Disclaimer: Not the Rowling, not the Kanzaka.
I said it wouldn’t be long...
Once again, thanks to everyone who is following, has favourited, or has reviewed this story.
“Hello.” : voice.
“Hello.” : voice over phone, radio, TV... or telepathy.
‹Hello.› : thought.
Hello. : spellcasting, or other invocations of power.
KA-CHING! To the Victor, the Spoils?
Harry looked around at the others present. Those in the know: Neville, Hermione, Ron, and the Twins. Of his other friends: Blaise, Su Li, Hannah and Susan. There had been some other pupils hanging around the entrance hall, but they had all run for it when they saw the dragon. All right...
“We have to stop him,” said Harry, forcefully.
“Who?” asked Hannah, beating Susan and the others to the punch.
“Quirrell,” answered Harry. “He’s trying to steal... some treasure that Dumbledore hid in the Forbidden Corridor. Snape tried to stop him, but...” He shrugged and shook his head.
“What can we do?” asked Susan.
“Um...” said Harry. “It should be safe to go outside now, so could you four,” indicating his non-Lina-aware friends, “go and find some of the senior staff and let them know what’s happening?”
“What are you going to do?” asked Su Li.
“Try to stop him,” said Harry with a shrug.
“Typical Gryffindor,” said Hannah. “You didn’t even stop to think, did you?”
“I did,” said Harry, “but then a little voice yelled at me to get on with it.” Those in the know grinned at that, to the others’ confusion.
“All right, let’s go,” said Susan, gesturing to the others. Hannah and Su Li turned to join her, but Blaise hung back.
“Blaise?” said Neville.
“You said Snape was... out of action.” The others nodded. “I should check on him.”
“All right,” said Harry, turning to go.
“How do you know all this?” asked Su Li.
“Ask the Twins,” said Harry. “It’s their story to tell.” Su Li gave Fred and George a suspicious look, shook her head, and joined the other two as they went out.
“Well, if we’re going to do this...” said Hermione, starting towards the stairs.
“Actually, Fred and George should wait here,” said Ron. “If something goes wrong, or Quirrell tries to get out another way, you can direct reinforcements the right way.” The Twins looked at each other for a moment, then nodded.
“You’re the strategist,”
“Are you three sure you want to come?” said Harry to the others, who just gave him a Look. “Right, sure. Off we go then.”
Hermione looked up the stairwell, judging the position of the flights. “It’ll take us at least fifteen minutes to get up to the third floor,” she said, worried.
“Nah,” said Harry. “Gather round. Blaise, I promise I’ll explain everything later, but for now, hang on. Ray Wing!”
A swirling shell of air formed around the whole group. Pouring power into the spell, Harry caused them to rise quickly up the stairwell, landing gently on the landing outside the Forbidden Corridor.
“Impressive,” said Blaise with a smirk. “I’ll look forward to a detailed explanation.” He glanced down the corridor. “So where’s Snape?”
“The door’s open,” said Harry. “I think he’s inside.” He broke into a run.
The others followed quickly, and caught up with him at the door. “Good grief,” said Neville, spotting the Cerberus.
“It’s asleep,” said Harry. “Look.” He gestured across the room, where a harp was playing a soft melody. “The trapdoor’s open, too.”
“Professor!” cried Blaise, running to a pile of black fabric lying between the sleeping dog’s paws.
“Be careful, Blaise!” whispered Hermione loudly.
“He’s alive,” said Blaise. “Stunned, I think. Help me pull him out of here.”
Neville and Harry joined him, and between the three of them managed to lug the unconscious Potions Master out into the corridor. “I’ll stay with him,” said Blaise. “You Gryffindors go do what you do best.”
“Stuff like running up to giant three-headed dogs?” said Harry with a smirk.
“Shut it,” said Blaise with a weak grin. “Go on.”
“Take care of him,” said Harry, as he and Neville went back into the room.
“We’d better hurry up,” said Hermione. “I think the charm on the harp is starting to wear off.” Indeed, the music was starting to slow down.
“That’s my cue,” said Ron, jumping down the trapdoor.
“Ron, you idiot!” said Neville. “There’s no telling what’s down there!”
“Something soft,” Ron replied from far below. “It’s a long drop, but it’s an easy landing.” Shaking his head, Neville dropped down after him, followed quickly by Hermione and Harry. A few seconds of free-fall, then they were halted by something soft and ropey.
“Feels like a plant,” said Neville.
“Whatever it is, it’s moving,” said Ron. “Getting tighter...”
“Ah,” said Neville. “Devil’s Snare. We’ll be fine if we don’t struggle.”
“Easy for you to say,” said Ron, doing his best to relax.
“What else can we do, Neville?” asked Harry.
“Bright lights or fire,” said Neville. “Unfortunately, I dropped my wand.”
“Give Lighting a go,” said Harry. “If that doesn’t work, I’ll Fireball the bastard.”
“Language Harry,” said Hermione, then cast, “Lumos.” The vines retreated from around her, letting her slip the rest of the way to the floor.
Neville relaxed, trying to connect with the magic around him. “Light which burns beyond crimson flame, let thy power gather in my hand! Lighting!” As usual, he felt the energy begin to rise within him, but it choked off before it could manifest. “No use,” he sighed.
“You’ll get it soon enough,” said Harry confidently. “Let me try. Lighting!” He shifted the balance of the spell from duration to power. For a few seconds the vault was flooded with a near-dazzling flare, and the Devil’s Snare recoiled, letting the three boys drop to the floor.
“There’s only one way forward,” reported Hermione. “It’s pretty damp down here; I think we’re at least as far down as the dungeons. That was some fall!”
“Yeah,” agreed Ron.
“Oh, and here’s your wand Neville,” said Hermione, handing it over. Neville nodded his thanks.
“Looks like we’re going even lower,” said Harry as he started down the passageway. “There’s a light up ahead though.”
“And I can hear something moving,” added Ron. “Better be careful...”
“Good Lord, it must be dangerous, if you’re suggesting taking care,” said Hermione with a smirk.
“Yeah, yeah,” said Ron.
“Something flying up there,” said Harry as he reached the brightly-lit chamber at the end of the tunnel. “Winged keys?”
“And a pretty heavy door,” said Hermione, walking across to it. “Alohomora.” Nothing happened. “Well, I wasn’t expecting much.”
Harry came over to join her. “Unlock. Nope, didn’t think so.”
“Look, there’s broomsticks over here,” said Neville. “Maybe we’re supposed to catch the right key?”
“That could take forever,” said Ron. “Do we actually care about not breaking stuff here?”
Harry grinned at him. “Not really. Hermione, better stand back, just in case.” He turned to the door as Hermione backed off, and planted his hands against it. “Blast Wave!” The door shuddered violently, but held firm. “Rats,” said Harry. “No such luck.”
“Try the wall,” said Hermione.
“Good idea,” said Harry, moving to place his hands on the wall right beside the door. “Blast Wave!” With a loud crack, a section of the wall crumbled, leaving a conveniently-sized passage into the next chamber.
“Very handy,” said Neville with a grin. “What’s next?”
“Chess board,” said Harry, going through to the next room. “Looks like it’s your turn, Ron.” Grinning, Ron came through and looked over the board.
“We’re playing black,” he said. “So... ready when you are?” He called the last out so that it echoed through the chamber. Nothing happened.
“Hmm...” said Ron. He went over to the black king, poked it, then jumped back as the nine-foot-tall stone piece turned and looked at him. “Wicked...” he mumbled. “So how do we start?”
The king gestured to the line of court pieces. “Ah,” said Ron. “So we’re supposed to take over from some of you?” The king nodded.
Hermione wandered along the queen’s side pieces. “So which ones should we take?”
“Well...” said Ron. “I mean, I’m pretty sure I can win against whoever set this up—”
“Professor McGonagall,” interjected Hermione confidently.
“How can you be sure?” asked Neville.
“An animal from Hagrid, a plant from Professor Sprout, keys and door charmed by Professor Flitwick... I think each of the staff has supplied their own challenge. I doubt anyone carved these pieces, so that would be Transfiguration.”
Ron nodded. “Makes sense. I haven’t played her yet, but according to the upper years she’s pretty good. That settles it: I can probably win, but I can’t do it without sacrificing a lot of pieces. You’ve seen what happens to captured pieces in Wizard chess...” Hermione shuddered, looking green. “So I think I’ll use those Slytherin tendencies you lot keep accusing me of, and let Harry deal with this one too.”
“If you want,” said Harry, pondering the best spell to use.
“Hang on,” said Neville. “You said ‘challenges’, Hermione, not ‘defences’.”
“Well, think about it,” she replied. “Fluffy turned out to be easy to get past, you’d just have to find out he’s susceptible to soft music, which, given Hagrid’s secret-keeping capabilities, couldn’t be that hard. A plant that can be handled by any first year who hadn’t slept through Herbology, a locked door with the key right in the same room, a barrier that you can play your way through... they’re not exactly impenetrable, are they?”
“Good point,” said Neville. “So what’s next? Don’t tell me Quirrell put up something to protect the stone he was intending to steal?”
“Why not?” said Harry. “To help keep his cover? Anyway, everyone back into the other room. It’s going to get hot in here.” They retreated, Lina taking over from Harry as they went.
“Harry hasn’t had any practice with this,” she commented, turning to face into the chess room. Bowing her head, she raised her arms high, then slowly brought them down to face her palms into the room, building her power to a crescendo as she did. “Infinite earth, mother who nurtures all life, let thy power gather in my hand! Vlave Howl!”
Searing heat burst from the room as the floor softened and melted into lava. Like wax figures in an oven, the stone chessmen slumped and collapsed into the molten rock. “All right,” said Lina. “Next... Gray Buster!” The air shimmered and the blazing heat was replaced with biting cold. The molten floor of the room cooled and blackened, forming a solid crust.
“Wicked!” said Ron, stepping forwards.
“Hold on!” said Lina. “I’m not quite done yet; it’s still really hot in there. Stand together, so I can get all of us with this.” Once the three others were clustered around her, Lina drew in her power again, then cast. “Flare Seal. All right, that should keep us protected from the heat. Come on!” She turned and walked carefully across the solidified surface, letting Harry take over once she was at the other side.
The other three followed close behind her, but unfortunately Ron stepped on a thin section of the crust. It cracked under his weight, dropping his foot into the still-molten rock below. “Ahh! Bastard!”
Neville quickly grabbed his arm and pulled him free, dragging him to the safety of the exit with Hermione keeping pace beside them. Once there they helped Ron sit down against the wall. Surprisingly, his shoe was only lightly scorched.
“Are you all right,” asked Hermione.
“Yeah,” said Ron. “It feels like I stepped into a bath that was too hot. A bit sore, but it’s getting better already.”
“That’s some spell Lina used,” said Hermione. “Your foot should have been burned right off. We’d better have a look at it, even so.”
“Thanks for that image,” said Ron, leaning over and gingerly untying his shoelace. “Ouch,” he said, wincing as he pulled his shoe and sock off, revealing skin that was badly reddened, but not blistered.
“That doesn’t look too bad,” said Neville. “Madam Pomfrey’ll be able to fix it up in no time.”
“You’re not leaving me behind,” said Ron fiercely.
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” said Harry with a grin. “We might need your Slytherin tendencies again.”
Neville nodded. “I’ll help you along, if you need it.”
“Thanks mate,” said Ron, pulling himself upright. “Let’s get going then.”
With Neville’s assistance, Ron hobbled along the passage behind Harry and Hermione, until they reached another door.
“You’d better hang back,” said Harry to Ron. “You won’t be able to dodge.”
Ron nodded, and waited a few metres from the door. Harry exchanged a quick nod with Hermione, then pushed it open.
Cold air spilled out of the darkened room beyond. Harry felt a sudden pressure against his mind. “Not Harry, not Harry, please not Harry!” Three shadowy, cloaked figures floated towards him. “Stand aside, you silly girl... stand aside, now...”
Harry didn’t stop to think. Concentrating on the feeling of Lina’s arms around him, he raised his wand and jabbed, shouting “Expecto Patronum!” Dazzling silver mist burst from his wand, coalescing into a bright figure.
“Well, this is unexpected,” said Lina. “Anyway. ELMEKIA FLAME!”
Lina’s sudden appearance brought a temporary halt to the party’s progress through the ‘challenges’. Her decisive strike had utterly destroyed the three — well...
“They can’t have been Dementors,” said Hermione. “Their cloaks are just ordinary fabric; there would be something left.” She went over to the middle of the room, where three small chests were arranged in a line, their lids hanging open. “Someone shut the door, please?”
As Harry and Neville were preoccupied trying to hug an incorporeal, love-and-protection-radiating Lina, Ron hobbled over and closed the chamber door. Immediately the three chest lids snapped shut. Hermione examined the outside of the lids. “All right, open it again please?” As soon as Ron opened the door, the lids flew open. Hermione nodded in satisfaction. “Professor Quirrell’s challenge, definitely.”
“How d’you reckon that?” asked Ron.
“Well, I can’t be completely sure, obviously, but I think each of these chests contained a Boggart.” Hermione nodded again, pleased with her reasoning. “Quite a good creature to use: they can incapacitate without any real chance of killing anyone, and if I remember correctly they’re covered in second year Defence, so any reasonably competent student could get past them.”
“What’s a Boggart?” asked Lina, coming over with the other (noticeably teary-eyed) two in tow.
“A shape-shifting emotivore,” said Hermione. “Somewhat similar to Dementors, but they lack any physical body and only feed on fear, instead of the cocktail of despair and self-loathing that Dementors seem to prefer.”
“They turn into whatever it is you’re most scared of,” added Ron. “Nasty buggers.”
“Language Ron,” said Hermione primly.
“That makes sense. They looked like little ghost monkeys to me,” said Lina.
“You’re afraid of ghost monkeys?” asked Ron incredulously. “But they didn’t change...”
“Hah, no,” said Lina. “I think I saw them as they really are. It’s really weird... it’s like I can see all the magic. There are luminous threads connecting the door to the chests, you’re all glowing slightly and your wands are really bright... it’s really beautiful.” She turned and pointed to Harry’s head. “Except for that. Harry, we need to find out more about your scar. It looks like there’s an oily black sea anemone attached to your forehead.”
“Oh, yuk,” said Ron. Harry gulped, and the other two looked nervously at him.
“Don’t worry too much,” said Lina. “It’s on you, not part of you.”
“It hurts when Quirrell looks directly away from it,” mumbled Harry. “I wonder why... OW!” He transferred his wand to his left hand and blew on the fingers of his right. “Sorry Lina, I’m going to have to drop this spell. My wand’s getting really hot—”
“And the last thing we need is for it to explode,” sighed Lina. “All right, I’ll go back inside. I’ll be ready in case you need me!”
Harry let the flow of magic stop, and the Patronus-Lina dissolved into motes of light, which streamed back into Harry. “She’s back in,” he said with relief. “All right, let’s see what’s up next.”
“Potions, Astronomy, and History from the first year courses,” said Hermione. “I hope Hagrid’s monster dog doesn’t count as Care of Magical Creatures; that would mean we’re going to have to get through Ancient Runes and the other electives...”
“I hope there’s nothing to do with History,” grumbled Ron as he limped towards the next door. “We’d probably all fall asleep. Except for Hermione, of course.” She gave him a superior smile as she pulled the door open.
The room beyond was softly-lit, and empty except for a table in the middle. Spotting several bottles and a scroll lying on the table, Hermione started forwards, with Harry right on her heels. As soon as he had passed the threshold, purple flames sprang up, blocking the doorway completely. A wall of black fire similarly blocked the way forwards.
Harry turned to Neville and Ron. “Give me a moment guys. I’ll have this down...”
Ron shook his head ruefully. “Save your strength. My foot’s worse than I thought; I couldn’t make it much further anyway.” He hobbling back to the chests and sat on one with a groan of relief. “We’ll be the rearguard. Unless Neville...?”
Neville wrestled with his conscience for a moment. “I’ll stay and keep Ron company,” he said finally. “If Quirrell makes it past you, we’ll stop him,” he added, trying to look confident.
“Take care!” said Harry.
“You too,” they chorused back.
Harry turned back to Hermione, who had been examining the scroll. “So, what do we do now?”
“It’s a logic puzzle,” she replied. “Not particularly difficult, except the bottles we need to go through either set of flames are missing; they’ve been replaced with duplicates of two of the others. It’s likely that all of them are poisoned, rather than just three.”
“Snape, or Quirrell?” asked Harry.
“I’m not sure,” admitted Hermione. “It’s more likely to be Quirrell though; if the Headmaster asked Professor Snape to make a difficult but solvable challenge, I don’t think he’d make an lethal, impossible one instead.”
“So how do we go on?” asked Harry. “Quiet or noisy?” He turned back to the Boggart room. “Ron, what do you think?”
“Quiet,” Ron replied. “If you can sneak up on him, you might be able to get the drop on him.”
“That sounds best, if you can do it,” agreed Hermione.
“All right...” said Harry. “Let’s try this. Ext Ball.” A ball of light formed in his hand, then shot over to the black fire. Hermione began to smile as it started to draw the flames into itself, but frowned in disappointment when the ball winked out having made no real difference.
“I’m not surprised,” said Harry with a sigh, “it’s not a very strong spell. There’s apparently a better version, but I’ve never had the chance to find it.”
“What about Lina?” asked Hermione.
Harry gave a short laugh. “She’s much better at making fire than putting it out.” He thought for a moment. “Balus Wall is no use, it’s a stationary shield. I don’t want to risk Flare Seal; that doesn’t look at all like normal fire. Gray Buster doesn’t actually extinguish anything...”
“Or we could think outside the box,” said Hermione, moving the bottles to the floor. “Help me with the table.”
Between them they made short work of turning the table over and sliding it into the doorway. Hermione’s idea worked perfectly: the black flames still flooded out of the floor, but were diverted by the wood, leaving the exit clear. It wouldn’t last forever; the fire was quickly charring the edges of the tabletop, but the pair were able to make it through without any trouble. They looked back, and could just make out Ron and Neville giving them the thumbs up through the purple fire. They waved back, turned, and went down what they hoped was the last passageway.
“You hang back a little,” whispered Harry. “That way if I get caught, you can do something about it.” Hermione nodded, then gave him a quick hug for luck. Harry gave her a nervous grin, then went on.
The final chamber was glorious. Terraced steps curved all the way around, down to a small flat area in the middle, which had a faint yellow design on it. Stone pedestals were scattered about the steps, seemingly at random, some bearing large balls of different substances — stone, metal, and wood, among others. The high ceiling was a perfect dome, marked with the stars of the winter sky in bright gold, the pictures of the constellations being hinted at with tints and fine lines. Floating in the very centre of the room was a multi-layered cage. When Harry looked at it more closely, he realised that it was formed of geometric shapes: the outer shell had many triangular faces made of pierced brass. The next one in appeared to be made of pentagons; he couldn’t make out the shapes of the others, although he could see at least another two. In the very middle of the contraption hung something that glowed with a reddish light.
Quirrell was pacing back and forth across the chamber, muttering to himself. Passing one pedestal, he seized the ball resting on it — a glass globe filled with flickering red flames. He then stalked over to another pedestal and placed the ball roughly on the top. Within the metal structure, one of the layers turned with a ticking noise, but there was no other effect. Quirrell cursed under his breath, and made his way to another pillar, this one bearing a ball of marble.
‹It’s now or never,› thought Harry. Focussing his magic, he waited until Quirrell was in the open, then cast as quietly as he could, “Laphas Seed!”
Unfortunately, Harry’s luck failed him. At the moment the ropes started to rise around Quirrell he turned, presenting the back of his head. Harry lost concentration as his scar burned. He tried to stifle his cry of pain, but Quirrell heard him, span around, and replied with “Incarcerous!” Harry fell, bound in rope from shoulders to toes. He twisted enough to roll onto his back, and glared at Quirrell.
“Well, well, Mister Potter,” said Quirrell, without a trace of a stutter. “You have been busy. I thought the steps I’d taken would delay any pursuers — taking Flitwick’s flying key, Confounding the chess pieces to attack whoever joined their side, spoiling Snape’s little puzzle — but you got through almost as fast as I did. I must congratulate you.” He came over to Harry’s supine form, then crouched beside him. “Perhaps you would like to apply your skills to this final puzzle? I could make it worth your while...”
“I doubt I could help,” replied Harry. “I just blew up everything that got in the way. That cage thing looks too strong though.”
“Indeed,” said Quirrell softly. “There is more to you than meets the eye, isn’t there Potter?”
“Nah,” said Harry, feeling a rush of cockiness from Lina. “I’m nothing special.”
“Nothing special...” repeated Quirrell. “And yet you supposedly defeated the greatest wizard of our age...”
“That was my mum,” said Harry. “You remember; I made a speech about it and everything.”
“Ah yes, the valiant Lily Potter’s sacrifice. Perhaps so—” Quirrell stopped and cocked his head as though listening. “Are you sure? If he escapes... Yes, Master.” He raised his hands to his turban and began unwinding it. “My master wishes to... look you in the eye, shall we say?”
Quirrell cast aside his turban, revealing a noseless, red-eyed face occupying to the back of his head. As he turned, Harry’s scar exploded with pain again and he cried out. He kept enough presence of mind to squeeze his eyes shut; he wanted this monster in his mind even less than Dumbledore.
A thin, high voice intruded through the pain; a voice that Harry recognised immediately. “Does that hurt, Harry Potter? Curious...” A finger pressed against Harry’s scar, and he screamed as the agony became unbearable.
“STOP!” Hermione’s voice echoed across the chamber. “I— I’ll help you get the Stone. But you have to leave Harry alone.”
“Ah, Miss Granger,” said Quirrell. “I should have expected you to be around somewhere. Will Misters Longbottom and Weasley be joining us as well?”
“They’re around somewhere,” said Hermione, trying her best to sound brave. “But I wasn’t talking to you. Well, Mister Voldemort? Do you want the Stone, or would you rather poke at Harry until the Headmaster gets here?”
“It’s a more difficult choice than you might think,” said the thin, high voice of Voldemort. “Regardless of what he claims about his mother, this child holds power... enough power to destroy my body, leaving me as less than a ghost, so bereft of strength that even after all these years I am barely able to possess another to sustain myself. But I think the Stone should come first. Come here, girl.”
“Not a chance,” said Hermione. Harry still had his eyes shut tightly, but he imagined her hiding behind some pedestal, relying on the echoes in the room to conceal the source of her voice. He concentrated on the image, using it to gather the faculties scattered by the pain of Quirrell’s touch. “Let’s get to it. Are any of the pedestals marked?”
“Yes,” said Quirrell. “All of them have a carving of an animal on the top.”
“Good,” said Hermione. “Find the turtle first.”
Quirrell moved off, and Harry dared to open his eyes a slit. The possessed teacher moved around the terraces, looking at the tops of the pedestals, until he finally said, “Here it is.”
“Right,” said Hermione. “Push the pedestal around until it’s under the North Star.”
“What?” said Quirrell.
“Move the pedestal, idiot!” hissed Voldemort. “Why is it that you failed to notice that they could be moved?”
“I’m sorry Master,” grunted Quirrell as he pushed against the pedestal. With a little effort he slid it around the terrace until it was under the tip of the Little Bear’s tail.
“Good,” said Hermione. “Now, there should be a ball full of water. Put it on the tortoise pedestal.”
Quirrell scuttled over to the other side of the chamber and picked up a glass ball from the floor. Returning to the pedestal, he placed the ball on it, and was rewarded with a series of clicks from the brass structure. There was a pause, then a high-pitched chime sounded out.
“Excellent,” said Voldemort. “Please continue, Miss Granger.”
“Find the Dragon pedestal,” she called out, “push it to the East — you’ll have to judge where it should be — and place the wooden ball on it.”
Urged on by Voldemort, Quirrell hurried to comply. This time the pentagon-faced shell turned, and a much deeper chime sounded.
“Now a Tiger,” said Hermione. “It goes in the West, with the metal ball.” Again the cage clicked once the ball was in position, and another chime sounded out.
“Hurry Quirrell!” hissed Voldemort. “The Stone is almost within my grasp!” Harry stiffened in anticipation. When Quirrell moved the next pedestal, Harry would be hidden from him for a few moments, and Voldemort and his mount were so caught up with getting the Stone that they appeared to have forgotten about him.
“Phoenix pedestal, to the South. Use the ball of fire.”
‹This might hurt a bit...› thought Harry, steeling himself. There was no way he could move his wand, and although there was a spell practically made for this situation, he wasn’t sure he could aim it well enough to cut all his bonds without scoring his skin as well. Quirrell started to push the pedestal. ‹Here goes...› He whispered, “Bram Fang.” An arrow of wind formed above his head and sliced along his body, cutting into his cheek on the way. Harry ignored the small twinge of pain, and the ropes fell away as he sat up.
“All right Lina,” he whispered. “The bastard doesn’t hurt you just by looking at you, so you’ll have to take it from here.”
Lina stood up, a feral grin on her face. “Flare Bit!” Balls of light swarmed from her hands. Quirrell immediately cast a shield, but the lights swarmed around its edges, and he was pummelled across the chamber by dozens of blows, collapsing against one of the spare pedestals. Lina stalked after him, getting within arms’ reach. Quirrell tried to bring his wand to bear, but Lina grabbed him by the wrist. She was slightly surprised when he screamed at her touch, smoke pouring from the point of contact, but Lina wasn’t one to ignore a surprise advantage; she tightened her grip and held it until Quirrell’s hand dropped his wand and fell limp.
His body quickly followed. With a hiss that sounded like ‘ussselesss’, dark mist poured from the back of Quirrell’s head, coalescing into a vaguely humanoid shape. Quirrell dropped like a puppet with cut strings.
“You will pay for this insult!” the cloud hissed mentally. “You and all you love will suffer for this!”
The cloud drifted forward, attempting to envelop and possess Lina, but as soon as it came into contact with her it recoiled, roiling in psychic agony.
“Aaaaaah! What are you?”
Lina smiled like a shark that had scented blood.
“I am Harry’s anger made manifest.
“I am Harry’s hurt embodied.
“I am Lily Potter’s love and magical protection given form.
“I am your death.”
She bowed her head and cupped her hands in front of her. “Source of all souls which dwell in eternal and infinite.” Light began to swell between her hands. “Everlasting flame of blue, let the power hidden in my soul be called forth from the Infinite...” The light condensed into a flaring ball, eager to spring at its target. “RA-TILT!”
A shaft of pure blue-white light shot out, striking Voldemort’s shade and swelling to envelop it. The shade struggled for a moment, hissing “No! This cannot be! I am immortal!”, but the light overcame its shadow and consumed it utterly.
Hermione stepped out tentatively from the passageway at the other side of the room. “Is it over?”
Lina turned and gave her a dazzling grin. “For Voldy? Absolutely. For Querulous Squirrel; probably. We’re not quite finished though.” She went over to the Phoenix pedestal and pushed it the last few centimetres. The ball of fire was already in place; she was rewarded by the expected clicks and chime.
“You were absolutely brilliant there,” said Lina. “A perfect distraction, and you saved our bums. One last step to go though, I think?”
“Yes,” said Hermione. “There should be a ball full of earth; it should go on the floor on the yellow picture.” She joined Lina in hunting for the ball.
“How did you figure it out?” asked Lina.
“It’s fairly simple if you know it. Su Li gave me the background details I needed when we were talking about the House elemental associations last month.
“The animals used are the Chinese guardians of the compass, that’s why the pillars go where they do. Each is associated with one of the five Chinese elements, but that only comes to four. The cage is made from the five Platonic solids, which support the spheres of the planets — Ancient Greek philosophy. The four guardians each have an associated planet, but Saturn, the outermost, isn’t included in the set in Chinese mythology. However, in the Japanese system, Saturn’s element is Earth — found it! The only place that Earth fits in the Chinese diagram is in the centre — those yellow lines are a stylised picture of the Lord Commander’s face.”
Lina grinned at her again. “Totally brilliant.”
Hermione smiled in return as she held the final ball out to Lina: another glass sphere filled with loose soil. Lina held up her hands. “No, no, you worked it out; the honour is yours.”
“All right...” said Hermione, and placed the ball on the floor, right on the Lord of the Centre’s nose.
A deep gong sounded, then with a clicking noise the outer icosahedron split at its edges, folding back to reveal Jupiter’s dodecahedron. It opened too, followed by each layer in turn: octahedron, cube, and tetrahedron, until finally the Philosopher’s Stone was released. It floated down slowly into Lina’s waiting hand.
“You’re a star, Hermione. I’m going to swap with Harry now, to keep this thing safe. Once we’re away from Tumblegore’s reach we can examine it and see what it can do.”
Lina morphed into Harry, who immediately gave Hermione a grin of his own. “Lina’s already said it once, but I think you were brilliant too. Thanks for saving us.”
Hermione blushed. “You’re welcome. But... are you all right? You’re bleeding a little.”
Harry wiped at his cheek. “Just a scratch. Really; that spell can’t do much more than give you a nasty paper cut. Slices ropes just fine though.”
“What about your... your scar?”
“I’ve got a bit of a headache from the screaming, but other than that I’m fine. No lingering pain there.”
Hermione frowned. “Do you think the thing Lina saw is still there?”
“Probably,” said Harry. “We’ll check once we get home.”
“Home!” said Hermione suddenly. “We must have missed the train! My parents will be so worried!”
“I doubt it’s even lunch time yet,” said Harry. “We’ll get to King’s Cross in time, some way or another. But there’s no sense in sticking around here; let’s go back and find Ron and Neville.”
“Shouldn’t we check on Professor Quirrell first?” asked Hermione.
“If you want,” shrugged Harry. “I’m pretty sure he’s dead though.” He followed her over to the fallen Defence professor.
“He isn’t breathing,” Hermione noted.
“Help me roll him over,” said Harry. “I want to see if there’s anything left of... you know.”
With Hermione’s help he pulled Quirrell onto his face, then they both had to turn away, retching. The back of his head was hollowed out, as if by a giant ice-cream scoop.
“Definitely dead,” choked Hermione. “Poor Professor Quirrell...”
“Poor Professor nothing,” snorted Harry. “You heard him; he was quite happy to be working for that monster. Speaking of, you cottoned on to it being Voldemort really quickly.”
“That was nothing,” said Hermione deprecatingly. “He made your scar hurt when he faced you; who else would it be? Anyway, let’s get out of here.”
Harry and Hermione got back to Ron and Neville just as the cavalry was arriving, in the persons of Dumbledore and McGonagall. The Headmaster continued on to examine the remainder of the challenges, while his Deputy fixed the damage to Ron’s foot and helped the four return to the entry shaft. Several brooms were waiting to carry them out.
Harry and Hermione started to give a highly redacted version of the story to McGonagall, but she asked them to wait. “I’m very sure the Headmaster will want to hear it all shortly. There’s no sense in repeating yourselves; I’ll hear the full story then. Now, I’m sure you’d like to spend the time until the Headmaster returns with your other friends. They were rather worried for your safety.”
The four were soon reunited with the others: Blaise (“Yes, Snape’s fine; he was just stunned.”); Su Li, Hannah, and Susan (“No, the dragon didn’t hurt anyone.” “Dumbledore shot straight off to find you.” “So did McGonagall once we found her.”); the Twins (“We were | a bit worried | when you split up.”). Their other friends had also appeared: Miss Greengrass and Michael had been in the castle and missed all the action, while Justin and Tracey had followed Su Li back from the forest edge. Harry gave them a brief run-down of the situation, and promised to tell them all the details (‹except about Lina, probably›) at the party at Sirius’ place.
Then McGonagall returned and summoned the four to the Headmaster’s office.
Dumbledore was already ensconced behind his desk by the time they arrived. Snape was there too, leaning against the wall in a shadowed corner. When Harry came through the door he caught his eye, and they exchanged nods.
“Please, sit down,” said Dumbledore, making a show of conjuring chairs for them all. “Lemon drop?”
“No thanks,” said Harry. The others shook their heads.
“As you wish,” said Dumbledore. “Now, I would very much like to hear the story of your adventure today. Harry, what do you know about the mist that appeared around the dragon?”
“Magic,” said Harry. He had decided to take a leaf out of Lina’s book, and was mimicking the coldly precise mannerisms she used when dealing with Umbridge.
“Indeed,” said the Headmaster, “but what spell? Who drove the dragon off, and how?”
“Sore wa... himitsu desu,” said Harry.
Dumbledore sighed, then looked at the others. Not one of the infuriating brats would meet his gaze! “What about you, Miss Granger?”
“I’m sorry Headmaster, while I could describe what I saw, I cannot describe of any of the magic used today.”
“And why is that?” asked Dumbledore.
Harry answered for her. “Aside from a few Lumos spells and the like, all magic used as part of today’s adventure count as Familial. My guardian’s family, to be precise; while she has taught me and allowed me to use her family magic in the presence of my friends, we may not even describe it to others without her permission.”
“In that case, at least you can tell me what happened?” said Dumbledore.
“The details are irrelevant,” Harry said dismissively. “Let me summarise. As Professor Snape has no doubt told you, the dragon was a diversion. Professor Quirrell, who was being possessed by the shade of Lord Voldemort, made a play for the bait you so temptingly dangled in front of him. We found this out, followed him, and overcame your little diversions with main force — fortunately, as Quirrell had taken steps to make them unsolvable. In the end Voldemort met his long-awaited fate. Unfortunately Quirrell died when Voldemort left his body.”
“Ah,” said Dumbledore. “I’m afraid that Voldemort is not so easily vanquished. He has taken steps to ensure that his soul cannot cross over. Only once they are countered can he pass on.”
“You misunderstand me,” said Harry. “Voldemort’s spirit did not depart, ‘cross over’, ‘pass on’, or otherwise leave. It was utterly eradicated.”
The Headmaster blanched. “How... how could you do such a thing?”
Harry sighed. “Sore wa—”
“Not the means!” shouted Dumbledore, slapping his desk, causing Hermione and Ron to jump in their seats. “I care not what Dark abomination you used! How could you bring yourself to commit such a vile act! What right have you—”
“He. Was. My. ENEMY.” said Harry, standing up and infusing his voice with magic to give it emphasis. “He murdered my parents. He and his followers tortured and killed with abandon. Other than the lucky few like Hermione who have only just come into this world, not one of my friends or acquaintances has escaped some loss at his hand! And he was trying to come back! To take up his reign of terror again! So we made sure he was put down. You are welcome.” Harry paused as Hermione laid a calming hand on his arm. He sighed, and sat back down. “And for your information, the spell used was of the most refined Light magic.”
Dumbledore sighed as well, and reined in his temper. “Nevertheless, to destroy him so, without any hope of redemption...”
“I’m sorry,” said Harry. “Did you just say that you would risk the lives of innocents to allow a dark monster the chance to redeem himself?”
“We must not presume to take such responsibilities on ourselves,” said Dumbledore sagely. “However, what’s done is done... and I fear that we have not seen the last of Lord Voldemort.” His eyes flicked up to Harry’s scar, ever so briefly. Harry missed seeing it, but Neville and Hermione did not.
“There is one other matter we must touch on today,” said Dumbledore. “That of the artefact I was protecting.”
“You mean the bait at the end of your obstacle course?” said Harry with a grin. “It’s safe.”
“I feel I must point out that it doesn’t belong to you,” said Dumbledore.
“Oh?” said Harry with an innocent look. “I thought it was the prize for completing the puzzles.” Out the corner of his eye, he caught McGonagall and Snape suppressing grins at that.
“Nevertheless, you must return it.”
“I should probably point out that it doesn’t belong to you either,” noted Harry. Snape was definitely having trouble maintaining his composure. “What do you want it for?”
“I fear it must be destroyed,” Dumbledore said sadly. “It is too strong a temptation to be allowed to exist.”
“Ah,” said Harry. “We probably shouldn’t presume to take on that sort of responsibility.” The tiniest of smiles quirked the corner of Snape’s mouth. ‹Victory!› “I was thinking of returning it to its maker. I expect he would be in the best position to know what to do with it.”
“Even so—” Dumbledore began.
McGonagall interrupted him. “Headmaster,” she said, “I am sure that, like you, Mister Potter has only the best of intentions, and will make sure that your old mentor gets his Stone back. Now, if they are to get to King’s Cross in time to meet their families, we must be getting these children on their way.”
“Very well,” sighed Dumbledore. “I will see you all in the new year.”
Once outside the office, Hermione lost containment. “Harry James Potter! I can’t believe you talked to the Headmaster like that! Nor that you actually got me to back you up! I— I’m lost for words!”
“Incredible,” said Snape with a sneer. “Is there no end to your talents Mister Potter?”
The four pupils just stared at their potions professor for the remainder of the ride down the stairs. Once at the bottom, he gave a short bow to McGonagall, saying, “I will leave these miscreants in your care, Deputy Headmistress.” He turned and strode off, robes billowing behind him as swept around the corner to the main stairwell. After a moment his voice floated back to them: “Ten points to Gryffindor, Mister Potter.”
Lucius Malfoy sat in his study, swirling fine brandy in a balloon glass and pondering the events of the last few months. Harry Potter vanishing then reappearing under mysterious circumstances; Dolores Umbridge gaining a new patron that had removed her from his influence; Sirius Black exonerated and taking up his lordship. And then there were the rumours from Hogwarts...
As had happened so often over the last few days, his thoughts were drawn to a certain secret drawer in his desk. A mild compulsion? Perhaps... but one that, on reflection, it would be advisable to follow.
He leaned over and performed the motions necessary to reveal the drawer. Once open, he reached for the small, unassuming black book that his Master had entrusted to him. As soon as he touched it, he knew what he had to do.
To be continued...
Oh dear... the Dark Lord is dead, long live the Dark Lord?
Did Dumbledore really just let Harry walk out with the Philosopher’s Stone?
Boggarts in second year: Lockhart was too busy gassing about Werewolves and hair care to stick to the proper curriculum. As Snape was quite aware, minor menaces like Boggarts and Hinkypunks are second year material, third year is for Werewolves, Acromantulas, and so on.
Bye bye Alan Rickman. Your legacy will live on.