Lions, Badgers and Dragons, Oh my!
The week after talking to his friends, Harry couldn't get the mystery of the Cerberus off his mind. Why was it there? What was it guarding? Was it dangerous? So many questions and so little time…
And that mirror. While the compulsion was broken, Harry couldn't stop thinking about the family he saw in the mirror. According to the cryptic message at the top of the mirror, the Mirror of Erised, as he was starting to call it, was supposed to show his deepest desire. Did he really desire kids? And who was the mother, all he saw was himself, Frank, Susan, Heidi and Ron, as well as his parents, uncles, aunt and cousin.
During a spot of tea with Hagrid the Gamekeeper, Harry accidentally let slip about the Cerberus, causing poor Hagrid to nearly drop his kettle.
"How do yeh know 'bout Fluffy?" asked Hagrid, staring at Harry wide-eyed.
"Late night wanderings, I'm guessing the dogs yours?" Harry asked, trying to ignore the fact that Hagrid had named a Cerberus Fluffy.
"Of course he's mine. I leant him to Dumbledore to guard the Stone" Hagrid said, not paying attention to what he was saying.
"What's so important about a stone?" asked Harry. Hagrid froze where he was mopping up some of the water he spilled.
"Nothin', nothin', you best be forgettin' I said that" Hagrid said. Harry tilted his head, now curious.
"No, come on. Tell me. You can trust me" Harry said, smiling at his friend.
"I can', it's strictly between Professor Dumbledore and Nicholas Flamel" Hagrid said, shaking his head. Harry sighed.
"Fine, I'll leave it. I best be going, thanks for the tea Hagrid" Harry said, before leaving quickly. Hagrid said goodbye as the door closed, feeling a little bemused. It wasn't until several minutes later did Hagrid realized what he'd said.
Harry was always an inquisitive soul, which is why when Hagrid let slip about a 'stone' and a guy called Nicholas Flamel, he had to find out what it was. It was only because his recklessness outweighed his curiosity that he made it into Gryffindor and not Ravenclaw.
He enlisted the help of Susan, Heidi and Frank. He asked Ron, but was turned down, and they didn't know Eric well enough to ask him for help. Whatever this 'stone' was, it was meant to be kept secret, as evidenced by the Cerberus.
They went through the Library of Hogwarts, knowing that anything magic related had more chance of being here. They could have done a search on the World Wide Web, but they would have had less chance of finding anything.
The trouble was, it was very hard to know where to begin, not knowing what Flamel might have done to get himself into a book. He wasn't in Great Wizards of the Twentieth Century, or Notable Magical Names of Our Time; he was missing, too, from Important Modern Magical Discoveries, and A Study of Recent Developments in Wizardry. And then, of course, there was the sheer size of the library; tens of thousands of books; thousands of shelves; hundreds of narrow rows.
Susan took out a list of subjects and titles she had decided to search while Frank strode off down a row of books and started pulling them off the shelves at random. Harry wandered over to the Restricted Section. He had been wondering for a while if Flamel wasn't somewhere in there. Unfortunately, you needed a specially signed note from one of the teachers to look in any of the restricted books, and he knew he'd never get one. These were the books containing powerful Dark Magic never taught at Hogwarts, and only read by older students studying advanced Battle Magecraft.
They had almost given up hope of ever finding Flamel in a library book, and were starting to consider the internet by the time League Battle Practice had started up again. Cane was working the team harder than ever. Despite the endless rain that had replaced the snow wouldn't dampen Cane's spirits. He had the team on a strict training regime. Every morning, all members of the Gryffindor Team were required to do a mile a morning, and add another mile after a week of doing so, in order to increase their stamina.
Then, after a hearty breakfast, if they had no classes, they were to report to the school gym for cardio, weight training and sparring with each other. During the sparring, they often got an audience from other houses. At first, Cane was hesitant about letting in members of different houses in to view their training, but it wasn't until Gymmistress Greenwich reminded him, the gym was a public room in the castle, and it was open to anyone. If they wanted privacy to train, they could use the Arena or find someplace else. Cane reluctantly agreed after this, but warned any members of other houses that if they told their teams about their training, they'd sic the Weasley Twins on them.
Then, during a wet and rainy day, Cane gave the team a bit of bad news. He'd just gotten very angry with the Weasleys, who kept detonating their Multi-Detonation-Distraction-Monkeys.
"Will you stop messing around!" he yelled. "That's exactly the sort of thing that'll lose us the match! Snape's refereeing this time, and he'll be looking for any excuse to knock points off Gryffindor!"
George Weasley was so shocked, he made a monkey explode near some weights, sending them flying into a Dwarf who was lifting enough to pale a bodybuilder.
"Snape's refereeing?" he said, after copping an earful from an angry Dwarf. "When's he ever refereed a League Battle? He's not going to be fair if we might overtake Slytherin."
"The rest of the team started to complain, too.
"It's not my fault," said Cane. "We've just got to make sure we play a clean game, so Snape hasn't got an excuse to pick on us."
Which was all very well, thought Harry, but he had another reason for not wanting Snape near him while he was battling…
The rest of the team hung back to talk to one another after they hit the showers to talk to one another as usual at the end of practice, but Harry headed straight back to the Gryffindor Dorms, where he found Ron and Frank playing a game of 'Battle-Monsters-Superstar-Go!', a game from Japan that consisted of manly girls in skimpy outfits taking down massive monsters.
"Don't talk to me for a moment," said Ron when Harry sat down next to him, "I need to concen.." He caught sight of Harry's face. "What's the matter with you? You look terrible."
Harry told the other two about Snape's sudden, sinister desire to be a League Battle referee.
"Don't play," said Frank at once.
"Say you're ill," said Ron.
"Pretend to break your leg," Frank suggested.
"Really break your leg," said Ron.
"I can't," said Harry. "There isn't any reserve players. If I back out, Gryffindor can't play at all, and anyway, Madam Pomfrey can cure and heal me in a heartbeat."
At that moment, Tianna Longbottom'teth toppled into the common room. How she managed to stay upright was anyone's guess, because her tails had been stuck to her legs with what looked like a modified Leg-Locker Curse. She must have had to waddle all the way up to Gryffindor Dorms, since a Nefari needed their tails to stay balanced, what with Nefari Kita's lower than usual gravity.
Everyone fell over laughing except for Frank, who was about to get up, when the doors opened to the Gryffindor Dorm again, admitting the Boy-Who-Lived, Neville Longbottom.
"Enough!" he shouted, quieting the room. He went over to his adoptive sister and helped her up, performing the counter curse and leading her over to the only free seat, which was with Frank, Harry and Ron, coincidentally.
"What happened?" asked Neville, putting an arm around his sister.
"Malfoy Jnr," said Tianna shakily. "I met him outside the library. He said he'd been looking for someone to practice that on."
"Don't worry. I'll curse his bits off for you" Neville said reassuringly. Tianna smiled a little, but shook her head.
"I don't want more trouble," she mumbled. Neville sighed.
"You've got to learn to stand up for yourself, Tianna'seth" Neville said, hugging his sister close. "Malfoy's are used to getting their way. It's up to us Longbottom's to show them where they can stick their pureblood supremacy"
"I know… but I can't… I'm not good at Magecraft like you, and Mum, and Dad, and Grandma" Tianna said, getting a little choked up as she spoke. She nuzzled her face into her brothers chest and began crying, making everyone who had laughed feel guilty instantly. Harry got up and sat next to Neville and Tianna, pulling a Chocolate Frog from his pocket, the very last one from Susan. He gave it to Tianna, who took it with a sniff and smile.
"You're worth twelve of Malfette," Harry said, earning a giggle from Tianna with the use of the nickname for Mercutio. "The Quiz decided you were best for Gryffindor, right? And where's Malfoy? Down in the snakepit"
Neville shot Harry a grateful smile as Tianna unwrapped the frog.
"Thank you Harry… I think I'll go take a nap… Do you want the card, you collect them, don't you?"
As Tianna walked away, Neville seized Harry's hand and shook it.
"Thanks mate, it's good to see Tianna has such a good friend" he said, before walking away. As Neville walked away, Harry looked at the Famous Wizard card.
"Dumbledore again," he said. "I got like four of him…"
He gasped. He stared at the back of the card. Then he looked up at Ron and Frank.
"I've found him!" he whispered. "I've found Flamel! I told you I'd read the name somewhere before, I read it on the bus coming here - listen to this: 'Dumbledore is particularly famous for his defeat of the dark wizard Grindelwald in 1945, for the discovery of the twelve uses of dragon's blood, his aid in finalizing the Earthern-Nefarian Alliance and his work on alchemy with his partner, Nicolas Flamel'!"
"I know him! He's a famous alchemist from France,
"Uh oh, he's going into Lecture mode" Ron said, pulling a face. Frank ignored him and continued,
"He was famous for creating the Philosopher's Stone, or as some people calls it these days, the Stone of Immortality. The stone is supposed to transform any metal into pure gold. It also produces the Elixir of Life, which will make the drinker immortal, hence the name. The only stone currently in existence is supposed to be locked away. I was always under the impression that Nicholas Flamel died in 1418" Frank said.
"Well, he had the Philosopher's Stone, so he may have faked his death and went into hiding." Harry said. Frank nodded.
"That's possible. The dog must be guarding Flamel's Philosopher's Stone! I bet he asked Dumbledore to keep it safe for him, because they're friends and he knew someone was after it, that's why he wanted the Stone moved out of Gringotts!"
"A stone that makes gold and stops you from ever dying!" said Harry. "No wonder Snape's after it! Anyone would want it."
"And no wonder we couldn't find Flamel in that Study of Recent Developments in Wizardry," said Ron. "He's not exactly recent if he's… six hundred and sixty-five, is he?"
The next morning during their Free Period, Harry and Ron were discussing what they'd do with a Philosopher's Stone if they had one over their work. It wasn't until Ron said he'd buy his own League Battle Team that Harry remembered about Snape and the coming match.
"I'm going to play," he told Ron, Frank, Heidi and Susan. "If I don't, all the Slytherins will think I'm just too scared to face Snape. I'll show them… it'll really wipe the smiles of their faces if we win."
"Just as long as we're not wiping you off the Arena floor," said Heidi.
As the match drew nearer, however, Harry became more and more nervous; whatever he told Ron and the others. The rest of the team wasn't too calm, either. The idea of overtaking Slytherin in the house championship was wonderful, no one had done it for seven years, but would they be allowed to, with such a biased referee?
Harry didn't know whether he was imagining it or not, but he seemed to keep running into Snape wherever he went. At times, he even wondered whether Snape was following him, trying to catch him on his own. Potions lessons were turning into a sort of weekly torture, Snape was so horrible to Harry. Could Snape possibly know they'd found out about the Philosopher's Stone? Harry didn't see how he could - yet he sometimes had the horrible feeling that Snape could read minds.
Harry knew when they wished him good luck outside the locker rooms the next afternoon, that Ron, Frank, Susan and Heidi were wondering whether they'd ever see him alive again. This wasn't what you'd call comforting. Harry hardly heard a word of Cane's pep talk as he pulled on his League Jacket.
Harry's friends, meanwhile, had found a place in the stands next to Tianna, who couldn't understand why they looked so grim and worried. Little did Harry know that Ron and Frank had been secretly practicing the Leg-Locker Curse. They'd gotten the idea from Malfette using it on Tianna, and were ready to use it on Snape if he showed any sign of wanting to hurt Harry.
"Now, don't forget, it's Locomotor Mortis," Frank muttered.
"I know," Ron snapped. "Don't nag."
Back in the locker room, Cane had taken Harry aside.
"Don't want to pressure you, Potter, but if we ever need to wipe out the Hufflepuffs quick, it's now. Finish the game before Snape can favor Hufflepuff too much."
"The whole school's out there!" said Fred Weasley, peering out of the door. "Even - blimey - Dumbledore's come to watch!"
Harry's heart did a somersault.
"Dumbledore?" he said, dashing to the door to make sure. Fred was right. There was no mistaking that silver beard.
Harry could have laughed out loud with relief He was safe. There was simply no way that Snape would dare to try to hurt him if Dumbledore was watching.
Perhaps that was why Snape was looking as angry as the teams marched into the arena, something that Ron noticed, too.
"I've never seen Snape look so mean," he told Frank. "Look -they're off Ouch!"
Someone had poked Ron in the back of the head. It was Mercutio.
"Oh, sorry, Weasley, didn't see you there."
Malfoy grinned broadly at Broice and Gregard.
"Wonder how long Potter's going to go without cheating this time? Anyone want a bet? What about you, Weasley?"
Ron didn't answer; Snape had just awarded Hufflepuff a free shot because George Weasley had directed a Multi-Detonation-Distraction-Monkey towards him. Heidi, who had all her fingers crossed in her lap, was squinting fixedly at Harry, who was surrounding himself in a protective field of fire, and looked to be channeling a spell.
"You know how I think they choose people for the Gryffindor team?" said Malfoy loudly a few minutes later, as Snape awarded Hufflepuff another free shot for no reason at all. "Its people they feel sorry for. See, there's Potter, who's got no parents, then there's the Weasleys, who've got no money - you should be on the team, Longbottom'teth, you've got no brains."
Tianna went bright red under her fur but turned in her seat to face Mercutio.
"I'm worth twelve of you, Malfette," she stammered.
Malfoy, Broice, and Gregard howled with laughter, but Ron, still not daring to take his eyes from the game, said, "You tell him, Tianna."
"Longbottom'teth, if brains were gold you'd be poorer than Weasley, and that's saying something."
Ron's nerves were already stretched to the breaking point with anxiety about Harry.
"I'm warning you, Malfette - one more word…"
"Ron!" said Susan suddenly, "Harry -"
Harry had finished channeling his spell and appeared to surround himself with fire. With a blast of power, Harry shot forward like a bullet, summoning Fiery Blades in his hands, similar to the one he used to take down the Troll on Halloween, which drew gasps and cheers from the crowd.
"You're in luck, Weasley, Potter's obviously spotted some money on the ground!" said Malfoy.
Ron snapped. Before Malfoy knew what was happening, Ron was on top of him, wrestling him to the ground. Frank then clambered over the back of his seat to help.
"Come on, Harry!" Susan and Heidi screamed, leaping onto their seat to watch as Harry sped through the Hufflepuff ranks, slicing wildly at them, taking every single down a few shades - she didn't even notice Malfoy and Ron rolling around under her seat, or the scuffles and yelps coming from the whirl of fists that was Frank, Broice, and Gregard.
In the arena, Snape jumped out of the way as Harry ran past him, 'accidentally' slashing Snape's robes, and ran up the wall before backflipping off and blasting back the way he came, using fire from his hands as propulsion. As he shot back, Alicia let loose a twister of raw destructive magic and directed it towards the other team, being careful not to hit Harry.
The Hufflepuff's tried to deflect the spell, but were overwhelmed and swept up. As soon as Harry hit the ground and rolled to a squatting position next to Cane, all of the Hufflepuffs collapsed as their Medallions turned black and they succumbed to exhaustion.
The stands erupted; it had to be a record, no one could ever remember the Snitch being caught so quickly.
"Ron! Ron! Where are you? The game's over! Harry's won! We've won! Gryffindor is in the lead!" shrieked Susan, dancing up and down on her seat and hugging Tianna in the seat next to her.
Harry stood up straight, breathing heavily from the spell he'd done. He couldn't believe it. He'd done it – the fight was over; it had barely lasted five, maybe ten minutes! As Gryffindors came spilling onto the field, he saw Snape nearby, white-faced and tight-lipped - then Harry felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up into Dumbledore's smiling face.
"Well done," said Dumbledore quietly, so that only Harry could hear. "Nice to see you haven't been brooding about that mirror... been keeping busy... excellent..."
Snape spat bitterly on the ground as Harry stared in shock at the Headmaster. How did he…
Later on, as Harry was walking back to the suite, Gryffindor Jacket on proudly. He couldn't ever remember feeling so proud. He'd done something he could be known for, instead of what his father did. The evening air wafting through the windows never smelled so sweet. He walked through the cool hallways, reliving the last hour in his head, which was a happy blur: Gryffindors running to lift him onto their shoulders; Ron, Frank, Heidi and Susan in the distance, jumping up and down, Ron cheering through a heavy nosebleed, while Frank had a bit of blood on him, but no injuries he could see.
Harry stopped at one of the windows and leaned against it, breathing deeply and staring at the moon. He smiled as he noticed that at this time of year, he could see the crescent shaped shadow of Terran City against the rising moon, thousands of miles away in space, orbiting the Earth. Gryffindor in the lead. He'd done it, he'd shown Snape…
And speaking of Snape...
A hooded figure came swiftly down the front steps of the castle. Clearly not wanting to be seen, it walked as fast as possible toward the Foreboding Forest. Harry's victory faded from his mind as he watched. He recognized the figures prowling walk. Snape, sneaking into the forest while everyone else was at dinner – what was going on?
Harry jumped out the window and used some basic self-levitation to slow his descent and allow him to land softly on the damp grass and casting a numbing spell on his shoes, making them near silent. He followed Snape into the forest, keeping at least a yard behind him at all times. He almost lost Snape, but heard voices and followed them. He found Snape in a shadowy clearing, but he wasn't alone. Quirrel was there, too. Harry couldn't make out the look on his face, but he was stuttering worse than ever. Harry strained to catch what they were saying; not wanting to risk casting any surveillance spells.
"... d-don't know why you wanted t-t-to meet here of all p-places, Severus..."
"Oh, I thought we'd keep this private," said Snape, his voice icy. "Students aren't supposed to know about the Philosopher's Stone, after all."
Harry leaned forward. Quirrell was mumbling something. Snape interrupted him.
"Have you found out how to get past that beast of Hagrid's yet?"
"B-b-but Severus, I -"
"You don't want me as your enemy, Quirrell," said Snape, taking a step toward him.
"I-I don't know what you..."
"You know perfectly well what I mean."
An owl hooted loudly, and Harry nearly yelped, feeling very tense from the conversation going on between the two professors. He stopped himself in time to hear Snape say, "- your little bit of hocus-pocus. I'm waiting."
"B-but I d-d-don't -"
"Very well," Snape cut in. "We'll have another little chat soon, when you've had time to think things over and decided where your loyalties lie."
He threw his cloak over his head and strode out of the clearing. It was almost dark now, but Harry could see Quirrell, standing quite still as though he was petrified.
"Harry, where have you been?" Susan squeaked.
"We won! You won! We won!" shouted Ron, thumping Harry on the back. "And I gave Malfoy a black eye, and Broice and Gregard tried to take on Frank! They're still out cold but Madam Pomftey says they'll be all right - talk about showing Slytherin! Everyone's waiting for you in the Dorm, we're having a party, Fred and George stole some cakes and stuff from the kitchens."
"Never mind that now," said Harry breathlessly. "Let's find an empty room; you wait 'til you hear this..."
He made sure Peeves wasn't inside before shutting the door behind them, and then he told them what he'd seen and heard.
"So we were right, it is the Philosopher's Stone, and Snape's trying to force Quirrell to help him get it. He asked if he knew how to get past Fluffy - and he said something about Quirrell's 'hocus pocuss- I reckon there are other things guarding the stone apart from Fluffy, loads of enchantments, probably, and Quirrell would have done some anti-Dark Arts spell that Snape needs to break through -"
"So you mean the Stone's only safe as long as Quirrell stands up to Snape?" said Susan in alarm.
"It'll be gone by next Tuesday," said Ron.
Quirrell, however, must have been braver than they'd thought. In the weeks that followed he did seem to be getting paler and thinner, but it didn't look as though he'd cracked yet.
Every time they passed the third-floor corridor, Harry, Ron, Susan, Heidi and Frank would press their ears to the door to check that Fluffy was still growling inside. Snape was sweeping about in his usual bad temper, which surely meant that the Stone was still safe. Whenever Harry passed Quirrell these days he gave him an encouraging sort of smile, and Ron had started telling people off for laughing at Quirrell's stutter.
Heidi, however, had more on her mind than the Sorcerer's Stone. She had started drawing up study schedules and color-coding all her notes. Harry, Ron and Frank wouldn't have minded, but she kept nagging them to do the same.
"Heidi, the exams are ages away."
"Ten weeks," Heidi snapped. "That's not ages, that's like a second to Nicolas Flamel."
"How are you not a Ravenclaw? And anyway, we're not six hundred years old," Ron reminded her. "Anyway, what are you studying for, you already know it A."
It was true, Heidi was proving to be nearing the top in her year, next to Harry and Frank. Despite Heidi's status as a 'Goth', she was very serious about her studies.
"What am I studying for? Are you crazy? You realize we need to pass these exams to get into the second year? They're very important, I should have started studying a month ago, I don't know what's gotten into me..."
"Simple, you met us" Harry said, grinning at her cheekily. She rolled her eyes and bonked Harry over the head with a book.
Unfortunately, the teachers seemed to be thinking along the same lines as Heidi. They piled so much homework on them that the Easter holidays weren't nearly as much fun as the Christmas ones. It was hard to relax with Heidi next to you reciting the twelve uses of dragon's blood or practicing wand movements. Moaning and yawning, Harry and Tianna, who had unoffically joined their little group, spent most of their free time in the library with her, trying to get through all their extra work.
"I'll never remember this," Ron burst out one afternoon, throwing down his pen and looking longingly out of the library window. It was the first really fine day they'd had in months. The sky was a clear, forget-me-not blue, and there was a feeling in the air of summer coming.
Harry, who was looking up "Flux Capacitor" in One Thousand Technical Devices and Doo-Dads, didn't look up until he heard Ron say, "Hagrid! What are you doing in the library?"
Hagrid shuffled into view, hiding something behind his back. He looked very out of place in his moleskin overcoat.
"Jus' lookin'," he said, in a shifty voice that got their interest at once. "An' what're you lot up ter?" He looked suddenly suspicious. "Yer not still lookin' fer Nicolas Flamel, are yeh?" "Oh, we found out who he is ages ago," said Ron impressively. "And we know what that dog's guarding, it's a Philosopher's St -"
"Shhhh!" Hagrid looked around quickly to see if anyone was listening. "Don' go shoutin' about it, what's the matter with yeh?"
"There are a few things we wanted to ask you, as a matter of fact," said Harry, "about what's guarding the Stone apart from Fluffy -"
"SHHHH!" said Hagrid again. "Listen - come an' see me later, I'm not promisin' I'll tell yeh anythin', mind, but don' go rabbitin' about it in here, students aren' s'pposed ter know. They'll think I've told yeh -"
"See you later, then," said Harry.
Hagrid shuffled off.
"What was he hiding behind his back?" said Heidi thoughtfully.
"Do you think it had anything to do with the Stone?"
"I'm going to see what section he was in," said Ron, who'd had enough of working. He came back a minute later with a pile of books in his arms and slammed them down on the table.
"Dragons!" he whispered. "Hagrid was looking up stuff about dragons! Look at these: Dragon Species of Great Britain and Ireland; From Egg to Inferno, A Dragon Keeper's Guide."
"He does look like the sort who'd like a dragon. He once mentioned he had always wanted a pet Flintmaw" Heidi said.
"But it's against the law." Said Ron. "Dragon Breeding was first outlawed by the Warlocks Convention of 1709, then again a few years back by the Terran Republic. It's hard to keep a tight leash on a dragon when it can grow up to the size of a small house and breathe fire. Anyway, you can't tame dragons, it's dangerous. You should see the burns Charlie's got off wild ones in Romania."
"But there aren't wild dragons in Britain?" said Harry.
"Of course there are," said Ron. "Common Welsh Green and Hebridean Blacks."
"So what on earths Hagrid up to?" said Heidi.
When they knocked on the door of the gamekeeper's hut an hour later, they were surprised to see that all the curtains were closed. Hagrid called "Who is it?" before he let them in, and then shut the door quickly behind them.
It was stifling hot inside. Even though it was such a warm day, there was a blazing fire in the grate. Hagrid made them tea and offered them stoat sandwiches, which they refused.
"So - yeh wanted to ask me somethin'?"
"Yes," said Harry. There was no point beating around the bush. "We were wondering if you could tell us what's guarding the Philosopher's Stone apart from Fluffy."
Hagrid frowned at him.
"O' course I can't," he said. "Number one, I don' know meself. Number two, yeh know too much already, so I wouldn' tell yeh if I could. That Stone's here fer a good reason. It was almost stolen outta Gringotts - I s'ppose yeh've worked that out an' all? Beats me how yeh even know abou' Fluffy."
"I examined him one night on a midnight stroll. He's a gorgeous breed of Cerberus" Harry noted.
"Oh, come on, Hagrid, you might not want to tell us, but you do know, you know everything that goes on round here," said Heidi in a warm, flattering voice. Hagrid's beard twitched and they could tell he was smiling. "We only wondered who had done the guarding, really." Heidi went on. "We wondered who Dumbledore had trusted enough to help him, apart from you."
Hagrid's chest swelled at these last words. Harry, Ron and Frank beamed at Heidi, while Susan raised an eyebrow.
"Well, I don' s'pose it could hurt ter tell yeh that... let's see... he borrowed Fluffy from me... then some o' the teachers did enchantments... Professor Sprout - Professor Flitwick - Professor McGonagall -" he ticked them off on his fingers, "Professor Quirrell – Professor Whisperwind – Professor Beja'Toogra'teth – Professor Bronzeheart – Professor Circuit an' Dumbledore himself did somethin', o' course. Hang on, I've forgotten someone. Oh yeah, Professor Snape."
"Yeah – yer not thinking he's gonna steal it, are yeh? Look, Snape helped protect the Stone, he's not about ter steal it."
Harry knew Ron, Frank, Heidi and Susan were thinking the same as he was. If Snape had been in on protecting the Stone, it must have been easy to find out how the other teachers had guarded it. He probably knew everything - except, it seemed, Quirrell's spell and how to get past Fluffy.
"You're the only one who knows how to get past Fluffy, aren't you, Hagrid?" said Harry anxiously. "And you wouldn't tell anyone, would you? Not even one of the teachers?"
"Not a soul knows except me an' Dumbledore," said Hagrid proudly.
"Well, that's something," Harry muttered to the others. "Hagrid, can we have a window open? I'm boiling."
"Can't, Harry, sorry," said Hagrid. Harry noticed him glance at the fire. Harry looked at it, too.
"Hagrid - what's that?"
But he already knew what it was. In the very heart of the fire, underneath the kettle, was a huge, black egg.
"Ah," said Hagrid, fiddling nervously with his beard, "That's er..."
"Where did you get it, Hagrid?" said Ron, crouching over the fire to get a closer look at the egg. "It must've cost you a fortune."
"Won it," said Hagrid. "Las' night. I was down in the village havin' a few drinks an' got into a game o' cards with a stranger. Think he was quite glad ter get rid of it, ter be honest."
"But what are you going to do with it when it's hatched?" said Susan.
"Well, I've bin doin' some readin' , said Hagrid, pulling a large book from under his pillow. "Got this outta the library - Dragon Breeding for Pleasure and Profit - it's a bit outta date, o' course, but it's all in here. Keep the egg in the fire, 'cause their mothers breathe on I em, see, an' when it hatches, feed it on a bucket o' brandy mixed with chicken blood every half hour. An' see here - how ter recognize diff'rent eggs - what I got there's a Norwegian Ridgeback. They're rare, them."
He looked very pleased with himself, but Susan didn't.
"Hagrid, you live in a wooden house," she said.
But Hagrid wasn't listening. He was humming merrily as he stoked the fire.
So now they had something else to worry about: what might happen to Hagrid if anyone found out he was hiding an illegal dragon in his hut. "Wonder what it's like to have a peaceful life," Ron sighed, as evening after evening they struggled through all the extra homework they were getting. Heidi had now started making study schedules for the boys, too. It was driving them nuts.
Then, one breakfast time, Hedwig brought Harry another note from Hagrid. He had written only two words: its hatching.
Frank wanted to skip his History class and go straight down to the hut. Susan wouldn't hear of it.
"Susan, how many times in our lives are we going to see a dragon hatching?"
"We've got lessons, we'll get into trouble, and that's nothing to what Hagrid's going to be in when someone finds out what he's doing -"
"Shut up!" Harry whispered.
Draco Malfoy, big brother to Mercutio Malfoy, who had left the lower years alone for most of the year, was only a few feet away and he had stopped dead to listen. How much had he heard? Harry didn't like the look on Malfoy's face at all.
Frank and Susan argued all the way to History and in the end, Susan agreed to run down to Hagrid's with the other four during morning break. When the bell sounded from the castle at the end of their lesson, the five of them dropped what they were doing at once and hurried through the grounds to the edge of the forest. Hagrid greeted them, looking flushed and excited.
"It's nearly out." He ushered them inside.
The egg was lying on the table. There were deep cracks in it. Something was moving inside; a funny clicking noise was coming from it.
They all drew their chairs up to the table and watched with bated breath.
All at once there was a scraping noise and the egg split open. The baby dragon flopped onto the table. It wasn't exactly pretty; Harry thought it looked like a crumpled, black umbrella. Its spiny wings were huge compared to its skinny jet body, it had a long snout with wide nostrils, the stubs of horns and bulging, orange eyes.
It sneezed. A couple of sparks flew out of its snout.
"Isn't he beautiful?" Hagrid murmured. He reached out a hand to stroke the dragon's head. It snapped at his fingers, showing pointed fangs.
"It's a she. Notice the crest on the forehead, that's only on females" Ron pointed out, knowing quite a bit about dragons.
"Oh. Bless her, look, she knows her mommy!" said Hagrid.
"Hagrid," said Heidi, "how fast do Norwegian Ridgebacks grow, exactly?"
Hagrid was about to answer when the color suddenly drained from his face - he leapt to his feet and ran to the window.
"What's the matter?"
"Someone was lookin' through the gap in the curtains - it's a kid - he's runnin' back up ter the school."
Harry bolted to the door and looked out. Even at a distance there was no mistaking him.
Mercutio Malfoy had seen the dragon.
Something about the smile lurking on Malfoy's face during the next week made Harry, Ron, and Frank very nervous. They spent most of their free time in Hagrid's darkened hut, trying to reason with him.
"Just let her go," Harry urged. "Set her free."
"I can't," said Hagrid. "She's too little. She'd die."
They looked at the dragon. It had grown three times in length in just a week. Smoke kept furling out of its nostrils. Hagrid hadn't been doing his gamekeeping duties because the dragon was keeping him so busy. There were empty brandy bottles and chicken feathers all over the floor.
"I've decided to call her Norberta," said Hagrid, looking at the dragon with misty eyes. "She really knows me now, watch. Norberta! Norberta! Where's Mommy?"
"He's lost his marbles," Ron muttered in Harry's ear.
"Hagrid," said Harry loudly, "give it two weeks and Norberta's going to be as long as your house. Malfoy could go to Dumbledore at any moment."
Hagrid bit his lip.
"I - I know I can't keep him forever, but I can't jus' dump him, I can't."
Harry suddenly turned to Ron. "Charlie," he said.
"You're losing it, too," said Ron. "I'm Ron, remember?"
"No - Charlie - your brother, Charlie. In Romania. Studying dragons. We could send Norberta to him. Charlie can take care of him and then put him back in the wild!"
"Brilliant!" said Ron. "How about it, Hagrid?"
And in the end, Hagrid agreed that they could send -an owl to Charlie to ask him.
The following week dragged by. Wednesday night found Frank and Harry sitting alone in the common room, long after everyone else had gone to bed. The clock on the wall had just chimed midnight when the portrait hole burst open. Ron appeared out of nowhere as he pulled off Harry's invisibility cloak. He had been down at Hagrid's hut, helping him feed Norberta, who was now eating dead rats by the crate.
"It bit me!" he said, showing them his hand, which was wrapped in a bloody handkerchief. "I'm not going to be able to hold a quill for a week. I tell you, that dragon's the most horrible animal I've ever met, but the way Hagrid goes on about it, you'd think it was a fluffy little bunny rabbit. When it bit me he told me off for frightening it. And when I left, he was singing it a lullaby."
There was a tap on the dark window.
"It's Hedwig!" said Harry, hurrying to let her in. "She'll have Charlie's answer!"
The three of them put their heads together to read the note.
How are you? Thanks for the letter - I'd be glad to take the Norwegian Ridgeback, but it won't be easy getting him here. I think the best thing will be to send him over with some friends of mine who are coming to visit me next week. Trouble is, they mustn't be seen carrying an illegal dragon.
Could you get the Ridgeback up the tallest tower at midnight on Saturday? They can meet you there and take him away while it's still dark.
Send me an answer as soon as possible.
They looked at one another.
"We've got the invisibility cloak," said Harry. "It shouldn't be too difficult - I think the cloaks big enough to cover two of us and Norbert."
It was a mark of how bad the last week had been that the other two agreed with him. Anything to get rid of Norbert - and Malfoy.
There was a hitch. By the next morning, Ron's bitten hand had swollen to twice its usual size. He didn't know whether it was safe to go to Madam Pomfrey - would she recognize a dragon bite? By the afternoon, though, he had no choice. The cut had turned a nasty shade of green. It looked as if Norberta's fangs were poisonous.
Harry and Heidi rushed up to the hospital wing at the end of the day to find Ron in a terrible state in bed.
"It's not just my hand," he whispered, "although that feels like it's about to fall off. Malfette told Madam Pomfrey he wanted to borrow one of my books so he could come and have a good laugh at me. He kept threatening to tell her what really bit me - I've told her it was a dog, but I don't think she believes me -I shouldn't have hit him at the Quidditch match, that's why he's doing this."
Harry and Heidi tried to calm Ron down.
"It'll all be over at midnight on Saturday," said Heidi, but this didn't soothe Ron at all. On the contrary, he sat bolt upright and broke into a sweat.
"Midnight on Saturday!" he said in a hoarse voice. "Oh no oh no - I've just remembered - Charlie's letter was in that book Malfoy took, he's going to know we're getting rid of Norberta."
Harry and Heidi didn't get a chance to answer. Madam Pomfrey came over at that moment and made them leave, saying Ron needed sleep.
"It's too late to change the plan now," Harry told Heidi. "We haven't got time to send Charlie another owl, and this could be our only chance to get rid of Norberta. We'll have to risk it. And we have got the invisibility cloak, Malfoy doesn't know about that."
They found Fang, the boarhound, sitting outside with a bandaged tail when they went to tell Hagrid, who opened a window to talk to them.
"I won't let you in," he puffed. "Norberta's at a tricky stage - nothin' I can't handle."
When they told him about Charlie's letter, his eyes filled with tears, although that might have been because Norberta had just bitten him on the leg.
"Aargh! It's all right, she only got my boot - jus' playin' - she's only a baby, after all."
The baby banged its tail on the wall, making the windows rattle. Harry and Heidi walked back to the castle feeling Saturday couldn't come quickly enough.
They would have felt sorry for Hagrid when the time came for him to say good-bye to Norberta if they hadn't been so worried about what they had to do. It was a very dark, cloudy night, and they were a bit late arriving at Hagrid's hut because they'd had to wait for Peeves to get out of their way in the entrance hall, where he'd been playing tennis against the wall. Hagrid had Norberta packed and ready in a large crate.
"She's got lots o' rats an' some brandy fer the journey," said Hagrid in a muffled voice. "An' I've packed her teddy bear in case she gets lonely."
From inside the crate came ripping noises that sounded to Harry as though the teddy was having his head torn off.
"Bye-bye, Norberta!" Hagrid sobbed, as Harry and Heidi covered the crate with the invisibility cloak and stepped underneath it themselves. "Mommy will never forget you!"
Luckily, the tallest tower in Hogwarts was the Observatory. Unluckily, it was on the other side of the grounds. Soon enough, the Negative-Stone building, which was now pure white since the night sky was a blinding light yellow in the reflective stone, came into view.
"Nearly there!" Harry panted.
Then sudden movements ahead of them made them almost drop the crate. Forgetting that they were already invisible, they shrank into the shadows, staring at the dark outlines of two people grappling with each other ten feet away. A lamp flared.
Professor McGonagall, in a tartan bathrobe and a hair net, had Mercutio by the ear.
"Detention!" she shouted. "And twenty points from Slytherin! Wandering around in the middle of the night, how dare you -"
"You don't understand, Professor. Harry Potter's coming - he's got a dragon!"
"What utter rubbish! How dare you tell such lies! Come on - I shall see Professor Snape about you, Malfoy!"
Harry felt he could kiss the Elevator leading up to the top of the tower, but decided not to, not knowing when it was last cleaned. When they were inside, Harry threw off the cloak, and Heidi did a sort of jig.
"Malfoy's got detention! I could sing!"
"Don't," Harry advised her.
Chuckling about Malfoy, they carried Norberta onto the Balcony underneath the large telescope, the dragon thrashing about in his crate. About ten minutes later, four broomsticks came swooping down out of the darkness.
Charlie's friends were a cheery lot. They showed Harry and Heidi the harness they'd rigged up, so they could suspend Norberta between them. They all helped buckle Norberta safely into it and then Harry and Heidi shook hands with the others and thanked them very much.
At last, Norbert was going... going... gone.
They took the elevator back down, their hearts as light as their hands, now that Norberta was off them. No more dragon - Malfoy in detention - what could spoil their happiness?
The answer to that was waiting when the doors to the Elevator dinged open. As they stepped into the corridor, Filch's face loomed suddenly out of the darkness.
"Well, well, well," he whispered, "we are in trouble."
They'd left the invisibility cloak on top of the tower.