THROUGH THE TRAPDOOR
In years to come, Harry would never quite remember how he had managed to get through his exams when he half expected Voldemort to come bursting through the door at any moment. Yet the days crept by, and there could be no doubt that Fluffy was still alive and well behind the locked door.
It was sweltering hot, especially in the large classroom where they did their written papers. They had been given special, new quills for the exams, which had been bewitched with an AntiCheating spell.
They had practical exams as well. Professor Flitwick called them one by one into his class to see if they could make a pineapple tapdance across a desk. Professor McGonagall watched them turn a mouse into a snuffbox -- points were given for how pretty the snuffbox was, but taken away if it had whiskers. Snape made them all nervous, breathing down their necks while they tried to remember how to make a Forgetfulness potion.
Harry did the best he could, trying to ignore the stabbing pains in his forehead, which had been bothering him ever since his trip into the forest. Neville thought Harry had a bad case of exam nerves because Harry couldn't sleep, but the truth was that Harry kept being woken by his old nightmare, except that it was now worse than ever because there was a hooded figure dripping blood in it.
Maybe it was because they hadn't seen what Harry had seen in the forest, or because they didn't have scars burning on their foreheads, but Ron and Hermione didn't seem as worried about the Stone as Harry. The idea of Voldemort certainly scared them, but he didn't keep visiting them in dreams, and they were so busy with their studying they didn't have much time to fret about what Snape or anyone else might be up to.
Their very last exam was History of Magic. One hour of answering questions about batty old wizards who'd invented selfstirring cauldrons and they'd be free, free for a whole wonderful week until their exam results came out. When the ghost of Professor Binns told them to put down their quills and roll up their parchment, Harry couldn't help cheering with the rest.
"That was far easier than I thought it would be," said Hermione as they joined the crowds flocking out onto the sunny grounds. "I needn't have learned about the 1637 Werewolf Code of Conduct or the uprising of Elfric the Eager."
Hermione always liked to go through their exam papers afterward, but Ron said this made him feel ill, so they wandered down to the lake and flopped under a tree. The Weasley twins and Lee Jordan were tickling the tentacles of a giant squid, which was basking in the warm shallows. "No more studying," Ron sighed happily, stretching out on the grass. "You could look more cheerful, Harry, we've got a week before we find out how badly we've done, there's no need to worry yet."
Harry was rubbing his forehead.
"I wish I knew what this means!" he burst out angrily. "My scar keeps hurting — it's happened before, but never as often as this."
"Go to Madam Pomfrey," Hermione suggested.
"I'm not ill," said Harry. "I think it's a warning... it means danger's coming...."
Ron couldn't get worked up, it was too hot.
"Harry, relax, Hermione's right, the Stone's safe as long as Dumbledore's around. Anyway, we've never had any proof Snape found out how to get past Fluffy. He nearly had his leg ripped off once, he's not going to try it again in a hurry. And Neville will play Quidditch for England before Hagrid lets Dumbledore down."
Harry nodded, but he couldn't shake off a lurking feeling that there was something he'd forgotten to do, something important. When he tried to explain this, Hermione said, "That's just the exams. I woke up last night and was halfway through my Transfiguration notes before I remembered we'd done that one."
Harry was quite sure the unsettled feeling didn't have anything to do with work, though. He watched an owl flutter toward the school across the bright blue sky, a note clamped in its mouth. Hagrid was the only one who ever sent him letters. Hagrid would never betray Dumbledore. Hagrid would never tell anyone how to get past Fluffy... never... but --
Harry suddenly jumped to his feet.
"Where're you going?" said Ron sleepily.
"I've just thought of something," said Harry. He had turned white. "We've got to go and see Hagrid, now."
"Why?" panted Hermione, hurrying to keep up.
"Don't you think it's a bit odd," said Harry, scrambling up the grassy slope, "that what Hagrid wants more than anything else is a dragon, and a stranger turns up who just happens to have an egg in his pocket? How many people wander around with dragon eggs if it's against wizard law? Lucky they found Hagrid, don't you think? Why didn't I see it before?"
"What are you talking about?" said Ron, but Harry, sprinting across the grounds toward the forest, didn't answer.
Hagrid was sitting in an armchair outside his house; his trousers and sleeves were rolled up, and he was shelling peas into a large bowl.
"Hullo," he said, smiling. "Finished yer exams? Got time fer a drink?"
"Yes, please," said Ron, but Harry cut him off.
"No, we're in a hurry. Hagrid, I've got to ask you something. You know that night you won Norbert? What did the stranger you were playing cards with look like?"
"Dunno," said Hagrid casually, "he wouldn' take his cloak off."
He saw the three of them look stunned and raised his eyebrows.
"It's not that unusual, yeh get a lot o' funny folk in the Hog's Head -- that's the pub down in the village. Mighta bin a dragon dealer, mightn' he? I never saw his face, he kept his hood up."
Harry sank down next to the bowl of peas. "What did you talk to him about, Hagrid? Did you mention Hogwarts at all?"
"Mighta come up," said Hagrid, frowning as he tried to remember. "Yeah... he asked what I did, an' I told him I was gamekeeper here.... He asked a bit about the sorta creatures I took after... so I told him... an' I said what I'd always really wanted was a dragon... an' then... I can' remember too well, 'cause he kept buyin' me drinks.... Let's see... yeah, then he said he had the dragon egg an' we could play cards fer it if I wanted... but he had ter be sure I could handle it, he didn' want it ter go ter any old home.... So I told him, after Fluffy, a dragon would be easy..."
"And did he — did he seem interested in Fluffy?" Harry asked, try ing to keep his voice calm.
"Well — yeah — how many three-headed dogs d'yeh meet, even around Hogwarts? So I told him, Fluffy's a piece o' cake if yeh know how to calm him down, jus' play him a bit o' music an' he'll go straight off ter sleep - — "
Hagrid suddenly looked horrified.
"I shouldn'ta told yeh that!" he blurted out. "Forget I said it! Hey -- where're yeh goin'?"
Harry, Ron, and Hermione didn't speak to each other at all until they came to a halt in the entrance hall, which seemed very cold and gloomy after the grounds.
"We've got to go to Dumbledore," said Harry. "Hagrid told that stranger how to get past Fluffy, and it was either Snape or Voldemort under that cloak — it must've been easy, once he'd got Hagrid drunk. I just hope Dumbledore believes us. Firenze might back us up if Bane doesn't stop him. Where's Dumbledore's office?"
They looked around, as if hoping to see a sign pointing them in the right direction. They had never been told where Dumbledore lived, nor did they know anyone who had been sent to see him.
"We'll just have to - — " Harry began, but a voice suddenly rang across the hall.
"What are you three doing inside?"
It was Professor McGonagall, carrying a large pile of books.
"We want to see Professor Dumbledore," said Hermione, rather bravely, Harry and Ron thought.
"See Professor Dumbledore?" Professor McGonagall repeated, as though this was a very fishy thing to want to do. "Why?"
Harry swallowed — now what?
"It's sort of secret," he said, but he wished at once he hadn't, because Professor McGonagall's nostrils flared.
"Professor Dumbledore left ten minutes ago," she said coldly. "He received an urgent owl from the Ministry of Magic and flew off for London at once."
"He's gone?" said Harry frantically. "Now?"
"Professor Dumbledore is a very great wizard, Potter, he has many demands on his time --
"But this is important."
"Something you have to say is more important than the Ministry of Magic, Potter.
"Look," said Harry, throwing caution to the winds, "Professor — it's about the Sorcerer's tone - — "
Whatever Professor McGonagall had expected, it wasn't that. The books she was carrying tumbled out of her arms, but she didn't pick them up. "How do you know --?" she spluttered.
"Professor, I think — I know — that Sn-that someone's going to try and steal the Stone. I've got to talk to Professor Dumbledore."
She eyed him with a mixture of shock and suspicion.
"Professor Dumbledore will be back tomorrow," she said finally. I don't know how you found out about the Stone, but rest assured, no one can possibly steal it, it's too well protected."
"But Professor - — "
"Potter, I know what I'm talking about," she said shortly. She bent down and gathered up the fallen books. I suggest you all go back outside and enjoy the sunshine."
But they didn't.
"It's tonight," said Harry, once he was sure Professor McGonagall was out of earshot. "Snape's going through the trapdoor tonight. He's found out everything he needs, and now he's got Dumbledore out of the way. He sent that note, I bet the Ministry of Magic will get a real shock when Dumbledore turns up."
"But what can we - — "
Hermione gasped. Harry and Ron wheeled round.
Snape was standing there.
"Good afternoon," he said smoothly.
They stared at him.
"You shouldn't be inside on a day like this," he said, with an odd, twisted smile.
"We were - — " Harry began, without any idea what he was going to say.
"You want to be more careful," said Snape. "Hanging around
like this, people will think you're up to something. And Gryffindor really can't afford to lose any more points, can it?"
Harry flushed. They turned to go outside, but Snape called them back.
"Be warned, Potter — any more nighttime wanderings and I will personally make sure you are expelled. Good day to you."
He strode off in the direction of the staffroom.
Out on the stone steps, Harry turned to the others.
"Right, here's what we've got to do," he whispered urgently. "One of us has got to keep an eye on Snape — wait outside the staff room and follow him if he leaves it. Hermione, you'd better do that."
"It's obvious," said Ron. "You can pretend to be waiting for Professor Flitwick, you know." He put on a high voice, "'Oh Professor Flitwick, I'm so worried, I think I got question fourteen b wrong....'"
"Oh, shut up," said Hermione, but she agreed to go and watch out for Snape.
"And we'd better stay outside the third-floor corridor," Harry told Ron. "Come on."
But that part of the plan didn't work. No sooner had they reached the door separating Fluffy from the rest of the school than Professor McGonagall turned up again and this time, she lost her temper.
"I suppose you think you're harder to get past than a pack of enchantments!" she stormed. "Enough of this nonsense! If I hear you 've come anywhere near here again, I'll take another fifty points from Gryffindor! Yes, Weasley, from my own house!" Harry and Ron went back to the common room, Harry had just said, "At least Hermione's on Snape's tail," when the portrait of the Fat Lady swung open and Hermione came in.
"I'm sorry, Harry!" she wailed. "Snape came out and asked me what I was doing, so I said I was waiting for Flitwick, and Snape went to get him, and I've only just got away, I don't know where Snape went."
"Well, that's it then, isn't it?" Harry said.
The other two stared at him. He was pale and his eyes were glittering.
"I'm going out of here tonight and I'm going to try and get to the Stone first."
"You're mad!" said Ron.
"You can't!" said Hermione. "After what McGonagall and Snape have said? You'll be expelled!"
"SO WHAP" Harry shouted. "Don't you understand? If Snape gets hold of the Stone, Voldemort's coming back! Haven't you heard what it was like when he was trying to take over? There won't be any Hogwarts to get expelled from! He'll flatten it, or turn it into a school for the Dark Arts! Losing points doesn't matter anymore, can't you see? D'you think he'll leave you and your families alone if Gryffindor wins the house cup? If I get caught before I can get to the Stone, well, I'll have to go back to the Dursleys and wait for Voldemort to find me there, it's only dying a bit later than I would have, because I'm never going over to the Dark Side! I'm going through that trapdoor tonight and nothing you two say is going to stop me! Voldemort killed my parents, remember?"
He glared at them.
"You're right Harry," said Hermione in a small voice.
"I'll use the invisibility cloak," said Harry. "It's just lucky I got it back."
"But will it cover all three of us?" said Ron.
"All — all three of us?"
"Oh, come off it, you don't think we'd let you go alone?"
"Of course not," said Hermione briskly. "How do you think you'd get to the Stone without us? I'd better go and took through my books, there might be something useful..."
"But if we get caught, you two will be expelled, too."
"Not if I can help it," said Hermione grimly. "Flitwick told me in secret that I got a hundred and twelve percent on his exam. They're not throwing me out after that."
After dinner the three of them sat nervously apart in the common room. Nobody bothered them; none of the Gryffindors had anything to say to Harry any more, after all. This was the first night he hadn't been upset by it. Hermione was skimming through all her notes, hoping to come across one of the enchantments they were about to try to break. Harry and Ron didn't talk much. Both of them were thinking about what they were about to do.
Slowly, the room emptied as people drifted off to bed.
"Better get the cloak," Ron muttered, as Lee Jordan finally left, stretching and yawning. Harry ran upstairs to their dark dormitory. He putted out the cloak and then his eyes fell on the flute Hagrid had given him for Christmas. He pocketed it to use on Fluffy — he didn't feel much like singing.
He ran back down to the common room.
"We'd better put the cloak on here, and make sure it covers all three of us — if Filch spots one of our feet wandering along on its own - — "
"What are you doing?" said a voice from the corner of the room. Neville appeared from behind an armchair, clutching Trevor the toad, who looked as though he'd been making another bid for freedom.
"Nothing, Neville, nothing," said Harry, hurriedly putting the cloak behind his back.
Neville stared at their guilty faces.
"You're going out again," he said.
"No, no, no," said Hermione. "No, we're not. Why don't you go to bed, Neville?"
Harry looked at the grandfather clock by the door. They couldn't afford to waste any more time, Snape might even now be playing Fluffy to sleep.
"You can't go out," said Neville, "you'll be caught again. Gryffindor will be in even more trouble."
"You don't understand," said Harry, "this is important."
But Neville was clearly steeling himself to do something desperate.
I won't let you do it," he said, hurrying to stand in front of the portrait hole. "I'll — I'll fight you!"
"Neville, "Ron exploded, "get away from that hole and don't be an idiot - — "
"Don't you call me an idiot!" said Neville. I don't think you should be breaking any more rules! And you were the one who told me to stand up to people!"
"Yes, but not to us," said Ron in exasperation. "Neville, you don't know what you're doing."
He took a step forward and Neville dropped Trevor the toad, who leapt out of sight.
"Go on then, try and hit me!" said Neville, raising his fists. "I'm ready!"
Harry turned to Hermione.
"Do something," he said desperately.
Hermione stepped forward.
"Neville," she said, "I'm really, really sorry about this."
She raised her wand.
"Petrificus Totalus!" she cried, pointing it at Neville.
Neville's arms snapped to his sides. His legs sprang together. His whole body rigid, he swayed where he stood and then fell flat on his face, stiff as a board.
Hermione ran to turn him over. Neville's jaws were jammed together so he couldn't speak. Only his eyes were moving, looking at them in horror.
"What've you done to him?" Harry whispered.
"It's the full Body-Bind," said Hermione miserably. "Oh, Neville, I'm so sorry."
"We had to, Neville, no time to explain," said Harry.
"You'll understand later, Neville," said Ron as they stepped over him and pulled on the invisibility cloak.
But leaving Neville lying motionless on the floor didn't feel like a very good omen. In their nervous state, every statue's shadow looked like Filch, every distant breath of wind sounded like Peeves swooping down on them. At the foot of the first set of stairs, they spotted Mrs. Norris skulking near the top.
"Oh, let's kick her, just this once," Ron whispered in Harry's ear, but Harry shook his head. As they climbed carefully around her, Mrs. Norris turned her lamplike eyes on them, but didn't do anything.
They didn't meet anyone else until they reached the staircase up to the third floor. Peeves was bobbing halfway up, loosening the carpet so that people would trip.
"Who's there?" he said suddenly as they climbed toward him. He narrowed his wicked black eyes. "Know you're there, even if I can't see you. Are you ghoulie or ghostie or wee student beastie?"
He rose up in the air and floated there, squinting at them.
"Should call Filch, I should, if something's a-creeping around unseen."
Harry had a sudden idea.
"Peeves," he said, in a hoarse whisper, "the Bloody Baron has his own reasons for being invisible."
Peeves almost fell out of the air in shock. He caught himself in time and hovered about a foot off the stairs.
"So sorry, your bloodiness, Mr. Baron, Sir," he said greasily. "My mistake, my mistake — I didn't see you — of course I didn't, you're invisible — forgive old Peevsie his little joke, sir."
"I have business here, Peeves," croaked Harry. "Stay away from this place tonight."
"I will, sir, I most certainly will," said Peeves, rising up in the air again. "Hope your business goes well, Baron, I'll not bother you."
And he scooted off
"Brilliant, Harry!" whispered Ron.
A few seconds later, they were there, outside the third-floor corridor -- and the door was already ajar.
"Well, there you are," Harry said quietly, "Snape's already got past Fluffy."
Seeing the open door somehow seemed to impress upon all three of them what was facing them. Underneath the cloak, Harry turned to the other two.
"If you want to go back, I won't blame you," he said. "You can take the cloak, I won't need it now."
"Don't be stupid," said Ron.
"We're coming," said Hermione.
Harry pushed the door open.
As the door creaked, low, rumbling growls met their ears. All three of the dog's noses sniffed madly in their direction, even though it couldn't see them.
"What's that at its feet?" Hermione whispered.
"Looks like a harp," said Ron. "Snape must have left it there."
"It must wake up the moment you stop playing," said Harry. "Well, here goes..."
He put Hagrid's flute to his lips and blew. It wasn't really a tune, but from the first note the beast's eyes began to droop. Harry hardly drew breath. Slowly, the dog's growls ceased — it tottered on its paws and fell to its knees, then it slumped to the ground, fast asleep.
"Keep playing," Ron warned Harry as they slipped out of the cloak and crept toward the trapdoor. They could feel the dog's hot, smelly breath as they approached the giant heads. "I think we'll be able to pull the door open," said Ron, peering over the dog's back. "Want to go first, Hermione?"
"No, I don't!"
"All right." Ron gritted his teeth and stepped carefully over the dog's legs. He bent and pulled the ring of the trapdoor, which swung up and open.
"What can you see?" Hermione said anxiously.
"Nothing — just black — there's no way of climbing down, we'll just have to drop."
Harry, who was still playing the flute, waved at Ron to get his attention and pointed at himself.
"You want to go first? Are you sure?" said Ron. "I don't know how deep this thing goes. Give the flute to Hermione so she can keep him asleep."
Harry handed the flute over. In the few seconds' silence, the dog growled and twitched, but the moment Hermione began to play, it fell back into its deep sleep.
Harry climbed over it and looked down through the trapdoor. There was no sign of the bottom.
He lowered himself through the hole until he was hanging on by his fingertips. Then he looked up at Ron and said, "If anything happens to me, don't follow. Go straight to the owlery and send Hedwig to Dumbledore, right?"
"Right," said Ron.
"See you in a minute, I hope...
And Harry let go. Cold, damp air rushed past him as he fell down, down, down and — FLUMP. With a funny, muffled sort of thump he landed on something soft. He sat up and felt around, his eyes not used to the gloom. It felt as though he was sitting on some sort of plant.
"It's okay!" he called up to the light the size of a postage stamp, which was the open trapdoor, "it's a soft landing, you can jump!"
Ron followed right away. He landed, sprawled next to Harry.
"What's this stuff?" were his first words.
"Dunno, some sort of plant thing. I suppose it's here to break the fall. Come on, Hermione!"
The distant music stopped. There was a loud bark from the dog, but Hermione had already jumped. She landed on Harry's other side.
"We must be miles under the school, she said.
"Lucky this plant thing's here, really," said Ron.
"Lucky!" shrieked Hermione. "Look at you both!"
She leapt up and struggled toward a damp wall. She had to struggle because the moment she had landed, the plant had started to twist snakelike tendrils around her ankles. As for Harry and Ron, their legs had already been bound tightly in long creepers without their noticing.
Hermione had managed to free herself before the plant got a firm grip on her. Now she watched in horror as the two boys fought to pull the plant off them, but the more they strained against it, the tighter and faster the plant wound around them.
"Stop moving!" Hermione ordered them. "I know what this is — it's Devil's Snare!"
"Oh, I'm so glad we know what it's called, that's a great help," snarled Ron, leaning back, trying to stop the plant from curling around his neck. "Shut up, I'm trying to remember how to kill it!" said Hermione.
"Well, hurry up, I can't breathe!" Harry gasped, wrestling with it as it curled around his chest.
"Devil's Snare, Devil's Snare... what did Professor Sprout say? — it likes the dark and the damp
"So light a fire!" Harry choked.
"Yes — of course — but there's no wood!" Hermione cried, wringing her hands.
"HAVE YOU GONE MAD?" Ron bellowed. "ARE YOU A WITCH OR NOT?"
"Oh, right!" said Hermione, and she whipped out her wand, waved it, muttered something, and sent a jet of the same bluebell flames she had used on Snape at the plant. In a matter of seconds, the two boys felt it loosening its grip as it cringed away from the light and warmth. Wriggling and flailing, it unraveled itself from their bodies, and they were able to pull free.
"Lucky you pay attention in Herbology, Hermione," said Harry as he joined her by the wall, wiping sweat off his face.
"Yeah," said Ron, "and lucky Harry doesn't lose his head in a crisis -- 'there's no wood,' honestly."
"This way," said Harry, pointing down a stone passageway, which was the only way forward.
All they could hear apart from their footsteps was the gentle drip of water trickling down the walls. The passageway sloped downward, and Harry was reminded of Gringotts. With an unpleasant jolt of the heart, he remembered the dragons said to be guarding vaults in the wizards' bank. If they met a dragon, a fully-grown dragon — Norbert had been bad enough...
"Can you hear something?" Ron whispered.
Harry listened. A soft rustling and clinking seemed to be coming from up ahead.
"Do you think it's a ghost?"
"I don't know... sounds like wings to me."
"There's light ahead — I can see something moving."
They reached the end of the passageway and saw before them a brilliantly lit chamber, its ceiling arching high above them. It was full of small, jewel-bright birds, fluttering and tumbling all around the room. On the opposite side of the chamber was a heavy wooden door.
"Do you think they'll attack us if we cross the room?" said Ron.
"Probably," said Harry. "They don't look very vicious, but I suppose if they all swooped down at once... well, there's no other choice... I'll run."
He took a deep breath, covered his face with his arms, and sprinted across the room. He expected to feel sharp beaks and claws tearing at him any second, but nothing happened. He reached the door untouched. He pulled the handle, but it was locked.
The other two followed him. They tugged and heaved at the door, but it wouldn't budge, not even when Hermione tried her Alohomora charm.
"Now what?" said Ron.
"These birds... they can't be here just for decoration," said Hermione.
They watched the birds soaring overhead, glittering — glittering?
"They're not birds!" Harry said suddenly. "They're keys! Winged keys -- look carefully. So that must mean..." he looked around the chamber while the other two squinted up at the flock of keys. "... yes — look! Broomsticks! We've got to catch the key to the door!"
"But there are hundreds of them!"
Ron examined the lock on the door.
"We're looking for a big, old-fashioned one — probably silver, like the handle."
They each seized a broomstick and kicked off into the air, soaring into the midst of the cloud of keys. They grabbed and snatched, but the bewitched keys darted and dived so quickly it was almost impossible to catch one.
Not for nothing, though, was Harry the youngest Seeker in a century. He had a knack for spotting things other people didn't. After a minute's weaving about through the whirl of rainbow feathers, he noticed a large silver key that had a bent wing, as if it had already been caught and stuffed roughly into the keyhole.
"That one!" he called to the others. "That big one — there — no, there -- with bright blue wings — the feathers are all crumpled on one side."
Ron went speeding in the direction that Harry was pointing, crashed into the ceiling, and nearly fell off his broom.
"We've got to close in on it!" Harry called, not taking his eyes off the key with the damaged wing. "Ron, you come at it from above — Hermione, stay below and stop it from going down and I'll try and catch it. Right, NOW!"
Ron dived, Hermione rocketed upward, the key dodged them both, and Harry streaked after it; it sped toward the wall, Harry leaned forward and with a nasty, crunching noise, pinned it against the stone with one hand. Ron and Hermione's cheers echoed around the high chamber.
They landed quickly, and Harry ran to the door, the key struggling in his hand. He rammed it into the lock and turned — it worked. The moment the lock had clicked open, the key took flight again, looking very battered now that it had been caught twice.
"Ready?" Harry asked the other two, his hand on the door handle. They nodded. He pulled the door open.
The next chamber was so dark they couldn't see anything at all. But as they stepped into it, light suddenly flooded the room to reveal an astonishing sight.
They were standing on the edge of a huge chessboard, behind the black chessmen, which were all taller than they were and carved from what looked like black stone. Facing them, way across the chamber, were the white pieces. Harry, Ron and Hermione shivered slightly — the towering white chessmen had no faces.
"Now what do we do?" Harry whispered.
"It's obvious, isn't it?" said Ron. "We've got to play our way across the room."
Behind the white pieces they could see another door.
"How?" said Hermione nervously.
"I think," said Ron, "we're going to have to be chessmen."
He walked up to a black knight and put his hand out to touch the knight's horse. At once, the stone sprang to life. The horse pawed the ground and the knight turned his helmeted head to look down at Ron.
"Do we — er — have to join you to get across?" The black knight nodded. Ron turned to the other two.
"This needs thinking about he said. I suppose we've got to take the place of three of the black pieces...."
Harry and Hermione stayed quiet, watching Ron think. Finally he said, "Now, don't be offended or anything, but neither of you are that good at chess - — "
"We're not offended," said Harry quickly. "Just tell us what to do."
"Well, Harry, you take the place of that bishop, and Hermione, YOU 90 next to him instead of that castle."
"What about you?"
"I'm going to be a knight," said Ron.
The chessmen seemed to have been listening, because at these words a knight, a bishop, and a castle turned their backs on the white pieces and walked off the board, leaving three empty squares that Harry, Ron, and Hermione took.
"White always plays first in chess," said Ron, peering across the board. "Yes... look..."
A white pawn had moved forward two squares.
Ron started to direct the black pieces. They moved silently wherever he sent them. Harry's knees were trembling. What if they lost?
"Harry — move diagonally four squares to the right."
Their first real shock came when their other knight was taken. The white queen smashed him to the floor and dragged him off the board, where he lay quite still, facedown.
"Had to let that happen," said Ron, looking shaken. "Leaves you free to take that bishop, Hermione, go on."
Every time one of their men was lost, the white pieces showed no mercy. Soon there was a huddle of limp black players slumped along the wall. Twice, Ron only just noticed in time that Harry and Hermione were in danger. He himself darted around the board, taking almost as many white pieces as they had lost black ones.
"We're nearly there," he muttered suddenly. "Let me think let me think..."
The white queen turned her blank face toward him.
"Yes..." said Ron softly, "It's the only way... I've got to be taken."
"NOF Harry and Hermione shouted.
"That's chess!" snapped Ron. "You've got to make some sacrifices! I take one step forward and she'll take me — that leaves you free to checkmate the king, Harry!"
"But - — "
"Do you want to stop Snape or not?"
"Ron - — "
"Look, if you don't hurry up, he'll already have the Stone!"
There was no alternative.
"Ready?" Ron called, his face pale but determined. "Here I go — now, don't hang around once you've won."
He stepped forward, and the white queen pounced. She struck Ron hard across the head with her stone arm, and he crashed to the floor - Hermione screamed but stayed on her square — the white queen dragged Ron to one side. He looked as if he'd been knocked out.
Shaking, Harry moved three spaces to the left.
The white king took off his crown and threw it at Harry's feet. They had won. The chessmen parted and bowed, leaving the door ahead clear. With one last desperate look back at Ron, Harry and Hermione charged through the door and up the next passageway.
"What if he's --?"
"He'll be all right," said Harry, trying to convince himself. "What do you reckon's next?"
"We've had Sprout's, that was the Devil's Snare; Flitwick must've put charms on the keys; McGonagall transfigured the chessmen to make them alive; that leaves Quirrell's spell, and Snape's."
They had reached another door.
"All right?" Harry whispered.
Harry pushed it open.
A disgusting smell filled their nostrils, making both of them pull their robes up over their noses. Eyes watering, they saw, flat on the floor in front of them, a troll even larger than the one they had tackled, out cold with a bloody lump on its head.
"I'm glad we didn't have to fight that one," Harry whispered as they stepped carefully over one of its massive legs. "Come on, I can't breathe."
He pulled open the next door, both of them hardly daring to look at what came next — but there was nothing very frightening in here, just a table with seven differently shaped bottles standing on it in a line.
"Snape's," said Harry. "What do we have to do?"
They stepped over the threshold, and immediately a fire sprang up behind them in the doorway. It wasn't ordinary fire either; it was purple. At the same instant, black flames shot up in the doorway leading onward. They were trapped.
"Look!" Hermione seized a roll of paper lying next to the bottles. Harry looked over her shoulder to read it:
Danger lies before you, while safety lies behind,
Two of us will help you, which ever you would find,
One among us seven will let you move ahead,
Another will transport the drinker back instead,
Two among our number hold only nettle wine,
Three of us are killers, waiting bidden in line.
Choose, unless you wish to stay here forevermore,
To help you in your choice, we give you these clues four:
First, however slyly the poison tries to hide
You will always find some on nettle wine's left side;
Second, different are those who stand at either end,
But if you would move onward, neither is your friend;
Third, as you see clearly, all are different size,
Neither dwarf nor giant holds death in their insides;
Fourth, the second left and the second on the right
Are twins once you taste them, though different at first sight.
Hermione let out a great sigh and Harry, amazed, saw that she was smiling, the very last thing he felt like doing.
"Brilliant," said Hermione. "This isn't magic — it's logic — a puzzle. A lot of the greatest wizards haven't got an ounce of logic, they'd be stuck in here forever."
"But so will we, won't we?" "Of course not," said Hermione. "Everything we need is here on this paper. Seven bottles: three are poison; two are wine; one will get us safely through the black fire, and one will get us back through the purple."
"But how do we know which to drink?"
"Give me a minute."
Hermione read the paper several times. Then she walked up and down the line of bottles, muttering to herself and pointing at them. At last, she clapped her hands.
"Got it," she said. "The smallest bottle will get us through the black fire — toward the Stone."
Harry looked at the tiny bottle.
"There's only enough there for one of us," he said. "That's hardly one swallow."
They looked at each other.
"Which one will get you back through the purple flames?"
Hermione pointed at a rounded bottle at the right end of the line.
"You drink that," said Harry. "No, listen, get back and get Ron. Grab brooms from the flying-key room, they'll get you out of the trapdoor and past Fluffy — go straight to the owlery and send Hedwig to Dumbledore, we need him. I might be able to hold Snape off for a while, but I'm no match for him, really."
"But Harry — what if You-Know-Who's with him?"
"Well — I was lucky once, wasn't I?" said Harry, pointing at his scar. "I might get lucky again."
Hermione's lip trembled, and she suddenly dashed at Harry and threw her arms around him.
"Harry — you're a great wizard, you know."
"I'm not as good as you," said Harry, very embarrassed, as she let go of him.
"Me!" said Hermione. "Books! And cleverness! There are more important things — friendship and bravery and — oh Harry — be careful!"
"You drink first," said Harry. "You are sure which is which, aren't you?"
"Positive," said Hermione. She took a long drink from the round bottle at the end, and shuddered.
"It's not poison?" said Harry anxiously.
"No — but it's like ice."
"Quick, go, before it wears off."
"Good luck — take care."
Hermione turned and walked straight through the purple fire.
Harry took a deep breath and picked up the smallest bottle. He turned to face the black flames.
"Here I come," he said, and he drained the little bottle in one gulp.
It was indeed as though ice was flooding his body. He put the bottle down and walked forward; he braced himself, saw the black flames licking his body, but couldn't feel them — for a moment he could see nothing but dark fire — then he was on the other side, in the last chamber.
There was already someone there — but it wasn't Snape. It wasn't even Voldemort.
THE MAN WITH TWO FACES
It was Quirrell.
"You!" gasped Harry.
Quirrell smiled. His face wasn't twitching at all.
"Me," he said calmly. "I wondered whether I'd be meeting you here, Potter."
"But I thought — Snape - — "
"Severus?" Quirrell laughed, and it wasn't his usual quivering treble, either, but cold and sharp. "Yes, Severus does seem the type, doesn't he? So useful to have him swooping around like an overgrown bat. Next to him, who would suspect p-p-poor, st-stuttering P-Professor Quirrell?"
Harry couldn't take it in. This couldn't be true, it couldn't.
"But Snape tried to kill me!"
"No, no, no. I tried to kill you. Your friend Miss Granger accidentally knocked me over as she rushed to set fire to Snape at that Quidditch match. She broke my eye contact with you. Another few seconds and I'd have got you off that broom. I'd have managed it before then if Snape hadn't been muttering a countercurse, trying to save you."
"Snape was trying to save me?"
"Of course," said Quirrell coolly. "\Why do you think he wanted to referee your next match? He was trying to make sure I didn't do it again. Funny, really... he needn't have bothered. I couldn't do anything with Dumbledore watching. All the other teachers thought Snape was trying to stop Gryffindor from winning, he did make himself unpopular... and what a waste of time, when after all that, I'm going to kill you tonight."
Quirrell snapped his fingers. Ropes sprang out of thin air and wrapped themselves tightly around Harry.
"You're too nosy to live, Potter. Scurrying around the school on Halloween like that, for all I knew you'd seen me coming to look at what was guarding the Stone."
"You let the troll in?"
"Certainly. I have a special gift with trolls — you must have seen what I did to the one in the chamber back there? Unfortunately, while everyone else was running around looking for it, Snape, who already suspected me, went straight to the third floor to head me off — and not only did my troll fail to beat you to death, that three-headed dog didn't even manage to bite Snape's leg off properly.
"Now, wait quietly, Potter. I need to examine this interesting mirror.
It was only then that Harry realized what was standing behind Quirrell. It was the Mirror of Erised.
"This mirror is the key to finding the Stone," Quirrell murmured, tapping his way around the frame. "Trust Dumbledore to come up with something like this... but he's in London... I'll be far away by the time he gets back...."
All Harry could think of doing was to keep Quirrell talking and stop him from concentrating on the mirror.
"I saw you and Snape in the forest - — " he blurted out.
"Yes," said Quirrell idly, walking around the mirror to look at the back. "He was on to me by that time, trying to find out how far I'd got. He suspected me all along. Tried to frighten me — as though he could, when I had Lord Voldemort on my side...."
Quirrell came back out from behind the mirror and stared hungrily into it.
"I see the Stone... I'm presenting it to my master... but where is it?"
Harry struggled against the ropes binding him, but they didn't give. He had to keep Quirrell from giving his whole attention to the mirror.
"But Snape always seemed to hate me so much."
"Oh, he does," said Quirrell casually, "heavens, yes. He was at Hogwarts with your father, didn't you know? They loathed each other. But he never wanted you dead."
"But I heard you a few days ago, sobbing — I thought Snape was threatening you...."
For the first time, a spasm of fear flitted across Quirrell's face.
"Sometimes," he said, "I find it hard to follow my master's instructions -- he is a great wizard and I am weak - — "
"You mean he was there in the classroom with you?" Harry gasped.
"He is with me wherever I go," said Quirrell quietly. "I met him when I traveled around the world. A foolish young man I was then, full of ridiculous ideas about good and evil. Lord Voldemort showed me how wrong I was. There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it.... Since then, I have served him faithfully, although I have let him down many times. He has had to be very hard on me." Quirrell shivered suddenly. "He does not forgive mistakes easily. When I failed to steal the stone from Gringotts, he was most displeased. He punished me... decided he would have to keep a closer watch on me...."
Quirrell's voice trailed away. Harry was remembering his trip to Diagon Alley -how could he have been so stupid? He'd seen Quirrell there that very day, shaken hands with him in the Leaky Cauldron.
Quirrell cursed under his breath.
"I don't understand... is the Stone inside the mirror? Should I break it?"
Harry's mind was racing.
What I want more than anything else in the world at the moment, he thought, is to find the Stone before Quirrell does. So if I look in the mirror, I should see myseff finding it — which means I'll see where it's hidden! But how can I look without Quirrell realizing what I'm up to?
He tried to edge to the left, to get in front of the glass without Quirrell noticing, but the ropes around his ankles were too tight: he tripped and fell over. Quirrell ignored him. He was still talking to himself. "What does this mirror do? How does it work? Help me, Master!"
And to Harry's horror, a voice answered, and the voice seemed to come from Quirrell himself
"Use the boy... Use the boy..."
Quirrell rounded on Harry.
"Yes — Potter — come here."
He clapped his hands once, and the ropes binding Harry fell off. Harry got slowly to his feet.
"Come here," Quirrell repeated. "Look in the mirror and tell me what you see."
Harry walked toward him.
I must lie, he thought desperately. I must look and lie about what I see, that's all.
Quirrell moved close behind him. Harry breathed in the funny smell that seemed to come from Quirrell's turban. He closed his eyes, stepped in front of the mirror, and opened them again.
He saw his reflection, pale and scared-looking at first. But a moment later, the reflection smiled at him. It put its hand into its pocket and pulled out a blood-red stone. It winked and put the Stone back in its pocket — and as it did so, Harry felt something heavy drop into his real pocket. Somehow — incredibly — he'd gotten the Stone.
"Well?" said Quirrell impatiently. "What do you see?"
Harry screwed up his courage.
"I see myself shaking hands with Dumbledore," he invented. "I — I've won the house cup for Gryffindor."
Quirrell cursed again.
"Get out of the way," he said. As Harry moved aside, he felt the Sorcerer's Stone against his leg. Dare he make a break for it?
But he hadn't walked five paces before a high voice spoke, though Quirrell wasn't moving his lips.
"He lies... He lies..."
"Potter, come back here!" Quirrell shouted. "Tell me the truth! What did you just see?"
The high voice spoke again.
"Let me speak to him... face-to-face..."
"Master, you are not strong enough!"
"I have strength enough... for this...."
Harry felt as if Devil's Snare was rooting him to the spot. He couldn't move a muscle. Petrified, he watched as Quirrell reached up and began to unwrap his turban. What was going on? The turban fell away. Quirrell's head looked strangely small without it. Then he turned slowly on the spot.
Harry would have screamed, but he couldn't make a sound. Where there should have been a back to Quirrell's head, there was a face, the most terrible face Harry had ever seen. It was chalk white with glaring red eyes and slits for nostrils, like a snake.
"Harry Potter..." it whispered.
Harry tried to take a step backward but his legs wouldn't move.
"See what I have become?" the face said. "Mere shadow and vapor... I have form only when I can share another's body... but there have always been those willing to let me into their hearts and minds.... Unicorn blood has strengthened me, these past weeks... you saw faithful Quirrell drinking it for me in the forest... and once I have the Elixir of Life, I will be able to create a body of my own.... Now... why don't you give me that Stone in your pocket?"
So he knew. The feeling suddenly surged back into Harry's legs. He stumbled backward.
"Don't be a fool," snarled the face. "Better save your own life and join me... or you'll meet the same end as your parents.... They died begging me for mercy..."
"LIAR!" Harry shouted suddenly.
Quirrell was walking backward at him, so that Voldemort could still see him. The evil face was now smiling.
"How touching..." it hissed. "I always value bravery... Yes, boy, your parents were brave.... I killed your father first; and he put up a courageous fight... but your mother needn't have died... she was trying to protect you.... Now give me the Stone, unless you want her to have died in vain."
Harry sprang toward the flame door, but Voldemort screamed "SEIZE HIM!" and the next second, Harry felt Quirrell's hand close on his wrist. At once, a needle-sharp pain seared across Harry's scar; his head felt as though it was about to split in two; he yelled, struggling with all his might, and to his surprise, Quirrell let go of him. The pain in his head lessened — he looked around wildly to see where Quirrell had gone, and saw him hunched in pain, looking at his fingers — they were blistering before his eyes.
"Seize him! SEIZE HIM!" shrieked Voldemort again, and Quirrell lunged, knocking Harry clean off his feet' landing on top of him, both hands around Harry's neck — Harry's scar was almost blinding him with pain, yet he could see Quirrell howling in agony.
"Master, I cannot hold him — my hands — my hands!"
And Quirrell, though pinning Harry to the ground with his knees, let go of his neck and stared, bewildered, at his own palms — Harry could see they looked burned, raw, red, and shiny.
"Then kill him, fool, and be done!" screeched Voldemort.
Quirrell raised his hand to perform a deadly curse, but Harry, by instinct, reached up and grabbed Quirrell's face --
Quirrell rolled off him, his face blistering, too, and then Harry knew: Quirrell couldn't touch his bare skin, not without suffering terrible pain — his only chance was to keep hold of Quirrell, keep him in enough pain to stop him from doing a curse.
Harry jumped to his feet, caught Quirrell by the arm, and hung on as tight as he could. Quirrell screamed and tried to throw Harry off — the pain in Harry's head was building — he couldn't see — he could only hear Quirrell's terrible shrieks and Voldemort's yells of, "KILL HIM! KILL HIM!" and other voices, maybe in Harry's own head, crying, "Harry! Harry!"
He felt Quirrell's arm wrenched from his grasp, knew all was lost, and fell into blackness, down... down... down...
Something gold was glinting just above him. The Snitch! He tried to catch it, but his arms were too heavy.
He blinked. It wasn't the Snitch at all. It was a pair of glasses. How strange.
He blinked again. The smiling face of Albus Dumbledore swam into view above him.
"Good afternoon, Harry," said Dumbledore. Harry stared at him. Then he remembered: "Sir! The Stone! It was Quirrell! He's got the Stone! Sir, quick - — "
"Calm yourself, dear boy, you are a little behind the times," said Dumbledore. "Quirrell does not have the Stone."
"Then who does? Sir, I - — "
"Harry, please relax, or Madam Pomfrey will have me thrown out.
Harry swallowed and looked around him. He realized he must be in the hospital wing. He was lying in a bed with white linen sheets, and next to him was a table piled high with what looked like half the candy shop.
"Tokens from your friends and admirers," said Dumbledore, beaming. "What happened down in the dungeons between you and Professor Quirrell is a complete secret, so, naturally, the whole school knows. I believe your friends Misters Fred and George Weasley were responsible for trying to send you a toilet seat. No doubt they thought it would amuse you. Madam Pomfrey, however, felt it might not be very hygienic, and confiscated it."
"How long have I been in here?"
"Three days. Mr. Ronald Weasley and Miss Granger will be most relieved you have come round, they have been extremely worried."
"But sit, the Stone
I see you are not to be distracted. Very well, the Stone. Professor Quirrell did not manage to take it from you. I arrived in time to prevent that, although you were doing very well on your own, I must say.
"You got there? You got Hermione's owl?"
"We must have crossed in midair. No sooner had I reached London than it became clear to me that the place I should be was the one I had just left. I arrived just in time to pull Quirrell off you."
"It was you."
"I feared I might be too late."
"You nearly were, I couldn't have kept him off the Stone much longer - — "
"Not the Stone, boy, you — the effort involved nearly killed you. For one terrible moment there, I was afraid it had. As for the Stone, it has been destroyed."
"Destroyed?" said Harry blankly. "But your friend — Nicolas Flamel - — "
"Oh, you know about Nicolas?" said Dumbledore, sounding quite delighted. "You did do the thing properly, didn't you? Well, Nicolas and I have had a little chat, and agreed it's all for the best."
"But that means he and his wife will die, won't they?"
"They have enough Elixir stored to set their affairs in order and then, yes, they will die."
Dumbledore smiled at the look of amazement on Harry's face.
"To one as young as you, I'm sure it seems incredible, but to Nicolas and Perenelle, it really is like going to bed after a very, very long day. After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure. You know, the Stone was really not such a wonderful thing. As much money and life as you could want! The two things most human beings would choose above all — the trouble is, humans do have a knack of choosing precisely those things that are worst for them." Harry lay there, lost for words. Dumbledore hummed a little and smiled at the ceiling.
"Sir?" said Harry. "I've been thinking... sir — even if the Stone's gone, Vol-, I mean, You-Know-Who - — "
"Call him Voldemort, Harry. Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself."
"Yes, sir. Well, Voldemort's going to try other ways of coming back, isn't he? I mean, he hasn't gone, has he?"
"No, Harry, he has not. 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 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 it made his head hurt. Then he said, "Sir, there are some other things I'd like to know, if you can tell me... things I want to know the truth about...."
"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."
"Well... Voldemort said that he only killed my mother because she tried to stop him from killing me. But why would he want to kill me in the first place?"
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... when you are ready, you will know."
And Harry knew it would be no good to argue.
"But why couldn't Quirrell touch me?"
"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 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. When he had found his voice again, Harry said, "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... your father used it mainly for sneaking off to the kitchens to steal food when he was here."
"And there's something else..."
"Quirrell said Snape - — "
"Professor Snape, Harry." "Yes, him — Quirrell said he hates me because he hated my father. Is that true?"
"Well, they did rather detest each other. Not unlike yourself and Mr. Malfoy. And then, your father did something Snape could never forgive."
"He saved his life."
"Yes..." said Dumbledore dreamily. "Funny, the way people's minds work, isn't it? Professor Snape couldn't bear being in your father's debt.... I do believe he worked so hard to protect you this year because he felt that would make him and your father even. Then he could go back to hating your father's memory in peace...."
Harry tried to understand this but it made his head pound, so he stopped.
"And sir, there's one more thing..."
"Just the one?"
"How did I get the Stone out of the mirror?"
"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.... Now, enough questions. 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 vomitflavored 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!"
Madam Pomfrey, the nurse, was a nice woman, but very strict.
"Just five minutes," Harry pleaded.
"You let Professor Dumbledore in..."
"Well, of course, that was the headmaster, quite different. You need rest."
"I am resting, look, lying down and everything. Oh, go on, Madam Pomfrey..."
"Oh, very well," she said. "But five minutes only."
And she let Ron and Hermione in.
Hermione looked ready to fling her arms around him again, but Harry was glad she held herself in as his head was still very sore.
"Oh, Harry, we were sure you were going to — Dumbledore was so worried - — "
"The whole school's talking about it," said Ron. "What really happened?"
It was one of those rare occasions when the true story is even more strange and exciting than the wild rumors. Harry told them everything: Quirrell; the mirror; the Stone; and Voldemort. Ron and Hermione were a very good audience; they gasped in all the right places, and when Harry told them what was under Quirrell's turban, Hermione screamed out loud.
"So the Stone's gone?" said Ron finally. "Flamel's just going to die?"
"That's what I said, but Dumbledore thinks that — what was it? — 'to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.
"I always said he was off his rocker," said Ron, looking quite impressed at how crazy his hero was.
"So what happened to you two?" said Harry.
"Well, I got back all right," said Hermione. "I brought Ron round -- that took a while — and we were dashing up to the owlery to contact Dumbledore when we met him in the entrance hall — he already knew — he just said, 'Harry's gone after him, hasn't he?' and hurtled off to the third floor."
"D'you think he meant you to do it?" said Ron. "Sending you your father's cloak and everything?"
"Well, " Hermione exploded, "if he did — I mean to say that's terrible -- you could have been killed."
"No, it isn't," said Harry thoughtfully. "He's a funny man, Dumbledore. I think he sort of wanted to give me a chance. I think he knows more or less everything that goes on here, you know. I reckon he had a pretty good idea we were going to try, and instead of stopping us, he just taught us enough to help. I don't think it was an accident he let me find out how the mirror worked. It's almost like he thought I had the right to face Voldemort if I could...."
"Yeah, Dumbledore's off his rocker, all right," said Ron proudly. "Listen, you've got to be up for the end-of-year feast tomorrow. The points are all in and Slytherin won, of course — you missed the last Quidditch match, we were steamrollered by Ravenclaw without you — but the food'll be good."
At that moment, Madam Pomfrey bustled over.
"You've had nearly fifteen minutes, now OUT" she said firmly.
After a good night's sleep, Harry felt nearly back to normal.
I want to go to the feast," he told Madam Pomfrey as she straightened his many candy boxes. I can, can't I?"
"Professor Dumbledore says you are to be allowed to go," she said stiffily, as though in her opinion Professor Dumbledore didn't realize how risky feasts could be. "And you have another visitor."
"Oh, good," said Harry. "Who is it?"
Hagrid sidled through the door as he spoke. As usual when he was indoors, Hagrid looked too big to be allowed. He sat down next to Harry, took one look at him, and burst into tears.
"It's — all — my — ruddy — fault!" he sobbed, his face in his hands. I told the evil git how ter get past Fluffy! I told him! It was the only thing he didn't know, an' I told him! Yeh could've died! All fer a dragon egg! I'll never drink again! I should be chucked out an' made ter live as a Muggle!"
"Hagrid!" said Harry, shocked to see Hagrid shaking with grief and remorse, great tears leaking down into his beard. "Hagrid, he'd have found out somehow, this is Voldemort we're talking about, he'd have found out even if you hadn't told him."
"Yeh could've died!" sobbed Hagrid. "An' don' say the name!"
"VOLDEMORT!" Harry bellowed, and Hagrid was so shocked, he stopped crying. "I've met him and I'm calling him by his name. Please cheer up, Hagrid, we saved the Stone, it's gone, he can't use it. Have a Chocolate Frog, I've got loads...."
Hagrid wiped his nose on the back of his hand and said, "That reminds me. I've got yeh a present."
"It's not a stoat sandwich, is it?" said Harry anxiously, and at last Hagrid gave a weak chuckle. "Nah. Dumbledore gave me the day off yesterday ter fix it. 'Course, he shoulda sacked me instead — anyway, got yeh this..."
It seemed to be a handsome, leather-covered book. Harry opened it curiously. It was full of wizard photographs. Smiling and waving at him from every page were his mother and father.
"Sent owls off ter all yer parents' old school friends, askin' fer photos... knew yeh didn' have any... d'yeh like it?"
Harry couldn't speak, but Hagrid understood.
Harry made his way down to the end-of-year feast alone that night. He had been held up by Madam Pomfrey's fussing about, insisting on giving him one last checkup, so the Great Hall was already full. It was decked out in the Slytherin colors of green and silver to celebrate Slytherin's winning the house cup for the seventh year in a row. A huge banner showing the Slytherin serpent covered the wall behind the High Table.
When Harry walked in there was a sudden hush, and then everybody started talking loudly at once. He slipped into a seat between Ron and Hermione at the Gryffindor table and tried to ignore the fact that people were standing up to look at him.
Fortunately, Dumbledore arrived moments later. The babble died away.
"Another year gone!" Dumbledore said cheerfully. "And I must trouble you with an old man's wheezing waffle before we sink our teeth into our delicious feast. What a year it has been! Hopefully your heads are all a little fuller than they were... you have the whole summer ahead to get them nice and empty before next year starts....
"Now, as I understand it, the house cup here needs awarding, and the points stand thus: In fourth place, Gryffindor, with three hundred and twelve points; in third, Hufflepuff, with three hundred and fifty-two; Ravenclaw has four hundred and twenty-six and Slytherin, four hundred and seventy-two."
A storm of cheering and stamping broke out from the Slytherin table. Harry could see Draco Malfoy banging his goblet on the table. It was a sickening sight.
"Yes, Yes, well done, Slytherin," said Dumbledore. "However, recent events must be taken into account."
The room went very still. The Slytherins' smiles faded a little.
"Ahem," said Dumbledore. "I have a few last-minute points to dish out. Let me see. Yes...
"First — to Mr. Ronald Weasley..."
Ron went purple in the face; he looked like a radish with a bad sunburn.
"... for the best-played game of chess Hogwarts has seen in many years, I award Gryffindor house fifty points."
Gryffindor cheers nearly raised the bewitched ceiling; the stars overhead seemed to quiver. Percy could be heard telling the other prefects, "My brother, you know! My youngest brother! Got past McGonagall's giant chess set!"
At last there was silence again.
"Second — to Miss Hermione Granger... for the use of cool logic in the face of fire, I award Gryffindor house fifty points."
Hermione buried her face in her arms; Harry strongly suspected she had burst into tears. Gryffindors up and down the table were beside themselves — they were a hundred points up. "Third — to Mr. Harry Potter..." said Dumbledore. The room went deadly quiet for pure nerve and outstanding courage, I award Gryffindor house sixty points."
The din was deafening. Those who could add up while yelling themselves hoarse knew that Gryffindor now had four hundred and seventy-two points -- exactly the same as Slytherin. They had tied for the house cup — if only Dumbledore had given Harry just one more point.
Dumbledore raised his hand. The room gradually fell silent.
"There are all kinds of courage," said Dumbledore, smiling. "It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends. I therefore award ten points to Mr. Neville Longbottom."
Someone standing outside the Great Hall might well have thought some sort of explosion had taken place, so loud was the noise that erupted from the Gryffindor table. Harry, Ron, and Hermione stood up to yell and cheer as Neville, white with shock, disappeared under a pile of people hugging him. He had never won so much as a point for Gryffindor before. Harry, still cheering, nudged Ron in the ribs and pointed at Malfoy, who couldn't have looked more stunned and horrified if he'd just had the Body-Bind Curse put on him.
"Which means, Dumbledore called over the storm of applause, for even Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff were celebrating the downfall of Slytherin, "we need a little change of decoration."
He clapped his hands. In an instant, the green hangings became scarlet and the silver became gold; the huge Slytherin serpent vanished and a towering Gryffindor lion took its place. Snape was shaking Professor McGonagall's hand, with a horrible, forced smile. He caught Harry's eye and Harry knew at once that Snape's feelings toward him hadn't changed one jot. This didn't worry Harry. It seemed as though life would be back to normal next year, or as normal as it ever was at Hogwarts.
It was the best evening of Harry's life, better than winning at Quidditch, or Christmas, or knocking out mountain trolls... he would never, ever forget tonight.
Harry had almost forgotten that the exam results were still to come, but come they did. To their great surprise, both he and Ron passed with good marks; Hermione, of course, had the best grades of the first years. Even Neville scraped through, his good Herbology mark making up for his abysmal Potions one. They had hoped that Goyle, who was almost as stupid as he was mean, might be thrown out, but he had passed, too. It was a shame, but as Ron said, you couldn't have everything in life.
And suddenly, their wardrobes were empty, their trunks were packed, Neville's toad was found lurking in a corner of the toilets; notes were handed out to all students, warning them not to use magic over the holidays ("I always hope they'll forget to give us these," said Fred Weasley sadly); Hagrid was there to take them down to the fleet of boats that sailed across the lake; they were boarding the Hogwarts Express; talking and laughing as the countryside became greener and tidier; eating Bettie Bott's Every Flavor Beans as they sped past Muggle towns; pulling off their wizard robes and putting on jackets and coats; pulling into platform nine and three-quarters at King's Cross Station.
It took quite a while for them all to get off the platform. A wizened old guard was up by the ticket barrier, letting them go through the gate in twos and threes so they didn't attract attention by all bursting out of a solid wall at once and alarming the Muggles.
"You must come and stay this summer," said Ron, "both of you — I'll send you an owl."
"Thanks," said Harry, "I'll need something to look forward to." People jostled them as they moved forward toward the gateway back to the Muggle world. Some of them called:
"See you, Potter!"
"Still famous," said Ron, grinning at him.
"Not where I'm going, I promise you," said Harry.
He, Ron, and Hermione passed through the gateway together. "There he is, Mom, there he is, look!"
It was Ginny Weasley, Ron's younger sister, but she wasn't pointing at Ron.
"Harry Potter!" she squealed. "Look, Mom! I can see
"Be quiet, Ginny, and it's rude to point."
Mrs. Weasley smiled down at them.
"Busy year?" she said.
"Very," said Harry. "Thanks for the fudge and the sweater, Mrs. Weasley."
"Oh, it was nothing, dear."
"Ready, are you?"
It was Uncle Vernon, still purple-faced, still mustached, still looking furious at the nerve of Harry, carrying an owl in a cage in a station full of ordinary people. Behind him stood Aunt Petunia and Dudley, looking terrified at the very sight of Harry.
"You must be Harry's family!" said Mrs. Weasley.
"In a manner of speaking," said Uncle Vernon. "Hurry up, boy, we haven't got all day." He walked away.
Harry hung back for a last word with Ron and Hermione.
"See you over the summer, then."
"Hope you have — er — a good holiday," said Hermione, looking uncertainly after Uncle Vernon, shocked that anyone could be so unpleasant.
"Oh, I will," said Harry, and they were surprised at the grin that was spreading over his face. "They don't know we're not allowed to use magic at home. I'm going to have a lot of fun with Dudley this summer...."