headmaster's voice and nodded, signaling that he would indeed try to follow the man's advice. He looked away, wishing he had his glasses, and moved to sit up and find them. It made for a good distraction.
He found the glasses on the table next to the bed he lay in, along with a rather large pile of gifts and candies. Harry saw it and raised his eyebrows in question.
The Headmaster must have recognized the expression because he explained. "Tokens from your friends and admirers. I will admit that most of them come from your friends in the Slytherin house, so you may wish to obtain some stationary to thank them."
Harry sighed, barely repressing a groan as he finally managed to sit up and turned to Dumbledore. "Why do they know? Why does anyone know?"
"It would seem," the Headmaster said after a moment, "that your friend, Miss Granger, was rather upset when she could not find you after she left the library. I believe someone told her they caught a glimpse of you and Professor Quirrell walking down the hall, and when news of his unfortunate demise spread, well, it wasn't too difficult for even the dullest of the bright minds now roaming these halls to jump to conclusions. If you combine that with the fact that what happened down in the dungeons between you and Professor Quirrell was a complete secret, well, naturally, the whole school knows."
"How long have I been in here?"
"Three days. Mr. Malfoy and Miss Granger will be most relieved to hear that you have come around. They have been extremely worried...to a point where they will actually tolerate each others company if necessary."
Harry felt his eyebrows raise in surprise. Draco and Hermione never got along. Perhaps something good did come of this whole fiasco after all.
"And the stone?" he asked quietly.
The professor raised an eyebrow. "I managed to stop Quinnius from obtaining the stone, although you were doing rather well on your own, I must say. When I arrived, I knew immediately that the stone had been found, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that you had it."
"You thought Professor Quirrell had gotten the stone."
The Headmaster nodded thoughtfully. "Indeed I did."
"I'm just happy it's safe," Harry said with a relieved sigh.
"It is indeed quite safe, as it has been destroyed."
Harry frowned. "Destroyed?" He thought about it for several seconds before nodding. "I guess it's for the best."
"Indeed it is," the professor acknowledged looking rather pleased and strangely relieved at the statement.
"But that won't stop him, will it? Vol—uh, You-Know-Who–"
"Call him Voldemort, Harry. Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself."
Harry blinked for a moment as he digested that. "Yes, sir," he said finally. "He's still coming back, isn't he." Harry said it as more of a statement than a question. Then he fell silent, waiting for the Headmaster to acknowledge his question.
The Headmaster shook his head sadly. "I hope not, Harry, but I won't lead you falsely. He is still out there somewhere, perhaps looking for another body to share... not being truly alive, he cannot be killed. He left Quirrell to die; he shows just as little mercy to his followers as his enemies. Nevertheless, Harry, while you may only have delayed his return to power, it will merely take someone else who is prepared to fight what seems to be a losing battle next time—and if he is delayed again, and again, why, he may never return to power."
Harry nodded, but stopped quickly, because the movement made his head hurt. It was a nice sentiment, but the whole idea just seemed so daunting. He couldn't help but reflect on whole situation in general and glanced up at the Headmaster.
"Sir," he said respectfully, Draco may not like the old man, but as far as Harry was concerned, with everything he'd done for him (up to and including risking his own life), Harry figured the man had earned his respect. "There are some other things I'd like to know, if you can tell me... things I want to know the truth about..." It was both a plea and a warning.
"The truth," Dumbledore sighed. "It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution. However, I shall answer your questions unless I have a very good reason not to, in which case I beg you'll forgive me. I shall not, of course, lie."
He appreciated how honest and straight-forward the man was. So different from Slytherins he'd become so used to.
"Voldemort wanted to kill me. He had Quirrell take me hostage with that in mind...and he wanted to kill me himself. Later he said that he only killed my mother because she tried to stop him from killing me. That doesn't make sense because she was muggleborn. Why would he want to kill me and not her? I was just a baby..."
Dumbledore sighed very deeply this time. "Alas, the first thing you ask me, I cannot tell you. Not today. Not now. You will know, one day... put it from your mind for now, Harry. When you are older—I know you hate to hear this, but when you are ready, you will know."
And Harry knew it would be no good to argue. He still felt a stab of disappointment. Still the man had not lied to him, and that counted for a great deal.
So he moved onto his next question. "When Prof—when Quirrell grabbed me, he got hurt for no apparent reason other than that he was touching me. Why?"
The Headmaster considered this for a moment before answering. "Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn't realize that love as powerful as your mother's was for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign... to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever. It is in your very skin. Quirrell, full of hatred, greed, and ambition, sharing his soul with Voldemort, could not touch you for this reason. It was agony to touch a person marked by something so good."
Dumbledore now became very interested in a bird out on the windowsill, which gave Harry time to dry his eyes on the sheet. Apparently the Headmaster knew how much he had appreciated that.
"But...why me?" Harry asked when he had found his voice again. "My mother can't be the only—" he cut off at that, unable to finish and he hated how weak he sounded. So he cleared his throat and tried again. "I'm not the only one whose parents have been murdered saving their child. Why? How?"
The smile on the old man's face seemed both thoughtful and sad at the same time. "Your mother was a very clever, resourceful witch. To this day, I am not certain of what ritual or spell she could have used to permanently put that protection in place. It would have to be something very powerful and most likely very old. The other protections I myself put in place on that horrible night tie into that protection but will only last until you come of age. However, I suspect what your mother did will last forever."
Harry blinked as he failed to wrap his mind around that. Dumbledore had known the protection was there? Of course he would. He'd put more wards in place to protect Harry? Wards that tie into whatever his mother did? He could alter and tie new spells into something when he didn't even know what spell it was? Harry didn't even know spells could be altered or tied into or whatever he'd done. It boggled his mind.
So Harry grasped onto something else; something somewhat trivial in comparison. "And the invisibility cloak - do you know who sent it to me?"
"Ah - your father happened to leave it in my possession, and I thought you might like it." Dumbledore's eyes twinkled. "Useful things, invisibility cloaks. Your father used it mainly for sneaking off to the kitchens to steal food when he was here."
Harry felt a smile come to his lips despite himself, that was such a Gryffindor thing to do. Which reminded him... "And there's something else..."
"Quirrell said that my parents were in Gryffindor. Is that true?"
At this Dumbledore nodded, eyes twinkling harder. "It is indeed true. I believe the Potters come from a long line of Gryffindors, intermingled with a Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw every now and then. I think that there were even a few Slytherins somewhere along the line, back before the house rivalry had become so...pronounced."
"So...I'm the first Slytherin in a long time...what would my parents think of that?" He'd asked that last question almost to himself. He hadn't once thought that his being chosen for Slytherin instead of Gryffindor would be something he questioned, but now...
"I am sure that they would be proud of you, no matter what house you went into...although the subject does bring up a question of my own. You seemed rather relieved when you were sorted into Slytherin at the beginning of the year, yet you don't seem to be too friendly towards others of your house, and have befriended Miss Granger, a Gryffindor. I could only draw the conclusion that you did not want to be sorted into Gryffindor yourself. May I ask why?"
Harry noted the rather strange, seemingly opposing information and could understand why the Headmaster had been confused.
"Hermione's my friend because she saw me as Harry first. She didn't see 'The-Boy-Who-Lived', she just saw me. I don't care what house she's from. No one else, especially not the other Slytherins, see that."
Dumbledore nodded. "I think you may underestimate some of your housemates, Harry, but I believe I understand."
"And I didn't want to be put into Gryffindor because of Sirius Black." Harry's expression darkened. "Hagrid told me that there isn't a dark witch or wizard that didn't come from Slytherin, so what about him?"
"Sirius Black," Dumbledore sighed, "came from a very dark family that idealized many of the pureblood families' ways of thinking. When he wasn't sorted into Slytherin, they ostracized and shunned him. I believe that all of that caught up with him in the end and he just wanted to prove himself to his family. That is the only reason I can conceive for his unexpected betrayal.
"But Harry," he continued before Harry could comment, "Hagrid did not lie to you. Or, more specifically, he did not mean to do so. He has had some...rather nasty run-ins with some Slytherins during his time. To him, the words 'Slytherin' and 'Evil' are one and the same, although I believe you are making him rethink all of that." He said the last sentence with a hint of approval in his tone that put Harry at ease.
"I just didn't want to be like him...the man who made it possible for V-Voldemort to kill my parents," Harry said finally, his voice quiet.
Dumbledore nodded. "I can understand that, but I can also tell you that the only house that has not produced a 'dark wizard' as of late would be the Hufflepuff house. I am quite certain that you could even find one among them if you looked back far enough. Even loyalty and hard work can be put to rather nefarious uses if one can win such people over."
It made sense. Harry nodded in acquiescence at the point. Still, he doubted he'd be able to think rather highly of the Gryffindor house in general, especially after some of the rather nasty pranks the Weasley twins had pulled on the Slytherins this year.
"And sir, there's one more thing..."
"Just the one?"
Harry shrugged. He'd noticed how much of the Headmaster's time he'd taken up and figured he could just ask the man more later. "How did I get the Stone out of the mirror? I didn't even mean to. I just wanted to keep it away from Quirrell."
"Ah, now, I'm glad you asked me that. It was one of my more brilliant ideas, and between you and me, that's saying something. You see, only one who wanted to find the Stone—find it, but not use it—would be able to get it, otherwise they'd just see themselves making gold or drinking Elixir of Life. My brain surprises even me sometimes."
"But," Harry cut in, only realizing how rude he'd been when the word had left his mouth. Still, he plowed on. "Then that means that when I got the stone...it was in more danger." He blanched at the thought of how close they really had come to Voldemort returning.
"Well, there is the possibility that he could have figured out my little trick and been able to counter it, and truthfully, I found your little diversion rather ingenious, and that is quite the compliment, my boy."
He somehow felt that the Headmaster was saying that just to put him at ease, but he appreciated it none the less. Perhaps he didn't want the absolute truth yet after all.
"Now, enough questions," Dumbledore said as he stood. "I suggest you make a start on these sweets. Ah! Bettie Bott's Every Flavor Beans! I was unfortunate enough in my youth to come across a vomit flavored one, and since then I'm afraid I've rather lost my liking for them—but I think I'll be safe with a nice toffee, don't you?"
He smiled and popped the golden-brown bean into his mouth. Then he choked and said, "Alas! Ear wax!"
Harry tried really hard to keep the laugh that wanted to burst out of him under control, but he didn't succeed very well.
It felt good to laugh.
AN: Sorry guys. Dumbledore lives. I don't have any clue as to how everything would work out without him in there meddling, but I don't think it would be much better than canon...or perhaps even worse. *shrug* Sorry for the disappoint. I really appreciate all of your comments though!
Next time - End of Year One