AU. 4th Year. Twins.
Harry was bound in black rope, but all he saw was red.
Professor Quirrell's hands were clasped about his sister's throat. Daisy's skin, mottled in the light of guttering torches, was flushed and covered in perspiration. Her fingers drove at the man's face with desperation as she combated the rushing dark of nothingness. For a time, it worked. The professor burned where Daisy touched him; his cruel lips twisted. Her small fingers dug holes in the hollows of his cheeks. The flesh slid, red and bubbling, along his jaw.
But Quirrell would not stop squeezing her throat. Daisy's cries grew faint and finally were strangulated. She went limp.
Professor Quirrell's second face, with grey skin like the bark of a burning tree, and eyes that were ember red, grinned at him.
Harry screamed and writhed in his bonds. The ropes cut into his wrists. He felt the braided pattern against his skin when they sliced into his ankles. The fury rose. He could feel it in his teeth, in the red taste that filled his mouth, but the futility of his struggle rang clearest in the stone chamber. It resounded in his head. Harry's throat was raw when his professor drew away from the unconscious girl. It had gone so wrong.
Snape was their friend.
How could Snape be their friend? And Quirrell, he was the Dark Lord Voldemort's servant. Poor, passive, pathetic Professor Quirrell was a killer. Quirrell had murdered the unicorn. He had killed the troll. He had tried to kill Daisy during her Quidditch match. And now Harry, through his stupidity, his recklessness, his hubris, had provided Quirrell the Girl Who Lived, packaged neatly, if slightly battered, for slaughter. The reality of it wrung his heart tighter than the ropes could. His sister was going to die. Harry was going to die.
"Do you see, Harry Potter?" The flesh of Quirrell's scalp rippled as Voldemort called, in his disgusting warble, "A little girl, nothing more… and I was vanquished by her? Watch, boy! No man has the constitution to travel the distances that I have, and no man will ever be as great. I will master eternity."
Harry could not form words. His rage tore through his throat as unintelligible, raw howls. He had given the Lord Voldemort his sister. He had given Voldemort the Philosopher's Stone.
Quirrell turned his mangled face, then. The tissue had run off bloodily along his skull; it dripped and twisted like the wax of a candle that had been left to burn unchecked. His hands were worse—glimmers of white bone peeked out at Harry through the gore. The odor of burned flesh pressed into him so hard and so foul that he could taste it. It was like dirty, fatty meat. Musky. Metallic. And lingering. Bile choked him. Harry spattered his bonds and the stone floor with vomit.
"The pain. Master, the pain," Quirrell lisped in agony. The man's eyes rolled in his skull. His tongue had fused with what was left inside his mouth. "Help me."
"Help you?" said Voldemort from behind him. "Gather the stone and kill the girl!"
Through his heaving coughs Harry's heart twisted tighter. If the elixir could restore Lord Voldemort, then Stone could fix Quirrell, even damaged as he was.
A black wand was suddenly pointed at Daisy's unmoving form. Quirrell rose up. He seemed to summon all of his remaining strength for one last terrible curse.
No. Please. Not his sister. Harry yelled again.
And Quirrell was thrown bodily from the unconscious girl. He crashed to the floor before the Mirror of Erised with a broken howl. Harry's cries died out. His heart unclenched and he went suddenly, unexplainably still. In the mirror's reflection, Harry could see the impression of something tall. Yes. Something tall, and blue, with glimmering spectacles and a jauntily placed wizard's hat.
New breath pushed into his nostrils and chilled his throat on the way down. Cold, but fresh and sweet. Even staring at the disgusting mess that was Professor Quirrell, Harry pulled the air in again and again. Each gasp swept in like a rolling tide up to a roasting shore and left his chest cool and pleasant. Sweat dripped down from his forehead and across his lips. He licked the beads away. The calm, Harry thought, was decidedly unreasonable. But he could do nothing but breathe and watch the sea-colored robes of Hogwarts' Headmaster come into focus.
"Ah," said Albus Dumbledore. "Good evening, Quirinus. Tom." The old man stood just past the threshold of black flame, wand aloft, unconcerned that three people had made it through to the final chamber. He didn't look at Harry or Daisy at all.
"Dumbledore," hissed Lord Voldemort. Quirrell couldn't do more than quiver. His extra face admonished his inaction. "Up. Get up!"
But Professor Dumbledore had thrown Professor Quirrell quite a distance across the room. The force of the fall had surely shattered whatever resolve he had gathered to kill Daisy.
Swooping robes dappled with orange light, the Headmaster crossed to the Mirror of Erised and the unmoving man. For the first time, Harry noticed just how tall Dumbledore was. He loomed over the children and Voldemort alike with shoulders and wand relaxed, and a head like a hoary lion.
Dumbledore's boots scraped measured paces on the stone as he regarded the Dark Lord. Harry saw that the happy twinkle that usually coated the professor's every look was now gone, swallowed by a dangerous arctic blue. Harry felt the power of it in his very skin. Any chillier and the Headmaster might have cracked his half-moon spectacles. Harry failed to suppress his shiver. The old man was a gun with the hammer drawn back. And although Harry should have been afraid, or at least cautious, one thought resounded inside him: They were saved.
His heart leapt and cracked through the calm with deafening beats. Hagrid's voice came to Harry, as it had in the Leaky Cauldron the previous July, low and rumbling, "Professor Dumbledore? Why, he's the on'y one You-Know-Who ever feared…"
Harry tried to sit up, but the bonds held him rigid at the waist. He gritted his teeth; the anger at being trussed like a hog was filling him again. Harry opened his mouth to call out, but Dumbledore spoke, and protest died in his throat.
"Excuse the lateness of my arrival, Tom," said the Headmaster. "Travel by broom, while magnificently stress-relieving, is for times less troubled, I fear." Dumbledore's lion's eyes glanced at the gilded mirror and went flat for an instant. They swept to Professor Quirrell with redoubled frost.
"Your foolishness, Dumbledore, is unmatched," said Voldemort.
"Perhaps," said Professor Dumbledore, and cocked his head. "But it seems that you are following remarkably close behind me."
Voldemort's face twisted in a silent, shaking snarl. Harry nearly laughed, but the atmosphere of the chamber had left him without a voice.
"Here is the elixir of immortality!" said Voldemort with unrestrained violence. "This is the well of unimaginable wealth. It is a means for the greatest of changes, and you seal it away in the bowels of your castle!"
As Voldemort raved, Dumbledore raised his wand. It looked to Harry that the old man was just preparing to undertake a tedious chore. He half expected Dumbledore to roll his voluminous sleeves up, but the professor just shook his head at the Dark Lord.
"It was not sealed away," he said. Dumbledore looked at Daisy, throttled on the cold stone, and Harry, bound and dirty. "The Stone was stored for those pure of intent and heart. Purity that you, and poor Quirinus, forsook."
"Purity of heart?" Voldemort's shade managed a strained sneer. "False hopes for children, Dumbledore."
"By design, Tom," said Professor Dumbledore. "Surely a child would not aid someone as cruel as yourself?"
"I do not beg aid," spat Voldemort. "I offer power. I offered you power once, and so I do again."
"Again, I must refuse it. But, for the generosity," Dumbledore said with a smile that did not quite reach up to wrinkle his eyes. "You may have a peaceful retreat. Release Quirinus or I will exorcise your mean spirit from him."
"He will die," said Voldemort.
"Do you know me to take lives without care, Tom?"
Harry wriggled along the floor. He saw the red-brown of his wand on the dirty flags. He didn't know what he could offer in support of the Headmaster, but Harry would give him anything to revenge the assault on Daisy. He tried to roll himself over and inch, worm-like, to the instrument, but froze mid-motion.
Lord Voldemort had started to laugh at Professor Dumbledore. The extra face on Quirrell's head laughed with such verve that had it a gut or arms, they would be wrapped about one another and be trembling in delight.
"I did not know you then, Dumbledore. But how I wish that I did."
When had Dumbledore taken lives? Unbidden, the image of the man's Chocolate Frog Card sprung into Harry's mind: Albus Dumbledore… famous for the defeat of Dark Wizard Grindelwald. Harry no longer had trouble seeing that the old man was not mad, but murder… Harry looked at Dumbledore keenly.
The horror of Quirrell's form didn't affect him. Dumbledore didn't turn his long nose up at the awful scent that still drifted through the chamber. He didn't gag, as Harry had. The Headmaster just shook his head again and all expression fell from his face. He gave his wand a gentle wave. Quirrell's body flipped face up, smothering the Dark Lord.
"I cannot allow you a body, living or dead," said Professor Dumbledore. "He has welcomed your spirit." And then Dumbledore turned to look at Harry. His voice was firm when he said, "You will want to turn away, now, Harry."
Harry could not, though. Professor Dumbledore turned to Professor Quirrell and pointed his wand down. Lord Voldemort howled something, but only the terrible anger of the sound made it past the muffling stone.
A liquid whisper slid from the Headmaster's lips, too quiet to make the words out. After a moment the call multiplied, grew in volume, and suddenly it was a phantom choir singing feverishly in the chamber. Harry's heart ceased to beat. The sound echoed. It hung like wisps in the air, fragile, and in the same instant slammed it against his eardrums with painful force.
Professor Dumbledore stood tall through all of this, his lips moving ceaselessly. Harry's skin crawled. Quirrell stirred. And then the man's deformed body contorted.
Screams of pain that Harry had never heard, or could even begin to comprehend, ripped through what was left of Quirrell's maw as the Headmaster pulled Voldemort from him. Bones snapped audibly. Quirrell begged for an end, but Dumbledore didn't waver in his chanting. Blood bubbled up in the man's throat and drowned the pleas. It dribbled through the hole in Quirrell's cheek like a black river, and splashed in time with the contractions.
Harry retched. Voldemort's spirit screamed. And Quirrell died.
"Harry," said Professor Dumbledore again.
Harry didn't know for how long he had been staring at the pile of ash that used to be Professor Quirrell. The Headmaster had removed his bonds, removed the Philosopher's stone from Daisy's pocket, and removed the black fire from the door, but Harry still could not stand.
"Yes, sir?" His voice was hoarse from screaming, and, when he swallowed spit, his throat crackled with dry pain.
The stone was scorched where Quirrell's body was burned. Professor Dumbledore said it was to prevent the Dark Lord from returning to it and rising again. Like a zombie. He jerked his eyes up to the Headmaster.
"You should not have been witness to that," whispered Professor Dumbledore. With a quick brush of his wand, the man cleaned the floor of vomit, ash, and soot. "But the action had to be swift, and concise. Lord Voldemort is wise to many protective magics, many exorcisms, too long, and he may have found a permanent place inside Professor Quirrell."
"Tom," said Harry, sitting up. "You called him Tom."
"The name is only a remnant of a boy I knew." Dumbledore stood, helping Harry to his feet. "He was a student here, long ago. Always troubled, always exceedingly bright—nearly fifty years, and still no one can top his marks. But… his compassion was lacking."
"Nonexistent, Harry," admitted Professor Dumbledore. "Though, you seem to be exceptional in your own way. Many do not have the bravery to come this far, or the strength to be standing on solid feet, as you are, after seeing such things as Lord Voldemort and…" Dumbledore looked toward the spot where Quirrell had died, malformed and terrible.
"Yes, sir," said Harry. He didn't know how else to respond. A part of him felt as though he deserved these horrific memories and the night terrors that would come. Before they had gone through the trapdoor, Harry had been seized by a thirst, for glory, and the solution to the great mystery. Bravery or strength had not been in him then. It was Daisy, his sister of a few months, eager to catch Snape, eager to adventure, and resolved to stop the man from aiding their parents' murderer that had been brave.
Harry had led her right to Lord Voldemort.
He solved the puzzle piece by piece, but did not see Professor Quirrell to be a threat. It had always been Snape. Snape was mean, and Snape was spiteful. But Quirrell had been in Diagon Alley that day. And Daisy and Harry squabbled over what owl to buy, and who got the bigger cage, and were too caught up in having a sibling to fight with, to really notice Hagrid gathering the tiny package from the bank. If only Harry had put it together properly. If hadn't been caught up in dragons, and Nicolas Flamel, and learning magic, he might have… he could have stopped…
"You're lost again, Harry," came Dumbledore's gentle voice. "You bear no responsibility for this. This is my fault."
"We broke the rules, though," said Harry. "If I had listened to Hermione, if we had come to you directly, you could have stopped him."
The old man looked at the Mirror of Erised and then at Harry.
"What do you see inside it, Harry?"
"Erm, you know, Professor," said Harry furrowing his brow. "It's Daisy, and Mum, and Dad, and me. And a dog."
"And a dog, now, too?" asked Dumbledore with the first hints of a genuine smile curling his lips. "You are a greedy one." Harry blushed. Dumbledore's beard jumped as he gave a little chuckle.
"We're not allowed pets at the orphanage, sir."
"And you listen to rules, there, Harry?"
"No," said Harry honestly. He had tried to sneak cats and dogs in before, but someone was always allergic, or scared, or couldn't keep a secret. In the end, Harry had to let them go.
He wasn't the only person in the world.
"And this is precisely the difference between you and Daisy, and Lord Voldemort," said Professor Dumbledore. They came to stand before the great mirror. Dumbledore stared at it for very long before speaking again, and Harry could see that interrupting him would not be wise.
"Tom was raised in an orphanage not far from where you live, Harry," said Professor Dumbledore. "And early on, he discovered that he was different from the other children there. He had strange abilities... He could talk to snakes, and control animals; he could move objects with his mind. And as he learned these things, the young boy suffered torment at the hands of his peers. For he was always quiet, always cruel and caustic to anyone that approached him with questions of his strange activities. You see, Harry, Tom believed that he was special. He saw that the others were beneath him, and so he sought cruel vengeance with his magic.
Tom Riddle took his first life at age seven.
It was the pet of an orphan girl, a mouse, which she had spirited quietly from the yard and into her bunk. It lived off of the meanest scraps of food and the tiny, hopeless girl's affection. It brought to her, a child that no one would adopt, the spark of joy. She loved it. But Tom… did not like how she ridiculed him in the schoolyard."
Dumbledore didn't have to finish. Harry's chest felt very tight then. He was familiar with ridicule, and with being different, but he had never done what Voldemort had. He looked to Dumbledore, but the old man's eyes were far away, and full of sorrow.
"Harry," he said at last. "Your sister has a heavy burden to bear. How it is borne, though, depends on you."
Harry opened his mouth, but seeing the cloudy gaze of the professor, let his teeth click together. He chewed his grubby lips in silence as the gravity of the Headmaster's words settled on him. It made sense, though. Why did the Dark Lord wait until now to pop up again?
Why choose a wizard to possess from Hogwarts? Daisy. The violent anger started to boil in him again, and it took everything he had to quash it. It wasn't her fault. Daisy had been getting into trouble from the very moment Harry set eyes on her. Professor Dumbledore had given truth to his fear.
"Voldemort isn't going to stop, is he?" Harry managed.
"He will not."
The family that smiled at Harry from inside the Mirror of Erised did not make him cheerful, then. His father waved, black-haired and bespectacled —just like him, but it was, at once, empty and unappealing. James Potter's eyes did not have the same look as Harry's. That face couldn't express fear or pain or hope. There was only the monotonous, unconscious, infuriating joy. Harry's mouth trembled as a frown touched it. And he understood. What hollow promises stared back at Professor Dumbledore?
"Come, Harry," the old man said. "Help me transport your sister to the infirmary. Perhaps your presence will save me from Madam Pomfrey's wrath." Dumbledore intended it to be a joke, but Harry couldn't bring himself to smile. He crossed to where Daisy was curled up on the floor. The girl breathed in and out, tranquil and unconscious. Harry crouched at his twin's side and brushed the hair from her face and neck, inspecting where Quirrell had attacked. Her skin was rosy, but looked healthy enough.
Harry trailed his fingers across her lightning-bolt scar. He gritted his teeth at the lance of pain that dug into his chest. Safe, or not, he couldn't force the echo of her frantic screams from his head. How could he protect her from Lord Voldemort? He couldn't even stop Quirrell from tying him up. If Dumbledore, with his tidal surge of power, had not come, Harry would have gone mad seeing his sister killed.
"Prop her head, please, Harry," said Professor Dumbledore. His fingers were lead as he pulled them away from Daisy's face and complied. The Headmaster levitated her body with a wordless flick of his wand. He motioned for Harry to follow, and they exited the chamber.
As they traversed back up to the trapdoor, Harry's eyes did not stray long from the sleeping form of his twin. Daisy looked just like him. She had dark hair, and was a pale, slight thing. She was his only family. She was reality, and could not wink and grin at him from behind glass. Harry had only known her for a year, but already he shared more with her than with anyone else.
And Voldemort would not stop coming for her.
Harry felt Dumbledore's eyes on him as they neared the giant chess set.
"Professor?" said Harry.
The old man, as if caught doing something illicit, flushed behind his white beard. Harry crinkled his brow. He couldn't bring himself to laugh at the strange reaction; something prickled at him. There was, in the Headmaster's gaze, an expression that would have been easy to understand on anyone else's face, but was veiled by the old fellow's queer persona. Harry did not know what made him ask, but he did.
"Do you have a sister, Professor?" And Harry saw the twinkle fade from Dumbledore's eye for the second time that night. But the cold power wasn't there; it was the dull glaze that Dumbledore had given the Mirror of Erised. Daisy wavered a little in the air.
"Oh," said a timorous Harry. "Is she nice?"
"She was." It was the tone that jarred Harry more than the words. Dumbledore's voice had the false trill of pleasantness that he had used prior to exorcising Lord Voldemort from Professor Quirrell. Harry stumbled, and tried to hide it in a little hop, as they crossed the checked marble of the chessboard, but it didn't escape Dumbledore's eyes. He stopped walking. Without the reassuring sparkle behind his glasses, the Headmaster made Harry feel very hesitant.
"What happened?" he whispered.
And Albus Dumbledore told him.
Thanks for reading. Reviews are welcome.