Harry & the Mysterious Curse of the GirlWhoLived

5: A Hearty Reflection

Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter.

Quick Note: There have been some concerns from reviewers about the story which are quite fair. Normally I would respond to them with a Private Message, but if you don't allow PMs I have no way to contact you. Obviously I appreciate all reviews, positive and negative, and I would never be one of those authors that says "Review or I won't write more" - I started writing this with the plan to finish it, so I will do my best to do just that. I will work to address some of the issues people have had with this story. I am trying to make this as non-clichéd as possible and move further away from anything in the original books (I wasn't able to avoid some direct quotes at first, but that should no longer be an issue).

I will reveal one bit of spoiler information regarding Dumbledore, because it's not really that big of a deal to do so: He is not evil or any more manipulative than he already is canonically (where he does do a few things to that effect), because I am personally tired of such stories. In this story, Dumbledore had no crazy plan to change Harry into a girl - partially because I can't even figure out why he would even want to do such a thing.

As usual, much thanks to my beta for his/her help.

Thanks for the reviews, everyone.

Harry and the Mysterious Curse of the Girl-Who-Lived

CHAPTER FIVE: A HEARTY REFLECTION

It was quite late when Madame Pomfrey reluctantly released them with a perfunctory "I suppose you don't need further treatment". They walked back to the dormitories in silence, each not quite sure what to say.

Finally they reached the staircases separating the girls' and boys' dorms and stopped to look at each other.

Ron sighed. "That was quite an adventure, wasn't it? Not sure how it ranks compared to the three-headed dog, but I suppose two crazy near-death experiences is a lot for two months." He then yawned mightily and stretched. "Blimey, but suddenly I'm completely exhausted."

"That's due to the adrenaline, naturally," Hermione explained. "You had a jolt of it fighting the troll, but now that's drained and you're back to feeling tired."

Harry and Ron both stared at her for a moment.

Harry chuckled softly. "I'm glad the experience hasn't addled your brains, Hermione."

Hermione rolled her eyes. "I am happy that your powers of perception are so perspicacious."

"And on that confusing note, I'm going to sleep. See you guys tomorrow," said Ron before he ran quickly up the stairs.

When Harry and Hermione arrived in their room, Parvati and Lavender were awake, talking softly.

"Oh, you're back!" Parvati said. "We were so worried when none of you showed up!"

"The prefects wouldn't tell us anything," Lavender moped.

"It was nothing too out of the ordinary," Harry said, shrugging his shoulders then paused, as perhaps this was not entirely correct. "Well, maybe that's not accurate. Hermione got trapped by the troll so we had to run over and try to get her away."

Lavender shrieked in horror.

"You... you were trapped by the troll?" Parvati stammered.

"Yes," Hermione said softly. "But then Harriet and Ron ran in and saved me. Harriet leaped onto the troll's back and shoved her wand in its nose!"

Parvati and Lavender both shrieked at this.

"Harriet Potter, you are insane!" Parvati marveled.

"Insanely brave," Lavender said in admiration.

"And then Ron dropped a club on its head, knocking it out."

"How did he do that?" Parvati wondered. "A troll's club must weigh twenty stone at least!"

"I don't know if it was that heavy," Harry put in. "But he actually used the Levitation Charm, if you can believe it. I suppose it was probably still on his mind from class."

"He managed to pronounce Wingardium Leviosa well enough to knock out a troll?" Parvati giggled. "Lucky Hermione corrected him in class then."

Hermione blinked. "I hadn't thought of that."

"You see, Hermione?" Harry said with a grin. "You can use your powers for good after all."

Hermione laughed, although the other two girls looked puzzled.

Parvati arched an eyebrow. "I'm guessing something else happened? Did you two talk over your disagreements?"

"Yes," Hermione said slowly. "I think we've been able to put aside our differences. At least I hope so." She looked at Harry hopefully.

"Well I was always willing to try that in the first place," Harry said, climbing into his bed and pulling off his outer robe. "So if you keep trying to get along, I will too."

Lavender beamed. "How mature of you!"

Hermione sighed. "See, normally I would say something insulting there. But I suppose that doesn't help anyone."

"Well, please do try to keep from ill-placed insults," Parvati said pointedly. "I think we can all agree there are more valid targets for such things."

"Like Malfoy?" Harry couldn't help but say.

The girls laughed.

"I quite agree," Hermione smiled. "Although perhaps shared hatred of someone isn't the best way to cement a friendship - for now, I'll take it."

"Is that it?" Parvati asked. "Nothing else happened that you should talk about?"

"It's all I can handle, anyway," Harry yawned. "I'm too exhausted to keep talking. I did ride a troll's back after all, although that's not a boast. It's just a tad tiring."

Lavender giggled.

"Do you mind if we talk softly, Harriet?" Parvati asked.

"Go right ahead," Harry said. "Just don't mind my snoring."

The next few days passed essentially without incident. Hermione was still clearly not entirely comfortable interacting politely with the rest of the group, but she did seem to be trying her hardest. Hermione obviously wanted to respond to something that Ron would say occasionally, but she mostly held her tongue. So the group slowly began to interact more together, even occasionally studying together - although this often involved pretending to listen to Hermione explain something.

Harry would often try to invite Neville to study with them, and the shy boy would very occasionally sit with them, but he never said a word. And the other first years, Dean and Seamus, had formed a very tight relationship and really tended to only hang out by themselves, except at class and meals.

But the upcoming Quidditch season was about to start, and Harry's first game was approaching rapidly. Neither of the two types of comments he received alleviated his nerves: either confident assurances of his abilities based on his father's skills; or, worries that perhaps he didn't take after his father enough and would have a terrible accident.

For their part, his friends tried to be as supportive as possible. Ron and Parvati were unshakably confident, of course, which was nice, but Hermione and Lavender, though they claimed to be unworried, were both clearly quite nervous. And the few times Neville even managed to speak to Harry tended to be monosyllabic; he tended to mostly nod or shake his head in response to questions. He would respond when other people asked him questions, so that was something at least.

The day before the match, the group sat outside in the freezing courtyard, huddled around a magic fire that Hermione had conjured. It seemed that the intention was to keep up a lively conversation to allay Harry's nerves, and although Harry quickly realized this was happening, he was very grateful nonetheless.

"Uh oh," Ron suddenly murmured. "Keep a lid on it. Look who's coming this way."

Sure enough, the esteemed Potions Professor was heading towards them - walking in a limp.

Snape cleared his throat. "A word, Miss Potter, if you will?"

Harry stood and looked at the others. "This won't be long, I'm sure. Don't do anything to annoy him."

Ron rolled his eyes and mumbled something incoherently.

"What was that, Mr. Weasley?" Snape asked acidly.

Ron paled. "Nothing, sir, just clearing my throat."

"I should hope so. Come with me a moment, Miss Potter, I have only to speak with you briefly."

Harry walked with Snape a bit away from the group until they could no longer be overheard.

"Is there a problem, sir?" Harry asked.

Snape grimaced. "Not necessarily, but I could not help but discover that you are to be playing Seeker for your House Quidditch team tomorrow."

Harry sighed. "Yeah, that spread faster than I would've liked. Wood wasn't pleased that information about the 'secret weapon' got out."

"Mr. Wood should be more concerned with his grades so he doesn't fail," Snape grumbled. "But in any event, I suppose you are aware that tomorrow's game is against my Slytherin team?"

"Yes, I know," Harry said. "And you needn't feel odd cheering for Slytherin, of course. I could hardly expect otherwise, after all."

"Quite," Snape's eyes glinted in slight amusement. "Obviously I am going to support my own House in the matter. But I want you to be on your guard a bit tomorrow... my players are quite talented, of course, and always adhere to the strict letter of the rulebook, but they can be a tad... aggressive."

"Oh," Harry blinked. "I think I see what you mean. I suppose you don't want to see anyone injured, even if it's the 'foolhardy' Gryffindors?"

Snape's face was unreadable for a moment, then the Professor sighed slightly. "Yes, that is about right. You should have nothing to worry about, of course; but be careful, nonetheless. McGonagall would be quite displeased if you were to be hurt."

"Yes, she would," Harry said, thinking it best not to contradict this statement. "Thank you for the... consideration."

Snape nodded silently and walked off, still with a noticeable limp.

Harry walked back to the group, shaking his head a bit in puzzlement.

"So what was that all about?" Ron asked. "Secret tips in Potions?"

Hermione looked carefully at Harry and then gasped in realization. "It was about Quidditch, wasn't it?"

"Um, yes, actually," Harry responded. "He was just telling me that the Slytherin players can be a bit mean so I should just be careful about it."

Ron shook his head in disgust. "I don't know what I should hate about that. But there's gotta be something, I'm sure of it."

Parvati frowned, looking back over at the now distant figure of the Professor. "Did you notice the limp? I wonder what the problem was."

"I think I saw," Lavender piped up. "I saw a bit of his leg when he was walking away. It was all bandaged and damaged from something."

"Maybe he spilled a potion on himself?" Hermione wondered.

"Whatever it was, if it's painful, he deserves it," Ron said with finality. "Um, no offense Harriet."

Harry rolled his eyes. "Snape is pretty awful to you, so I don't think I can blame you for hating him." He paused, considering Hermione's curiosity. An idea suddenly occurred to him. "Hermione, you know how I have that kind of research project about my mum's work?"

"Yes," Hermione grumbled. "I wish I had my own research project. But I wouldn't even know where to start, much less find the time to fit it in."

"Maybe if you didn't reread everything, you'd have more time," Parvati pointed out.

"Wait, hold on a moment," Ron put up a hand. "Are you saying you read books more than once? School books?"

Hermione rolled her eyes. "Ron, you should know me well enough by now to have already guessed that."

Ron nodded. "Okay, good point."

"Right," Harry said. "So I might have an interesting project for you as it turns out."

Hermione looked at Harry with a skeptical expression.

"You could call it a sort of mystery, if you want. The Mystery of the Trapdoor. And I may have a few additional clues you weren't aware of."

"The Mystery of the Trapdoor?" Parvati asked.

"You're not... you're talking about the trapdoor on the third floor are you?" Neville asked nervously.

"Harriet, are you saying you know what's under the trapdoor?" Hermione asked, sounding quite intrigued.

"No, but that's the point. What fun is a mystery if we already know the answer?"

Lavender clapped her hands in excitement. "Ooh how fun! A mystery!"

Hermione now looked quite happy. "What are these clues?"

"So you know how Gringotts was broken into, right? But they said nothing was stolen?" The others nodded. "That's because Hagrid had already taken out something from a vault for Dumbledore."

"But how do you know that?" Hermione asked doubtfully.

"I was there, of course," Harry replied. "Hagrid was escorting me around Diagon Alley and when we went to the bank, he grabbed something from that particular vault. I couldn't see what it was - it was in a small bag - so it couldn't have been very big."

"How interesting..." Hermione mused.

"I think you've hooked her," Parvati said in amusement. "Although I must say I'm a bit curious myself. I can ask Padma if she has any ideas, if you like. I think she ought to be interested in solving a mystery."

"Your sister, right?" Harry asked.

Parvati nodded.

"That sounds all right to me. It's not like it's a secret, after all, and I'm sure your sister is trustworthy. Is it okay for everyone else?"

"I don't care at all," Ron announced.

Lavender and Neville both shook their heads.

"Well, I suppose it is okay," Hermione said slowly. "But I still want to do most of the research myself, okay?"

Harry laughed. "For some reason, I doubt any of us will mind that one bit."

When the next day arrived and Harry found himself on the field, broom in hand, he marveled at how quickly the time just flew by. The intrigue of Harry's Mystery of the Trapdoor had had the group talking for hours, although no actual progress had been made. All the talk had successfully taken Harry's mind off his nerves, and now that the game was upon him he was far too excited to be nervous.

"You okay, Harriet?" One of the Chasers asked, a girl by the name of Angelina if Harry remembered correctly. "Oliver says you're quite impressive. It'll be nice to outnumber the boys for once."

Another girl laughed, Katie something. "I think that Wood wouldn't care if a goblin flew if it would get him the Cup."

Oliver scowled at them. "You lot should be taking this more seriously. We already have enough nonsense from the twins already."

"Enough?" Fred gasped, clutching his chest dramatically.

"Nonsense?" George piped in.

"No such thing," they said at the same time.

Of course, any remaining nerves vanished the very second Harry shot into the air. This was what he excelled at, more than anything else. Pure joy distilled into quick moments.

Everything went relatively smoothly until his broom began to suddenly lurch and buck about, nearly throwing Harry off. He held on with all his might, trying to control the oddly misbehaving broom. But after only a minute or two, the shaking suddenly ceased, and Harry quickly regained control of the broom. And then...

In a lightning quick dive, Harry had managed to grab the Snitch out of the air with his mouth and waved it above his head triumphantly. Gryffindor had won handily.

Hagrid had invited the lot of them back to his hut for a celebratory tea, and even the wary Lavender came, although probably only because of Hagrid's role in the Mystery.

It was a bit of a tight fit in the hut, but there was a toasty fire and the tea was quite good.

"It was Snape," Ron was explaining. "We saw him. He was cursing your broomstick, muttering, he wouldn't take his eyes off you."

"Rubbish," said Hagrid. "Why would Snape do somethin' like that?"

"I would tend to agree," Hermione started to say. "Considering how he normally treats her. But then who else could have done it?"

"Did you see something?" Harry asked Parvati.

She shook her head. "Not at first, although we all saw Snape acting oddly once Ron pointed it out."

"But why would he suddenly want to hurt me? Especially after just warning me yesterday?"

Hermione shrugged in befuddlement. "I know, Harriet, it doesn't really make sense to me either."

"I bet he has some evil trick up his sleeves," Ron said darkly. "I've never trusted him."

"Yeh can trust Professor Snape," Hagrid said. "Dumbledore does, don't he? And from all I hear, he likes Harriet better than most, right?"

"I think Snape treats her better than even the Slytherins," Parvati confided. "It's an interesting secret, don't you think?"

Hagrid looked a bit confused. "I'm not sure I know what yeh mean."

"Didn't Harriet tell you about the Mystery?" Parvati asked.

Harry winced. "Um, no I didn't. Slipped my mind."

"What Mystery?" Hagrid asked, sounding very interested. "I'm always up for somethin' mysterious."

"The Trapdoor, of course," Hermione replied. "But you must know all about that of course. With the three-headed cat and all."

"Cat?" Ron looked confused.

"Wait a momen'," Hagrid said. "I know we got Fluffy, a three-headed dog guarding the trapdoor. But I never heard of no three-headed cat."

"Oh, my mistake," Hermione said quickly. "Of course you're right, I meant three-headed dog."

"Right," Hagrid nodded then looked horrified. "Wait, how do you know about Fluffy?"

Ron snorted. "What kind of name is Fluffy for a thing like that?"

"I think it's adorable," Lavender defended.

"You didn't actually see Fluffy," Ron pointed out. "He's enormous! And not exactly cute."

"That's not fair Ron," Hagrid protested. "Fluffy is just doin' his best as a guard dog. He can't help bein' a bit out o' sorts, locked up in the room all the time."

"Can you imagine what other things Fluffy might've guarded over the years?" Harry asked in a kind of wistful tone, keeping a careful eye on Hagrid. "Think this is the most important one?"

Hermione smiled slightly, looking very proud.

Hagrid stroked his beard thougtfully. "Hard to say, really. He's a unique sort, specially bred to be great guards. The Greek chappie I bought him off of had gotten Fluffy in an inheritance thing, I think. Didn't really know how to handle Fluffy or didn't have nothin' to guard either, but I have heard some stories. I don't know if anythin' was more important years ago than the - well, I shouldn't really say."

"Go on," Parvati prodded eagerly.

"I can't be tellin' you lot that," said Hagrid gruffly. "That's top secret, that is."

"Fair enough," Hermione said with a very dramatic sigh. "I suppose we'll have to look elsewhere, then."

"Now, listen to me, all of yeh," said Hagrid hotly. "Nice to see Gryffs all together, o' course, but yer meddlin' in things that don' concern yeh. It's dangerous. You forget that dog, an' you forget what it's guardin', that's between Professor Dumbledore an' Nicolas Flamel —"

"Nicolas Flamel you say?" Ron asked.

"Another clue," Harry said with a smile. "Thanks for the tea Hagrid."

Hagrid looked as if he wasn't sure whether or not to be pleased with the pleasant words or furious with himself for giving away secret information.

Although there was always homework to be done (with one particular member of the group always enjoying it more than anyone else), the Gryffindors continued to find time to gather in the library to discuss and research the "Mystery". The additional clue of Nicolas Flamel had been a tantalizing name to help solve the mystery, but as of yet they hadn't any luck finding any mention of Flamel at all in any of the library's many books.

At lunch one day, Parvati rushed over to join the other first years. "I was just talking to Padma about various things, and she'll have time today after lunch to hang out with us. We have a free period today, so we can all go the library and study."

"Oh, excellent," Hermione beamed.

"Hermione," Harry said, rolling his eyes. "She doesn't mean studying. She means studying," Harry over-emphasized the last word a bit.

Hermione deflated a little, but nodded. "Ah, of course. Well that will be fun too."

"Any time Hermione hears the words homework or studying," Ron said. "You had better be sure not to block the path to the library."

Lavender giggled. "Ron! That's awful!"

"Oh no!" Hermione leapt up from the table. "My notes are in our room! I have to go get them straight away!" Without even waiting for a response, Hermione bolted in the direction of their dormitory.

Ron shook his head sadly. "Can't believe she left a plate half full. You'd never see me doing that."

Harry leaned back from his own now empty plate. "Well, I'm done though. Why don't some of us head to the library and grab a table now, and you can come when you're done?" He stood up from the table.

"That's fine with me," Neville said softly, still poking at some potatoes.

Ron nodded with a mouthful of food. "Sounsh mood to me," he said.

"Swallow first!" Lavender scolded him. "You might spit all over somebody's nice clothes!"

"Are you finished as well, Lav?" Parvati asked. "You can come along with us now, right?" She glanced at Lavender a bit knowingly.

"What? Oh yes, of course." Lavender quickly gathered up her things and followed behind Parvati and Harry.

After they had gone a ways toward the library, with no other students in earshot, Parvati turned to the other two Gryffindors.

"So you two will not believe what I heard from my sister!"

Harry blinked in surprise. "Is it some sort of secret?"

"You might say that," Parvati answered mysteriously.

"Don't leave us in suspense!" Lavender said excitedly. "I never hear about anything!"

Parvati smiled, looking very pleased. "She heard it from Susan Bones, who heard it from Megan Jones, the Hufflepuff. Quite an interesting story. So you know Arcturus Black?"

Lavender nodded.

"Well he just died, and apparently his cousin Cassiopeia isn't doing too well either. So there's all sorts of talk about the Blacks and who will get control of the vaults."

Lavender frowned. "The Blacks use Terra salica, don't they? So the eldest boy gets everything."

"No," Parvati corrected. "They allow female heirs, but only if there aren't any surviving males. So Arcturus was the primary heir, and Orion after him, even though his daughter was older."

"Right," Lavender nodded. "And there was some sort of scandal with Orion's heirs ages ago, wasn't there?"

Harry looked back and forth between the two girls, completely lost.

"Exactly," Parvati said in satisfaction. "Regulus died, and Sirius, well..." She glanced at Harry. "We don't need to get into that one, I'm sure Harriet doesn't want to hear that old story again."

Lavender smiled sympathetically at Harry.

What old story? Harry quite wanted to ask a number of things, but he had no idea of where to start.

"So you won't believe this," Parvati said. "But it looks like succession might go to Malfoy."

"Senior or junior?" Lavender asked.

"Draco, of course, his father isn't related."

"Ah, of course," Lavender realized. "How horrible. That stupid arrogant prat becoming the Black Heir? As if he needs more to boast about."

"Wait, wait, wait!" Harry said. "Okay, I'm sorry, and maybe this is my Muggle-raised background, but I have no idea who most of those people even are!"

Lavender looked confused but Parvati's mouth dropped open in shock.

"My goodness," Parvati finally said. "Merlin's hat, I completely forgot. You wouldn't know about any of the pure-blood families, Harriet, would you?"

Harry shook his head.

"Hmm, I don't even know quite where to begin," Parvati shook her head ruefully. "But I think we have quite a lot of work ahead of us. Luckily Lavender knows as much about the old families as me."

"No, not nearly," Lavender complimented her friend. "But I can certainly help get Harriet up to speed. It's only right she know about her family and all that of course."

Parvati nodded and looked frightfully determined. "Well said, Lav. I don't have time for the family tree, Harriet, naturally, but perhaps a very quick overview of the Black situation?"

"Sure," said Harry, happy to hear anything about his magical side of the family.

"Blacks are a very old pure-blood British family," Parvati began. "Almost as old as the Potters. Oddly enough, I think close to the Browns, although that's probably a coincidence."

Lavender giggled. "Blacks and Browns never did get along though."

"War of the dreary colors!" laughed Parvati. "So the Blacks are important for two reasons: one, they have amassed ridiculous wealth over the years, and two, their family motto is Toujours Pur, which means they try to only marry pure-bloods. It's impossible of course, even for them, but they disown anyone who goes against the Black 'standards'."

"Wow," Harry mused. "Did the Potters and Blacks get along?"

"The Potters have historically been mostly neutral or mixed, so sometimes yes, sometimes no," explained Parvati. "Actually your great-uncle Charlus married Dorea Black, who is, let me see..." She counted out something on her hands. "Draco's mother's father's aunt. So in a way, you and Draco are sort of cousins."

"That's horrible!" Harry paled.

"Ron's related too, though," Lavender pointed out. "I think through his mother's side. But I can't quite remember the specifics. All pure-blood families are related in some manner, as they all marry each other constantly."

They had just arrived at the library, so they wound their way around the shelves until they found a decent sized unoccupied table.

"But Draco is going to be the Black Heir?" asked Harry quietly as they sat down, getting back to the salient details.

Parvati nodded grimly. "It seems very likely, unless somehow Sirius had a child out of wedlock. And apparently the word has been going around in Slytherin for the girls to cozy up to Draco to try to get connected to the inheritance."

"Slytherin tarts," Lavender grumbled.

"And it's not just Slytherin; several pure-blood families are getting in on it. Megan was complaining that her parents want her to be nice to Malfoy, that's how Susan heard about it." Parvati sighed. "I can't blame her. I would be very cross if my parents wanted me to befriend Malfoy."

"But they wouldn't force her to marry Draco, would they?" asked Harry in horror. "No one deserves that, not even Slytherin girls!"

The girls laughed.

"Hard to say, really," Parvati mused. "Arranged marriages still do happen, after all. My aunt had one, although that one went all right for them - they seem to like each other well enough."

"What are you lot talking about?" Ron asked, having just walked over with Neville.

"Oh, just girl business," Parvati said archly.

"Not another word," Ron held up his hands. "I know better than to get into that one."

Hermione appeared, carrying a dozen books. "I don't think we've looked at these," she puffed. "So we'll have some new material to review." She carefully placed the precarious pile on the table.

"I don't think you have enough books there Hermione," Ron said with a smile.

Lavender coughed oddly, sounding like she was trying not to laugh.

"You think so?" Hermione asked worriedly. "Perhaps you're right; I can go look for some others."

"No, no, sit down!" Harry insisted, knowing that this could keep going on indefinitely. "We probably won't have time to even go over them all today, but it was very thoughtful of you to bring them."

Hermione smiled and nodded in thanks.

"Ooh, here comes Padma!" Parvati jumped out of her seat and ran over to her sister, who was, as Harry recalled, completely identical. Harry had been used to Fred and George by this point, and was easily able to tell them apart, so he could already notice a few small differences between the Patils. Although it was difficult to be certain unless they dressed alike as well.

"Padma, this is everyone," Parvati introduced the others. "You know Lavender already, but that's Neville Longbottom, Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, and obviously Harriet Potter. Come on, sit with us!"

Padma nodded with a very small smile. "Very nice to meet all of you. How are your studies?"

"Ravenclaws," Ron muttered to Lavender who giggled and then lightly smacked him on the shoulders.

"Well," Hermione started to say. "It's a bit complicated, actually."

"We're all doing fine," Harry interrupted, with an apologetic glance at Hermione. "But I assume Parvati already told you about the Mystery?"

"Only a bit," Padma said with a shrug. "I am familiar with the general underlying question, although the various pertinent details she left out."

"I thought we could talk better about it as a group," Parvati explained. "But I already did tell her that there was something Fluffy was guarding next to the trapdoor on third floor corridor."

"Wait, Fluffy?" Padma asked in confusion. "You hadn't mentioned anyone by that name. Who or what is this 'Fluffy'?"

"A giant monstrous three-headed dog!" Ron said with relish. "Almost ate us when we stumbled across him accidentally." The last part he said a bit proudly.

"All we really know is that Dumbledore asked Hagrid to get something secret out of some Gringotts vault," Harry explained. "Oh, and we just found out about Flamel."

"Nicolas Flamel?" asked Padma.

Hermione blinked in surprise. "You know who that is? We couldn't find any references anywhere."

"Well, I'm not sure what you were reading," Padma said airily. "But yes, Flamel is a very famous Alchemist who has been alive nearly seven hundred years. Dumbledore studied with him, I believe, when he was either in Hogwarts or just out of it."

"Flamel is seven hundred years old?" Ron asked in amazement. "How did he manage that?"

Padma sniffed. "I'm surprised you don't already know that bit. Flamel is most well known for his creation of the Philosopher's Stone, of course."

Hermione frowned thoughtfully. "That sounds familiar, from some old Muggle stories I've heard. I think there's something about turning lead into gold, but how does that keep one alive so long?"

"Maybe you could somehow buy extra years with all that gold?" Parvati ventured.

"Nonsense," Padma scoffed. "Otherwise we'd be seeing very old members of several old and wealthy families still today. As for the lead to gold transmutation, I hadn't heard of that aspect of the Philosopher's Stone; in the stories, the Stone is used primarily to create an Elixir of Life that can be utilized to extend your lifespan over and over."

"I think I've heard of some of those old stories too," Neville put in a bit tepidly. "Flamel and his famous Stone, there are some old children's stories I've heard when I was very young."

"I don't remember hearing anything like that," Parvati said with a frown. "Padma, when did you hear about this?"

Padma tapped her chin in thought. "I don't believe I heard this particular story as a child at home, otherwise of course we'd have both heard it. I can't remember the precise source, but it was probably some neighborhood storyteller."

"So unless the Stone is enormous, that's it!" Harry said excitedly. "The Philosopher's Stone must be what's hiding under the trapdoor!"

"But hold on a moment," Hermione worried. "We still don't know why it's being kept here in the first place."

The group was silent for a moment as they all thought about it.

"Wait a minute," Ron said suddenly. "I just recalled - wasn't there some sort of break-in at Gringotts?"

Lavender nodded. "Ooh, yes, I remember reading that in the Prophet weeks ago! First attempted burglary in decades, the goblins were not at all pleased. Apparently, it would have been successful, too, if Hagrid hadn't already taken what the thief was looking for!"

"Okay, so it was moved here to guard against theft," Hermione said. "But why Hogwarts? Isn't there any place more secure."

"I would've thought Gringotts was more secure," Padma put in. "But clearly that is not the case. I suppose that Hogwarts does have a great deal of protections, and I am certain that the Headmaster must know secretive ways to conceal items in the castle."

"I guess then the next important question is about the theft," said Harry. "Who is trying to steal the Stone?"

"It's Snape!" Ron said suddenly.

"Oh, ridiculous," Hermione scoffed. "Why would he would do that?"

Padma nodded in agreement. "I find it highly unlikely a Hogwarts Professor would even attempt to break into Gringotts, much less manage to do it without getting caught."

"You don't know Snape then," Ron insisted. "He's awful."

"He is," Lavender nodded. "I can completely believe he might want to steal the Stone, even considering his good manners toward Harriet."

Harry frowned. "I don't know, that doesn't seem right. Snape is a bit of pain, I'll admit, but he doesn't seem like he's just pure evil."

"Agree to disagree, then," Ron said with a nod.

"I suppose it is possible that Professor Snape is decent in his manners while still planning to steal the Stone for himself," said Hermione, pondering the issue. "Alchemy and Potions have significant connections, after all."

"No, it isn't possible," Padma disagreed. "A Hogwarts Professor would not do such a thing. Much less Professor Snape."

Hermione's eyes narrowed. "Why would you say that? We don't know everything about the Professors, including Professor Snape. He might have even some connection to You-Know-Who."

"Well he does, of course," said Padma with a shrug. "He was a Death Eater, but he was acquitted ten years ago."

"Snape was a Death Eater?" Ron shouted, then quickly lowered his voice to prevent Madame Pince from showing up. "I knew it. That dark git. Then it's obvious, it's clearly him trying to steal the stone!"

Lavender nodded. "Yes, that makes sense. Maybe he's even trying to bring back You-Know-You!"

"I'm sorry to interrupt," Harry said. "But what's a Death Eater again? Sounds familiar."

"That's the name of You-Know-Who's followers," Parvati explained. "All of them are either in prison or got off for different reasons. I think mostly they said they were under the Imperius."

"My dad says that's a load, and I agree with him," said Ron with a determined nod. "No way Malfoy or Snape were tricked into anything they didn't want."

"But what is the Imperius?" asked Hermione. "I've seen some references, but it was never explained."

Padma sniffed a bit haughtily. "Don't you know anything?"

"Excuse me?" Hermione spat.

"Let me explain," Parvati said quickly. "The Imperius is an illegal curse that lets you put someone under your complete control. They'll do whatever you want then."

"That's horrible!" Hermione gasped.

"That's why it's illegal, innit?" Ron pointed out.

"Is that why Professor Snape was acquitted?" Hermione asked. "Because he said he was under the influence of this curse?"

"No," Padma said flatly. "It was actually kind of a big deal, because Professor Dumbledore vouched for him. The specifics are secret though, so only the Wizengamot knows all that for certain."

"Well you seem certain it wasn't Snape," said Hermione a bit angrily. "Very certain indeed, for no apparent reason. Then perhaps you can enlighten us as to who else might be trying to steal the Stone and already broke into Gringotts?"

Padma smirked. "It could be any number of people, of course. And I have a very good reason for not suspecting Snape; it is not logical."

"And why is that exactly?" Hermione asked, raising her voice slightly. "Care to fill us in on your impeccable logic?"

"It's like watching two giant books attack each other," Ron whispered to Lavender, who giggled.

"More like try to spit enormous words at each other," she said.

Ron chuckled softly.

"It's a combination of several factors," Padma replied with a soft tone. "Mostly a posteriori, naturally, but if Dumbledore vouched for him, Snape must be trustworthy. Why would Dumbledore vouch for someone that he then tries to hide something from?"

"You are just begging the question," Hermione scoffed. "How can we assume that just because Snape was vouched for once that he won't succumb to recidivism? And wouldn't a Professor of Hogwarts be in the very perfect position to attempt to steal from Hogwarts?"

"And you are just resorting to typical anti-Slytherin ad homimen attacks," Padma retorted. "If Professor Snape wasn't a Slytherin, you'd never suspect him."

Hermione frowned. "That's ridiculous! I would never be so subjective! I'm just admitting the possibility of his guilt, while you can't even seem to do even that. And at exactly what point in this conversation have I ever even mentioned anything about Slytherin? The first person to even bring it up was you, and just now!"

Padma shook her head, looking a bit confused. "I do not understand why you are so emotionally invested in this argument. Reasoning should not be connected to emotion."

"Is that right?" Hermione sneered. "While of course I agree you shouldn't allow emotion to color one's arguments, that hardly means there is no place for emotional resonance. Issues that are important to you personally will be ones you argue more about."

"I don't understand that perspective at all," Padma said, shaking her head.

"And there you have it," Lavender said in an aside to Ron and Neville. "The difference between Gryffindors and Ravenclaws."

Neville blinked in surprise, then his expression became quite thoughtful.

"Nice, Lavender," Ron smiled.

Harry leaned over and whispered to Parvati. "Want to work on Charms homework while they're arguing? Softly, of course."

Parvati smiled. "Well, all right. But perhaps we should keep an ear open in case they get out of hand. I know both of them well enough that this might get heated."

"Or if they ever get back to actually figuring out who's trying to steal the stone," Harry pointed out.

Parvati nodded with a grin.

Such frequent debates often took up most of their shared mystery-investigation sessions, often going on for the entirety of their time together. Even with the spirited arguments, everyone tended to get along well enough, although Ron often said it was never quite clear to him what two thirds of the words they spat at each other meant.

"If you had read Pinderkross's Opines on Muggle Relations, you would grasp the futility of your position."

Hermione scowled and said, "Pinderkross was just a bigoted drunkard, and you know it!"

"I fail to see the relevance of alcoholism to incendiary anti-Muggle pejoratives," said Padma, shaking her head. "As usual, you allow your personal distaste for antisocial personality traits bias you against perfectly rational arguments."

"Oh, never mind all that," replied Hermione. "I'll have you know I did finally read that stupid book you keep quoting, Treatises on Alchemical Theory."

Padma brightened. "Oh, good! Then you've finally acknowledged the specious connections between prototypical Potions and post-transitional Alchemical work."

"I have done nothing of the sort," insisted Hermione. "If anything, my position is clearly supported: an expert Potions brewer would indeed find cause to investigate 'the mysterious aspects of inter-chemical dependencies', as that book states with truly awful grammar."

"Which means?" Ron asked in an exhausted tone.

"No, that's ridiculous," said Padma sternly. "Professor Snape could not possibly desire to supplement his advanced understanding of Magical chemistry with some outdated and primitive form of Muggle-inspired lunacy."

"Ah ha!" Hermione announced in triumph. "If Alchemy is so useless, then why have no modern Potions brewers been able to reproduce the effects of the Philosopher's Stone?"

"Um," Padma frowned. "I'm not sure, exactly."

"Then Snape would not be able to replicate the effects himself, so the Stone would be a valid item he might desire, would it not?"

Padma rubbed her chin thoughtfully, considering this. "Hmm, you may be right after all. And at the very least, you were right about the Stone's connection to gold, and pecuniary interests tempt us all."

"So..." Parvati said slowly. "If I'm following that, which I am sure I am not, that means Snape might be the thief?"

"Yes," Padma nodded. "I will admit that the possibility does exist."

Lavender sighed and looked up from her Herbology homework, which Neville had been helping her complete. "Did something actually happen? Did we actually figure anything out?"

"I think they just both agreed that Snape might be the thief," Harry ventured. "Although as I've said already, I'm not so sure. It could be a different Professor, or even one of the older students."

"That broke into Gringotts?" Ron pointed out.

"You both have good points," said Hermione. "Although it seems that Professor Snape is the obvious choice with his connection to You-Know-Who, we don't even know for certain that You-Know-Who is involved."

"Although..." Padma said slowly. "If You-Know-Who was involved somehow, she would have sufficient knowledge to break into Gringotts, even if she couldn't perform the task personally."

Harry asked, "Not personally? You think Vol... I mean, You-Know-Who is like a ghost or something? Or something like Peeves?"

Ron shuddered. "That's a horrid thought. Peeves and You-Know-Who combined."

Padma shrugged. "Many things are possible when it comes to the Dark Arts, and unfortunately, they are hardly the things Hogwarts teaches or most available books would explain. I must admit ignorance in this particular instance."

"What about you, Hermione?" asked Lavender encouragingly.

Hermione looked fairly annoyed that she might also have to admit ignorance. "Well, I don't know either. Are we saying that the thief might actually be You-Know-You herself?"

"Blimey," said Ron in amazement.

"Are you positive you don't want to come, Harriet? I'm sure we have room for you." Parvati looked simultaneously anxious and hopeful.

Harry shook his head. Parvati's invitation to spend the Christmas holidays with her and Padma's family was very kind indeed, but Harry didn't really want to impose. And he didn't really want to admit it, but there was an aspect of living with the Dursleys that Harry missed: the ability to spend some time alone. Since coming to Hogwarts, Harry had been seemingly around people all the time, and it would be nice to just relax in a room by himself.

Lavender and Hermione were also going home, so Harry would have the entire room to himself.

"Thanks, but this is my very first holiday in the Magical world, and I am very excited to see how Hogwarts celebrates," said Harry. This part was also quite true - and hopefully no trolls would show up this time to spoil things. "Besides, I won't be entirely alone; Ron and Neville will be here, and a few people I sort of know from the other houses."

"But it'll just be you and all those boys!" Lavender pointed out. "That might get quite annoying."

Harry laughed. "I think I'll be okay. And best of all, Malfoy won't be here, so I won't even have to worry about seeing him."

The girls laughed.

"Well, if you're sure, Harriet." Parvati leaned forward and hugged Harry tightly, leaving him a bit startled, with no idea of what to do with his hands.

Had that been his first embrace with a friend? Harry supposed his parents must have hugged him, but not in his memory. He sniffed, his eyes feeling a bit wet for some reason.

Parvati released him and smiled. "Happy Christmas, then. I think Hermione's still in the room deciding which books to take."

"No, I've abandoned that," Hermione said sadly from nearby. "I can't take library books off the grounds, unfortunately. But perhaps I can convince my parents to stop by Diagon Alley and pick up something from Flourish and Blotts."

Ron piped up from his chair in the common room. "You know, I'm not sure how I'm going to be able to handle going without references to the library or Flourish and Blotts for so long."

"Ron!" said Hermione, scandalized. "Are you saying you won't be helping to research while we're gone? Even though you'll still have access to the library?"

"Oh come on," Ron whined. "It's the holidays!"

"Give him a break, Hermione," Lavender said with a smile. "His brain is full."

Ron nodded eagerly. "Yes, completely."

"Oh, very well," Hermione shook her head but looked amused nonetheless. "Harriet, I hope you at least will research something, either the Mystery or your own project. It'd be a waste of free time otherwise."

"I will do something," Harry promised. "And please have a happy, relaxing holiday yourself."

Hermione nodded primly. "I will, thank you."

In a way, it didn't seem like the holidays truly began until the girls left, although Harry knew he would miss them. He spent Christmas Eve relaxing with Ron and Neville in the common room, talking idly or playing various Wizarding games. Neville had thankfully finally managed to stop stuttering while talking to Harry, which came as a welcome change.

Harry had not been expecting any presents for Christmas, as the Dursleys tended not to give Harry much, if anything. But when he awoke, several packages awaited him in the girl's dorm room.

He grabbed the smallest, which only contained something quite odd. It was from the Dursleys, and attached to the note was a small, cheap red hair clip.

This is your last Christmas present. We expect you won't need any more, so don't ask.

From Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon

Harry was completely befuddled by the bizarre gift, although not surprised at the sentiment of the note. He decided to open the remaining presents, all of which seemed quite a bit bulkier.

Hagrid had given him a hand carved wooden flute that actually worked, and Hermione had given him some candy and the book Wondrous Witches of History, with a note hoping it might help with his mother's research. Lavender and Parvati had each gotten Harry earrings, and he felt immediately guilty that he had not gotten them anything - and that he really did not want to wear the earrings, either.

Professor Snape had given Harry a small book on Potions called Liquid Aptitude: Abandoning the Basics. Included was a note telling him that under no circumstances, was "anyone else permitted to see it". Neville had gotten him a pack of Chocolate Frogs.

Harry now realized he would have to find gifts for everyone; unfortunately, living with his relatives, the concept of reciprocal gift giving was completely foreign. The only problem was that he wasn't even sure how he'd find a way to get presents in the first place.

There were two remaining packages, each unlabeled. One was a very nice sweater with some fudge, but the other one... it was a mysterious, silvery and thin cloak. Harry's first thought was that it was some sort of dress - but then he read the note.

Your father left this in my possession before he died.

It is time it was returned to you.

Use it well.

Well that was a different matter then. If his father had owned the cloak and it had been given to Harry as a gift, it could be worn by anyone. He put on the cloak, which was astonishingly light and airy.

"Hmm, I wonder if everyone else is up."

Harry ran downstairs to the common room, and saw that Neville was sitting by himself.

"Neville, Happy Christmas!" Harry said loudly.

Neville looked over and yelped. "H-Harriet what's wrong with your... you're invisible!"

"What?" Harry looked down and then almost yelped himself. Everywhere the cloak was wrapped, Harry was completely invisible. He wasn't sure how he had missed it.

"Where did you get that?" Neville asked. "Invisibility Cloaks are supposed to be really rare."

Harry shrugged and pulled off the cloak, deciding it probably would look odd if anyone saw him like that. "I got it as a gift. Apparently, it belonged to my dad."

"Oh." Neville paused. "Um, did you get my gift?"

"Yes, of course!" Harry enthused. "But I completely forgot to get you anything - but please don't feel bad, I forgot to get anybody anything."

"Really?" asked Neville in surprise.

"Yeah, but I'm not sure where I can even go to get stuff for anyone."

"Oh, I see the problem," said Neville. "I asked Gran to send some gifts, but I suppose you don't have anyone to contact, since your relatives are Muggles. If we were older, we could go to Hogsmeade, but you need to be third-year to go."

"I'll get you something as soon as I can," Harry promised. "I feel awful I forgot."

"Don't worry about, H-Harriet," Neville said, barely stammering at all. "I'm just glad I wasn't the only one you didn't give a gift to."

"Oh is that what happened?"

It was Ron, who had just come down the stairs. "I'm glad Harriet is just plain forgetful then."

"Shut it," Harry growled with a smile. "You know, it's odd. I got two gifts I don't know who sent. That Invisibility Cloak, for one."

"Your what cloak?" Ron hissed.

Neville looked around the room in alarm. "You shouldn't be talking about that too loudly, Harriet. They are quite rare and it might get confiscated."

"Oh, all right then," said Harry, and he stuffed the cloak into his robes.

"Blimey," said Ron. "What was the other gift, Erumpet horn?"

"No, just a sweater and some fudge."

Ron groaned. "Well I know who sent you that. It was my mum - sorry, I told her you didn't expect any presents. But the fudge should be good; if you don't want it, I'll be glad to eat it."

"I expect you would," Harry quipped.

The holiday continued to go quite splendidly. Hogwarts continued to serve even more astoundingly delectable food, to the point where Harry felt his stomach might burst and even Ron seemed to get his fill. The crazed antics of the Weasleys and a frenzied snow fight also added an air of sheer joy to the air.

But Harry's mind kept returning to the mysterious cloak. A connection to his father, and a way to be hidden from anyone else while under the cloak - it was large enough to completely cover him.

So late that night, Harry crept out of bed, sneaking through the castle. His first thought was to check the Restricted Section of the library for anything that might relate to his curse, since normally students weren't permitted to see Restricted books. But one of the musty, old books startled Harry horribly when he opened it and it screamed.

He ran out of the library only to nearly step on Mrs. Norris, Filch's mangy old cat. Harry tried to stop and ended up tripping over the cloak, pulling it halfway off his head. With no time to readjust, Harry ran, just as Filch's lantern came into sight.

"Eh, what's this? Who goes there?"

Harry, of course, did not stop running, although he took a brief moment to throw back on the cloak and duck out sight.

"I saw you," Filch yelled, stomping down the hall and then completely passing Harry by. It appeared the Cloak worked as expected. "You can't hide forever," the twisted old man snarled. "And I saw your red hair - ain't that many of you in this school, probably a damned Weasley again."

His voice faded as Filch vanished down the hall.

Harry slowly released a breath he didn't realize he was holding. He looked around and realized he was in a part of the castle he didn't recognize. Harry walked around a bit aimlessly, trying to get his bearings, but then he spotted a room with an open door. Something seemed to draw Harry to the room, and he slowly crept over.

On the wall of the room was a magnificent mirror, stretched up to the ceiling, with a mysterious inscription carved around the top: Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi.

"How bizarre," Harry pondered softly. He walked over to the mirror to get a closer look, but when he casually glanced at the mirror, he had to clap a hand on his mouth to prevent himself from shouting.

There were people in the mirror surrounding his reflection. Harry looked around the room, but no one else was there. He moved closer to the mirror and saw himself standing next to oddly familiar people.

A beautiful red-haired woman stood there, waving and smiling. Her eyes were green too, just like Harry's eyes. And next to her stood a man with glasses and untidy black hair - very familiar black hair.

"Mum?" Harry whispered. "Dad?"

Could it be? Could they even hear him? Harry looked around carefully, realizing that the others in the reflection must be his various relatives, long gone.

A terrible ache came over him, and Harry stepped right up to the glass, as if he could fall right through it. If only he could just touch them...

But then another figure stepped into view, and Harry stood back in shock.

It was a girl, about Harry's height, with red hair and hazel eyes - almost like a miniature version of Harry's mother. The girl walked over to Harry's reflected self and put her arm under his shoulder. She winked and hugged the mirror Harry.

Harry stood shock still, unable to speak or move. And then an utterly mad temptation suddenly rushed over him.

"H-Harriet? Is that... you?" His other self, trapped forever?

The reflected girl laughed happily and just hugged the mirror Harry tighter.

Perhaps if he concentrated hard enough, Harry could almost feel it...

Harry didn't know how long he stood, watching himself and his girl self standing with his parents. But the images never faded.

Eventually he managed to wrench himself away and head back to bed.

But the next night, Harry desperately wanted to return to see the mirror, and Ron and Neville noticed his anxiety.

"What's wrong, Harriet?" asked Ron worriedly. "You seem out of sorts."

Then Harry realized that not only did he want to see the mirror, he also wanted his friends to see it as well - he needed it. He had to know what they saw - a girl, or a boy? Harry had no evidence to back it up, but he somehow felt it would provide some clue to the great mysterious curse.

"There's something I want you guys to see," Harry quickly explained about the mirror, although he did not mention his "other" self.

"It shows your parents in it?" Neville asked nervously.

"No, just mine," assured Harry. "At least that's what I think it does."

Ron brightened. "It'd be cool to see your parents, Harriet. Let's go!"

Although the other two seemed a bit uncomfortable, they all fit comfortably under the cloak and slowly made their way to the mirror.

"Finally! Here it is," Harry whispered.

He walked over, and sure enough, his parents and "Harriet" stood there, watching him.

"Come on, guys, don't you see?"

Ron and Neville both walked over and then gasped almost simultaneously.

"This... this can't be!" Ron said in shock.

Neville blinked and seemed like he was about to cry.

"Wait, I don't understand," said Harry. "Don't you see my parents?"

"Um, no," Ron gulped. "I don't see that. I see something else."

"What do you see in the Mirror?" Harry asked.

"Um, I'd rather not say," Ron said, his ears a bit red.

"What do you mean?" Harry turned to Neville in frustration. "What do you see Neville?"

Neville shook his head. "I don't want to say either."

Harry scowled and looked back at the mirror - then he had a sudden revelation. If their reflections were anything close to what he had seen, it must be something exceedingly personal. And Harry wasn't even revealing everything he saw, after all.

"I'm sorry guys," Harry apologized. "I guess maybe it's kinda personal question. Never mind."

Ron looked askance at the mirror. "I don't like this mirror, Harriet. It's not right, I don't know. But I don't like it. We should go."

Neville nodded in agreement. "He's right, Harriet. We should go."

Harry was outvoted, so he sneaked back to the dorms with them. But he couldn't shake the temptation, and realized he knew he had to come back.

The next night, Harry quietly crept down the stairs to the common room, ready to revisit the mirror. But there, in the soft candlelight, Neville sat, reading a book.

Neville looked up. "Oh, I was wondering when you'd come down."

Harry blinked in surprise. "What do you mean? How did you know I'd want to go back?"

"I know," Neville said with a sigh. "Because I see the same thing."

"W-What?" Harry stammered. He moved closer so he could speak more quietly. "You mean you see my parents after all?"

"No," Neville shook his head. "I see my parents."

"Oh, Neville, I didn't," Harry stopped. "I didn't realize your parents had also died."

Neville looked off with a distant expression. "I sometimes wish they had. It feels worse this way."

"What do you mean?" Harry asked.

Neville looked back at Harry with a very determined look on his face. "Harriet, my parents are alive, but they aren't well. When I was only a baby, they were tortured badly until their minds broke. They've been in St. Mungo's since then. That's the Wizarding hospital."

Harry sat down, taken aback. "I... I don't know what to say, Neville. I'm so sorry."

"The point is that I know how you feel," Neville explained. "I've visited my parents, of course, but they rarely even seem to know it's me. I've never seen my parents healthy once in my life." He paused and then sighed. "I know I can't convince you not to go back to the Mirror. If my parents had died, I don't know that I could help it either. But I want you to realize that it's not natural, it's nor normal. That's the type of magical object that's in all the old stories - the thing that tries to trap you."

Harry swallowed. "Maybe, I can just go one more time?"

"Do you promise, Harriet?" Neville asked sternly. "There are real people who are your friends, not fake images behind glass."

Harry thought he had never seen Neville like this, and nodded.

"I promise," Harry said, honestly, meaning it. He hoped he could keep the promise.

But once back at the Mirror, Harry sat down with a frown, quite conflicted. The wondrous and confusing image before him and Neville's words kept vying for dominance in his head.

"So — back again, are we?"

Harry leaped up in the shock, his cloak falling off in his surprise.

Sitting on one of the desks was Professor Dumbledore.

Next time...

A riddle, a face, and a heart.

"So we're agreed then?" Parvati asked.

"Yes," agreed Harry. "It's Volotredi."

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