7: The Mystery of the Mirror
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter.
Harry and the Mysterious Curse of the Girl-Who-Lived
All praise goes to the almighty beta, who sees typos before they exist and drags plot inconsistencies, horribly screaming, into the bowels of nothingness.
CHAPTER SEVEN: THE MYSTERY OF THE MIRROR
"Okay, let me think for a second," Harry paced back and forth in front of Fluffy's door. "We need to follow after whoever it is - probably You-Know-Who in some manner, though. But we still should find the Professors and tell them about it - in case they don't already know."
"I'll do it," Lavender interjected. "I'm rubbish at the kind of magic you'd need to go after You-Know-Who. At least this way I'm still being useful."
"That's not fair," Harry insisted forcefully. "You're just as useful as any one of us. We don't all need to go in the trapdoor after all."
"Well, how about this, then?" Parvati asked. "I'll go one way, and Lav can go the other. And if we can't find anyone, we'll come straight back here to watch the exit."
Harry nodded. "That's a good idea. We don't know what's down there - the rest of you don't have to follow me."
Ron scowled. "Don't be stupid, Harriet. If we're not doing something useful like trying to alert the staff, we're not going to just sit around twiddling our thumbs."
"He's right," said Hermione. "We're going with you."
Neville looked pale but still nodded.
"Fine, then," said Harry. "No time to argue. Let's go!"
Parvati and Lavender each raced off in separate directions, and the others gingerly approached the slumbering beast. Hermione peered down the open trapdoor with a lit wand.
"I think there's some sort of cushioning," she said slowly. "At least I hope so. I can't quite make it out."
"We don't have time to argue," Harry said in an angry whisper. "Any moment now that harp might stop playing - and I don't know about you, but I can't sing a note."
"Fine, I'll do it," said Ron suddenly and before anyone would respond, he jumped into the hole. Hermione gasped and peered into it.
"It's fine!" Ron called out. "Landed on something soft."
Harry grinned. "That's something at least. Okay, Ron, move out of the way, we're coming down!" He then leaped down after Ron, landing on something soft and rubbery.
He moved aside to let Hermione and Neville jump down as well.
Hermione blinked as she moved her light around the room. "Oh, it was some sort of plant. Lucky it was here, then, wasn't it?"
Ron laughed. "Poor thing got squished."
Neville frowned then raised his wand. "Wait a minute, I think I recognize this plant! Look out!"
The plant had been twisting tentacles around them, and Harry realized to his horror that he couldn't get free.
"It's a Devil's Snare," Nevile continued. "I know how to deal with it. Guard your eyes! Lumos Solem!" A frighteningly bright light nearly blinded them, even through Harry's tightly shut eyes. But he could feel the tentacles retracting.
"You guys are free," said Neville. "We should move on."
"That was brilliant, Neville!" Hermione beamed. "Excellent Herbology work."
Neville blushed. "It's not that impressive."
Harry shook his head in disagreement. "Yeah, it was - but you're right, we have to keep moving."
The four ran down a narrow stone passageway for a short while before arriving in an enormous, very well lit chamber. Hundreds of small flying glittering things hovered about them, buzzing in every direction.
"How odd," Hermione mused. "Are they supposed to be attacking us?"
"There's a door across the room," Ron pointed out.
Harry nodded. "Then we should just make a break for it. Cover your heads!"
They ran across the room, and Harry expected to be attacked at any moment - but nothing happened.
"Huh," Ron grunted. "That was odd." He tried the door, which was locked. "Well, I guess it couldn't be that easy."
Hermione tried magically unlocking the door, but nothing seemed to work.
"Are those broomsticks over there?" Neville asked suddenly, pointing at a corner of the room.
"Yes. Well spotted, Neville," said Harry with a grin. "So, do you think we're supposed to use one of those birds somehow?" He squinted as he looked up, then gasped in realization. "Those aren't birds, guys - they're keys. And how much you want to bet one of them unlocks the door?"
"But there are millions of 'em!" Ron said with a frown.
"Don't exaggerate, Ron!" Hermione scolded. "Although there do seem to be at least several hundred of them."
Harry shrugged. "Well let me see if we can find it. Maybe one of them will seem obvious." He grabbed a broom and jumped into the air. "Come on, let's go!"
Ron grabbed a broomstick as well, but Hermione and Neville held back.
"Are you quite sure it's necessary?" Hermione asked nervously.
"You've gotten past those lessons already, Hermione," Ron said in annoyance. "You can do this."
"But I can't," Neville worried. "I'll fall again."
Harry hovered next to the ground next to Neville. "Listen, we don't need you to do anything fancy - just look around. I know you can do this, Neville. You'll be fine." He grabbed a broomstick and tossed it over to Neville, who caught it worriedly.
Neville frowned and sighed deeply. "Well... Well, all right, I'll try." He carefully rose into the air, his face in utter and complete concentration.
"So you joining us?" Ron asked, smirking at Hermione.
Hermione scowled. "Very well, yes."
Harry sped into the cloud of flying keys, looking carefully for anything out of the ordinary. But his practice at spotting Golden Snitches in the middle of giant Quidditch fields had given Harry the ability for seeing things out of the ordinary. And sure enough...
"I think I see it!" Harry said excitedly. "Silver one, broken wing. It's the only one with a broken wing, I bet cause it was caught once already." He frowned, considering how to catch the key as it kept darting about. "Okay, nobody move! Ron, you're the best flier after me, you come from above - Neville can move from below. Hermione, you drive it towards me, and I'll try to grab it."
Everyone nodded their assent and moved into position.
"Okay, on my mark... Ready... NOW!" The key jumped away from Hermione and Ron's hands, flying quickly to the side. But Harry barely matched its speed and almost jumped off the broom leaning forward, but managed to yank it out of the air.
Hermione and Ron applauded, while Neville seemed to be taking that time to very carefully descend to the ground.
The others landed quickly and raced to the door. Harry rammed the wriggling key into the lock, and it fit perfectly. He turned the key and pulled the door open.
"We did it!" he said with a grin. "And nobody broke anything!"
"I never doubted us for a second," Ron scoffed.
Neville was extremely pale but managed to smile slightly.
The next chamber was very dimly lit, although the room suddenly flooded with light as the group stepped forward. The sight was actually quite familiar.
It was an enormous magical chess set, although the faceless pieces were twice as tall as any of them and carved out of shining black and white stone. They were fairly creepy to boot.
"Maybe we can go around them?" Neville ventured nervously.
They tried to move around the board, but the door was on the other side, directly behind the white king.
"Hmm, this is an odd riddle," Harry said in consideration.
"Oh, this is nonsense! Who creates a giant, sentient chess set?" Hermione cried out in frustration.
"Well, I would if I could," Ron admitted.
Hermione rolled her eyes.
"I guess we have to - play?" Neville asked.
Harry nodded. "Yeah, I guess so. Ron, can you take the lead?"
Ron blinked then grinned widely. "Yeah, good idea, the rest of you are rubbish at chess anyway."
Hermione smacked him on the back of the head. "Don't be so boastful! Now tell us how to win!"
Ron arranged the four of them in strategic positions. "This won't be so bad; no magical chess set can beat the best human players, only beginners."
"Gee, thanks," Harry said dryly.
"No offense, Harriet," Ron said quickly. "But the point is that we should be able to win." He took a deep breath. "Let's do this."
They moved in accordance to Ron's shouted directions, and several tense minutes slowly passed. When their first piece was taken by the opposing white chessmen, the impact of the blow shook the board as one of their pawns crumpled to the ground.
"Don't worry about it," Ron said with a shaky voice. "Easy sacrifice to make - now we can take out their knights."
Hermione was staring at the crumpled form of the pawn. "Do you think they can somehow rebuild themselves? They were all pristine when we came in."
"Makes sense," Neville answered timidly. It seemed he was trying to distract himself. "I guess it was probably Professor McGonagall
"Please be quiet," Ron hissed. "I need to concentrate."
After another half dozen careful moves, Ron suddenly cursed. "Merlin's bloody nose! I didn't think of that!"
"What is it, Ron?" asked Hermione worriedly. "Did you make a mistake?"
Ron sighed. "I'm not used to playing with actual people that can actually get hurt. You and Harriet are both in danger because I was thinking in terms of pieces I could sacrifice. Let me look over the board for a second." He looked back and forth in deep thought.
"I thought you said human players could beat any chess set?" Hermione worried.
"Enough, Hermione," Ron yelled. "I could put them in checkmate easily if I just sacrifice one of you, but I don't want to do that, okay?"
Hermione nodded, looking very chagrined.
Ron sat down for a second and closed his eyes, putting his arms outstretched, as if he was trying to play the game on a smaller, more normal scale. After a few moments, he sighed and got back to his feet.
"Okay," he said slowly. "I have another way we can still win, but you won't like it."
"If you need to sacrifice one of us, I'm sure it can't be that bad," Harry said confidently, although he didn't quite feel that way. "How hard could a bunch of statues hit anyway?"
Ron shook his head. "No, but there is one way... if I sacrifice myself, and then you do exactly what I tell you to do, you can take the king."
"No!" Hermione yelped. "Surely there's another way?"
"Chess games can take ages," Ron pointed out. "Especially if I have to keep trying to keep one of you from getting taken. And correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't we in a bit of hurry here?"
Harry sighed and drooped a bit. "He's right, guys." He straightened and looked straight at Ron. "But if you get killed, I'll never forgive you."
Ron let out a kind of harsh laugh at that. "Fair enough. And at least I won't have to worry about my Mum getting mad then either."
"You can sacrifice me," Neville offered, looking scared but oddly intense.
"No, it's not that simple," Ron said sadly. "This is the fastest way other than letting Harriet and Hermione get hit instead. And I can't let that happen."
Neville sighed and nodded. "I understand."
"Okay, so listen up," Ron said briskly with a overly large grin. "Hermione, when the queen takes me, you move into the position she used to be in. Then no matter what they do, Harriet, you move to the right, diagonally, five space. That will be enough to get them into checkmate. We good?"
The others nodded and Ron moved into his target place. The white queen rushed over, stone fists raised high, as they all tensed and froze in place.
"Cover your face!" Harry suddenly shouted out instinctively.
Ron managed to hold up his hands just before the white queen knocked him to the ground. He didn't move.
"Don't move, Hermione!" Harry yelled. "Otherwise, his sacrifice will be for nothing. Neville, you're closest - does he look okay?"
Neville leaned a bit and peered over at Ron's slumped form. "I think... I think he's breathing. He's moving slightly. Ron, can you hear me?"
Ron didn't answer.
"Well, at least he's alive," said Harry with relief. "Now let's follow his instructions. Hermione, you remember what to do?"
Hermione's face had paled dramatically, but she nodded. She moved to flank the king and they waited for the countering move. The white queen leaped forward and smashed one of their rooks to the ground, getting very close to the black king.
Harry quickly moved to the correct position, and thankfully it worked - the white king took his crown and threw it at Harry's feet. The statues all moved out of the way of the exit.
"Kind of a sore loser," muttered Neville and ran over to check on Ron. "He's definitely breathing, but he's out cold. Bruised his arms pretty bad too."
Harry nodded. "Okay, then I suppose we should move on. Come on, we still have... how many left, do you reckon?"
"Well, this one was McGonagall's," said Neville. "And obviously the Devil's Snare was Sprout's."
"I suppose the charmed keys ought to be from Flitwick," Hermione conjectured. "And we already know Fluffy is Hagrid's pet. So all that's left is Snape and Quirrell."
Harry scowled. "Figures it's the ones we were worried about."
As they continued down the corridor, opening another door, a disgusting but oddly familiar smell filled their nostrils. Harry had a feeling he knew what was ahead, and sure enough, just ahead an enormous troll was on the ground, completely unconscious and drooling grossly.
Neville took a step back involuntarily.
Harry looked at Hermione with a grin. "Brings back great memories, doesn't it? Giant smelly troll, out cold?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Don't be daft. Just be glad we don't have to deal with it. Neville, come on it's not awake, you're safe!"
"You guys fought a troll like this?" Neville whispered haltingly.
"This one is bigger," said Harry, already moving past it. "But you shouldn't just stick around here - it might wake up."
That got Neville moving quickly to catch up.
They all stepped through to the next room, and as Neville walked over the threshold, an angry purple fire immediately sprang up behind them in the doorway. At the same instant, black flames shot up in the doorway leading onward.
"Look at this!" Hermione said excitedly, pointing to a table with seven differently shaped bottles. "Potions! And a note!" She unfurled it and began to read it carefully.
"It must be Snape's room," Harry realized.
Neville frowned and looked back behind them. "But doesn't that mean that the troll is Quirrell's? How did he get it in here?"
Harry nodded thoughtfully. "Well spotted, Neville. And I wouldn't be surprised if that troll we fought last year was connected in some way. Why would Quirrell be able to bring a troll in for protection but be so scared when one showed up on Halloween?"
"Maybe he brought both in but one escaped?" Neville guessed. "Not saying that's what happened, but it's possible he didn't intend for it to escape."
"I suppose," Harry allowed. "Hermione, what's on that note anyway? You seem highly distracted."
"It's a kind of riddle," said Hermione absently, looking back and forth between the bottles and the note. "It basically says that one potion will let you go forward and another will take you back. And three are actually poison, but the riddle uses logic to tell you which is which. I think I've almost got it."
She frowned and then, after a pause, nodded confidently. "Okay, I think I have it," she said. "The smallest bottle will get us through the black fire — toward the Stone. And that rounded bottle at the end takes us back."
"Aren't they kind of small?" Neville asked nervously.
Harry peered at the tiny bottles. "They don't look like they could contain more than a bit left. Whoever came through either drank some or knew how to disable the trap. Hermione, what do you think? Is there enough for more than one of us? Enough for even one?"
"Oh no!" Hermione gasped. "You're right, Harriet! Based on the size, there's only enough for one - for each bottle. That means only one person can go forward and one person can go back."
"Well," Harry said very slowly. "I suppose I should go forward."
"No!" Hermione insisted. "That's... I mean..." She trailed off.
Neville looked grim. "I think I can make it partly easier on you girls. I've got less of a chance of doing anything useful against You-Know-Who or Quirrell, or Snape even, or whoever. But I can go check on Ron at least... and maybe find a way back up the trapdoor."
"You could use those brooms in the key room," Harry said with a forced grin. "I know you don't like flying - but I know you can do it, Neville. As long as Fluffy is still asleep. And maybe you can check on Parvati and Lavender's search for anyone to help."
"Okay, that settles it then," Neville said firmly. "Hermione, it's the rounded one on the end, isn't it?"
She nodded silently.
"Okay, good luck you two. I know that either one of you could easily win - not a doubt in my mind." With that, Neville grabbed the indicated bottle and uncorked it.
Hermione looked about to cry and she grabbed Neville in a hug. "Please be careful yourself," she said. "Thank you for being so brave."
Neville looked surprised but patted Hermione on the back. "Thank you, but I need to go check on Ron. Good luck." He drank the bottle and then shivered. "Cold." Neville turned back and smiled. "See you on the other side." He walked through the fire and came out the other side completely unscathed. He turned back once to wave, then ran in the direction of the chess room.
Hermione looked back at Harry, with a horrid worried expression on her face. "Harriet, I know Neville has the greatest confidence in us... but we can't beat You-Know-Who or a Professor!"
"I beat her once before," Harry said, pointing at his scar. "And after that, a Professor can't be that bad, can it? I'll be fine. And if someone else manages to come back, you can toss a bottle of poison at them."
Hermione giggled shrilly then stopped, and suddenly burst into tears. "Harriet... you don't have to do this!"
"You know I do, Hermione," said Harry firmly.
Hermione grabbed Harry and embraced him tightly. She then stood back, tears running down her face.
"If anything happened to you," she said. "I couldn't bear it. You're the greatest person I know. And the first person to ever really be my friend."
Harry sighed, feeling highly embarrassed. "Hermione, I don't think it's all that dramatic. And to be honest - I didn't have any friends before Hogwarts either."
"That can't be true," Hermione insisted.
"The Dursleys made it kind of hard," Harry said with a rueful chuckle.
"Oh," Hermione realized. "I had forgotten about your relatives." Her face crumbled. "You see? It's even worse! You are so strong and brilliant, even with your difficult upbringing. And everyone loves you."
"Hermione, stop!" Harry protested. "I care about you too - all of my friends. And you're really the smartest one in the group - and I'm counting Padma in that too. Sometimes I think she has no common sense at all."
Hermione sighed very heavily. "Harriet, I only wish that someday I can be a witch like you. If everything people say about your mother is true, I imagine you must take after her more than a little." She looked up with a watery smile. "That's a compliment, by the way, I know you don't like being complimented for girlish things."
"I think I can handle this one exception," Harry said, feeling a bit choked in his throat. "But I need to get moving... Which bottle is it again?"
Hermione handed the correct bottle to him.
"Good luck, Harriet." Hermione bit her lip then seemed to gather some sort of inner strength together. "I believe in you."
Harry blinked back a bit of sudden moisture in his eyes.
"Thank you," he said simply, and drank the potion. Instantly a wave of ice flooded his body, just like Neville had said. He nodded once to Hermione, and then stepped through the fire into the final chamber.
Someone he knew was standing there before him - Professor Quirrell. Standing before the Mirror of Erised - which Dumbledore must have put there after Harry's late night adventures to see it.
"So it is you!" Harry said, pulling out his wand - although he wasn't sure quite what he'd be able to do against the older man.
Quirrell turned around and had a disturbing smile on his face. "I wondered if I'd see you here, Miss Potter. You suspected me, did you?"
Harry shrugged. "Well, either you or Snape. We had some disagreements in the group, but personally I never thought Snape was quite evil enough to steal the Stone."
Quirrell's eyes narrowed. "Evil? Severus? I think you misunderstand the term and our dear Potions Professor. He has done some wonderfully evil things in his life, I assure you." He grinned again creepily. "Some horrible things to your parents, in point of fact. Would you like for me to explain?"
"No!" Harry snorted. "And why aren't you stuttering anymore? Afraid you'll actually appear competent for once?"
"Watch your mouth, Potter!" Quirrell spat. "That stutter worked quite well to keep people from suspecting p-poor, h-helpless Qu-Quirrell."
"Not really," Harry pointed out. "We suspected you. And I get the feeling Snape did too, unless he was working with you."
"No, he was not," Quirrell said angrily. "The shortsighted fool did not understand what was going on in the slightest. He's practically Dumbledore's footstool these days, anyway - I ought not to have bothered."
"Watch your mouth," Harry replied angrily. "Dumbledore is a million times the wizard you or Volotredi is! And speaking of which, where is the old bag anyway? How are you connected?"
Quirrell laughed. "Ah, the stupidity and naivete of the young. The dark mistress has been with me all along - well, ever since the bank. I failed her then, so she decided to take a more, personal role supervising me." He then shuddered and looked around in sudden fright. "Never mind all that. Expelliarmus!"
Instantly Harry's wand leaped out of his hand.
"I'm not about to let you near me with a wand, Potter," scoffed Quirrell. "Now get over to the wall... slowly! Stay precisely where I can see you." After Harry had moved, the Professor turned back to the Mirror and cursed under his breath. This mirror is the key to finding the Stone - trust Dumbledore to come up with something like this… but he's in London… I'll be far away by the time he gets back…"
"Oh, is that where he is?" Harry asked, feeling bizarrely confident and rude. "Why were all the Professors in a secret meeting?"
"Distractions, naturally," Quirrell said absently. "For some reason, Dumbledore seemed to think the Stone was in more danger than before. He said that if he was called away from Hogwarts, that the Professors should immediately check on the Stone's protections. Of course, we couldn't have that, so I staged another troll break-in to keep the Professors' attention."
Quirrell looked at his reflection and frowned. "Hmm, how odd. I see the Stone… I'm presenting it to my mistress… but where is it?"
"Kind of easy to figure out," Harry said boastfully, although he had no idea himself. "But you're such a rubbish teacher, it's no shock you're rubbish at this too."
Quirrell gritted his teeth in fury, and the clutched his head. "I am sorry, my mistress. What should I do? I need your help, dark glorious one."
A horrible voice answered, almost seeming to come from Quirrell himself. Harry felt quite confused by this - was Quirrell somehow both Volotredi and himself?
Quirrell rounded on Harry.
"Yes — Potter — come here. Slowly, mind you."
Harry slowly walked over, dragging out as much time as possible.
"Stop lolly-gagging about!" Quirrell snarled and yanked his wand backwards, causing Harry to stumble forwards toward the mirror. "Now then, get up and look in the mirror and tell me what you see."
Harry was completely unsure of what he would see this time.
He saw his reflection as before, a boy thankfully, but then, a moment later, his girl reflection appeared from nowhere and smiled at him. She held up a blood-red stone and winked. She then dropped in the male Harry's pocket, who looked as surprised as Harry himself did. And crazily, but unmistakeably, Harry felt something heavy drop into his real pocket. Somehow — incredibly —he'd gotten the Stone.
Well, that wasn't good.
"Well?" said Quirrell impatiently. "What do you see?"
Harry wasn't about to tell the truth, but perhaps a mix of honesty and lies would suffice. He plastered a happy smile on his face.
"It's marvelous!" he enthused. "I'm there with Dumbledore and my parents and all my friends, and I'm holding the House Cup high! We've won! And oh, look, there in the corner is you, getting your bollocks kicked by a team of Muggles." He wiped a fake tear from his eye. "I don't know what this Mirror is, but I think I'd like to move it to my room."
Quirrell snarled and waved his hand, forcing Harry back against the wall hard.
But it seemed that not everyone had been fooled by Harry's words.
"Potter, come back here!" Quirrell shouted. "Tell me the truth! What did you just see?"
The high voice spoke again.
"Let me speak to Potter… face-to-face…"
"My wondrous and horrible Mistress, you are not strong enough!"
"'I have strength enough… for this…'"
Could this be Volotredi herself? Harry couldn't help but feel a horrible curiosity to face the murderer of his parents.
Quirrell slowly reached up and began to unwrap his turban. The turban fell away. Quirrell's head looked strangely small without it. Then he turned slowly on the spot.
It was the worst thing Harry had ever seen. Where there should have been a back to Quirrell's head, there was a face, a hideous, ugly, misshapen thing, chalk white with glaring red eyes and slits for nostrils, like a snake. And then the face looked incredibly confused.
"Who is this?" it asked. "Who are you?"
"It's Harriet Potter, mistress," Quirrell said tonelessly in a strange, gargling voice.
Harry smirked despite himself. "Yeah, Harry Potter. You killed my parents, in case you've forgotten."
The face looked back at Harry with an odd expression. "How odd. I do not understand what it going on here - Potter, did you see the Stone in the Mirror? Answer truthfully, or be killed!"
"No Stone," said Harry, not about to tell the truth. "Although I did see a Tome. The Tome of Women's Magic. Have you heard of it? Apparently my mum used it to make sure you'd die attacking me."
"A Tome..." the shade said slowly. "Then you must give it to me at once! Give me the Tome and the Stone as well! I know you have it! I must know the secrets of this Tome at once!"
"I'm not giving you anything, you horrid old woman," Harry spat on the ground. "But if you want the Tome, it's actually in the Mirror right now."
The face turned to the Mirror, and Harry took the chance to run for his wand.
But Quirrell had spotted him - Harry had forgotten he was on the back of Volotredi's face.
"Seize him, you bumbling fool!" the Dark Lady seethed.
Quirrell leaped forward and grabbed Harry's wrist. At once, a needle-sharp pain seared across Harry's scar; his head felt as though it was about to split in two; he yelled, struggling with all his might, and to his surprise, Quirrell let go of him.
The pain in his head lessened — he looked around wildly to see where Quirrell had gone, and saw him hunched in pain, looking at his fingers — they were blistering before his eyes.
"Seize him! SEIZE HIM!" shrieked Volotredi again, and Quirrell lunged, knocking Harry clean off his feet landing on top of him, both hands around Harry's neck —
And then immediately removed them - Quirrell looked down at his palms, which had blistered and reddened.
That is when Harry got a very crazy idea. Harry grabbed Quirrell's wrist and tried to ignore the sudden pain. As Quirrell shrieked and shuddered, Harry reached up and smacked his other hand against Quirrell's face. This time the pain was horrible, shooting through every pore in his body. Harry held on, although he no longer was in a right mind to pay attention - he held on with pure will alone.
And then everything sped into blackness.
It was a very odd dream, fitful and bizarre. A little man shouting so vehemently his face had turned bright red, but he made no noise at all. Ron looking very confused sitting on a giant book, a book that turned into the library. Suddenly Padma and Hermione began throwing apples at each other. And then the scene turned to white.
Harry's vision swam and then cleared as he opened his eyes. The Headmaster was sitting before him on a chair - and Harry was on a bed in the Hospital wing.
"Good to see you are finally awake, Not-Miss Potter," Dumbledore said with a warm smile. "You have been laid up for two days now, but Madame Pomfrey believes you are mostly recovered."
Harry sat up and looked around room. On a table nearby was an enormous mound of candy and small treats. "Why is there so much candy in here?"
Dumbledore chuckled. "A few tokens from your many curious admirers around the school. Although none of them knows what actually happened, that you and Professor Quirrell were in some sort of struggle is widely known."
"Is Quirrell... is he, you know?"
Dumbledore nodded grimly. "Yes, he did not survive your encounter. Lady Volotredi abandoned him, and Quirrell perished as the dark spirit left him. But do not think any worse of yourself - there was very little humanity left in Quirinus. If anything, your actions were a mercy for the poor man."
Harry sighed. "And the Stone? Is it safe?"
"Yes, the Stone is safe," Dumbledore replied. "Although my old friend, Nicolas Flamel, to whom it belongs, has yet to decide what to do next. He is not sure whether or not destroy it or try to protect it again. After all, the threat of Volotredi is still quite real."
"Destroy it?" Harry asked in surprise. "But then wouldn't he die?"
"Ah, I see you are familiar with Flamel's fascinating background," said Dumbledore with a pleased look. "Well, I understand your confusion - but Nicolas is a very old man, and he is not sure the effort of protecting the stone is worth living longer. It may seem odd to us, but he has seem more life than most can imagine."
"So then... about Volo... I mean You-Know-Who, is she going to come back again?"
"Call her Volotredi, Not-Harriet," Dumbledore admonished. "Do not allow fear to change how you live. In fact, I would argue it helps you realize that she is just a person, like any of us, albeit a twisted and lonely one."
"Okay, that makes sense," Harry allowed. "Although it seems like most people don't like hearing her name."
"Very true, Not-Harriet," said Dumbledore. "Although much of that was learned behavior over time. Some people believed that merely saying the name could cause Volotredi to suddenly know about it. Of course, such horrible magic is possible, but nothing of the sort was ever actually associated with the name, Volotredi. And if people do not like it... well, you have more than earned the right to use whatever name you wish."
Harry smirked. "Even if I were to use something like, I dunno, Polo Ready?"
Dumbledore raised his eyebrows. "There's no need to be quite that silly, my dear. Although I certainly understand the impulse. Now, there are a few things we need to go over, but before we do, have any remaining questions?"
Harry pondered for a moment. "Sir, do you promise to be honest with me?"
Dumbledore nodded. "To the best of my knowledge, and if there is a question I cannot answer, I will, at the very least, explain why."
"This is probably a pretty big question," said Harry. "But do you know why Volotredi couldn't kill me when she had been able to kill my parents?"
"Alas," Dumbledore sighed. "That particular mystery has plagued me for ten years. No one is truly sure why you survived, although I believe your mother's sacrifice had something to do with it. Exactly how, though, unfortunately I believe only she knew."
"So wait a moment," Harry realized. "Are you saying that there actually might really be secret research my mum did? I was just making all that up! Do you think it's related to my girl curse as well?"
"A good question," Dumbledore replied with a nod. "I would not be surprised if it was, and I shall consider that with my continued research into your female issue. I don't suppose Volotredi happened to make any mention of the curse?"
Harry shook his head. "I don't think so - or if she did, I didn't pick up on it. But here's something maybe you can answer - why did it hurt us both when our skin touched?"
"This is more a theory than a certainty," began the Headmaster. "But due to the efficacy of your protection on Privet Drive, I believe it to be justified. Love - your mother's love for you - was somehow deeply intertwined with the way you defeated Volotredi the first time. If there is one thing she cannot understand, that sad old woman, it is love. Quirrell, tied to Volotredi as he was, could not touch you without terrible agony."
"Okay, I suppose that makes sense," said Harry. "Although I thought I remembered shaking his hand back when I first went to Diagon Alley."
Dumbledore frowned for a moment than brightened. "Ah, was he hearing his turban at the time?"
Harry thought back to those many months ago and gasped in memory. "Why, no, you're right! I guess Volotredi hadn't possessed him yet!"
Dumbledore nodded with a pleased smile. "Very astute, Not-Harriet. That is my opinion of the matter as well. Now, I had mentioned Privet Drive - and unfortunately that is something we must resolve before you leave Hogwarts. And now is as good a time as any, I believe."
"Professor McGonagall said you couldn't manage to get me away from Privet Drive. Why not?"
"A sticky issue, I must admit," Dumbledore admitted. "You see, 'Harriet Potter', if you will forgive the reference, is a very well known figure. Any official changes to your living arrangements would necessitate informing the Ministry - and I'm afraid that there are many undesirables who would happily take advantage. The Dursleys are highly unpleasant, I admit, but as your closest family, the Ministry has no particular need to interfere. If word got out that they had been abusive in any matter at all, even if it was not physical, there are those who would use the opportunity to propagate terrible laws against Muggles and the Muggle-born."
"Oh," said Harry softly. "I think I understand. If people heard that 'Harriet Potter' had been raised badly by Muggles, they would think all Muggles were bad. And that's not fair."
"No, it is not," agreed Dumbledore. "But still, that does not mean you must still suffer at their misbegotten hands this summer. Your magical skills have gotten to a fairly decent state, of course, and I am sure you could defend yourself against most Muggles - but against evil wizards? You still need protection against them."
"But aren't there other students that also need protection?" Harry asked plaintively. "You're the Headmaster of the entire school, after all."
Dumbledore sighed. "Very true. And I only tell this because I know you do not like to hear it - but the truth is that you are more important than the other students."
"I don't like to hear that at all," Harry grumbled. "But... why? Why am I more important?"
The Headmaster looked pained. "This is an issue I truly do not wish to explain. Not because you do not deserve to know, but because I do not wish to ruin your remaining childhood years."
Harry's eyes widened. "Is it really that bad?"
"I believe so," said Dumbledore. "But perhaps I can proceed it with a partial explanation. As someone who survived Volotredi and defeated her more than once, you are a symbol of hope for all that could be victims, and a symbol of fear for those who would be the attackers - that is, Volotredi and her followers. As such, every day you live is a day where their own lives are more meaningless, as they have their pledged support to a cause that you had defeated already."
"Dang it," Harry muttered. "Everything you say makes complete sense. But I really don't want to go back to the Dursleys - surely there's something we can do?"
"I did have a few thoughts," said Dumbledore with a sly grin. "The protection is renewed more the longer you stay there, up until the point of your birthday, where it no longer becomes any additionally effective. So the longer you stay, the safer you will be, and the safer your relatives will be the coming year."
"Well," Harry said begrudgingly. "I suppose that technically I don't want them to die - I'd prefer to just pretend they no longer exist. I guess I can manage until then - and then maybe I can go someplace else the rest of the holiday?"
"Precisely," said Dumbledore. "And now that I think of it, perhaps I or someone else could go with you to explain matters a bit. We could arrange that you write a letter every week, and if you do not send one, we shall assume the worst. I would hope that the Dursleys would treat you better after that."
"I like that idea," Harry admitted, relishing the thought of someone intimidating the Dursleys for a change, like Hagrid had done once before. "But what if they try to force me to lie in the letter?"
"I can give you special paper and ink to use," said Dumbledore thoughtfully. "It will reveal whether or not you are truthful in your letter - but perhaps we shall not inform the Dursleys of that particular point."
Harry chuckled. "I have to say, I like it. And then we can go... well, where can I go exactly?"
Dumbledore rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Well, I would prefer you to stay with a wizarding family, and a trustworthy one at that, so your friend Miss Granger would not be a viable choice. If enough of the staff have returned to Hogwarts by that point, you could also stay here, otherwise I would worry about safety. I could subtly broach the subject with your magical friends' parents about it, although I can safely say I doubt Madame Longbottom would approve."
"I guess you can just let me know later then," Harry replied. "Well, as soon as you can, of course. It ought to be fun to stay at one of my friends' homes this summer."
Dumbledore chuckled. "I should hope so. Although a sudden question does occur to me - are you uncomfortable living with girls, as you are not one from your own perspective?"
Harry rolled his eyes. "To be honest, I've kind of gotten used to it by now. At first, it felt weird, so I kept changing in the washroom and tried to avoid it when they were changing themselves. But although I keep doing it by habit now, I've seen them and they've seen me enough times that I don't really think about it anymore. I sort of think it'd be better off if I didn't stay with boys, as they'd see me as a girl. I'd rather not have to deal with that."
"I see," said Dumbledore thoughtfully. "Well, if anything changes in that regard, please inform me as soon as possible and we will address it at the time." The Headmaster stood up. "And now, I believe your friends are waiting impatiently to see you, if there is nothing else? Keep in mind that I will be happy to answer non-sensitive questions using owl mail this summer."
"There is one thing I've been wondering," Harry realized. "Although I'm not sure if you know the answer. Why did Professor Snape and my mum stop being friends?"
Dumbledore sighed. "Unfortunately, I can only answer this question partially, as I had previously promised Severus never to reveal certain details of his life. What I can say is that your mother and Professor Snape were very close friends for many years, but they grew further apart, mostly due to Severus's dealings with the darker elements. They finally had a falling out when he called her a terrible name, which I will only repeat now so you know never to use it: mudblood. It is considered a very offensive term for muggle-born people. Their friendship never recovered after that point."
"Oh," said Harry. "Then why does he try to be nice to me? I mean, nice for him."
"I daresay he sees your mother in you, considering that he views you as a girl," Dumbledore answered. "And he wishes to make amends for his selfish behavior so many years ago. In my mind, that is a highly laudable goal and unless he acts in some manner inappropriately, please do your best to encourage such behavior."
"I will," agreed Harry. "And thanks again."
Dumbledore nodded with a smile and left the room with a glance at a frowning Madame Pomfrey.
After barely a few seconds had past, all of Harry's friends had stumbled into the room - even Padma, whom Harry wasn't sure would even be interested. Harry almost wondered if Hagrid was somehow hiding in the back - although the large man would have nothing to hide behind.
"Don't stress Miss Potter," Madame Pomfrey instructed them sternly. "She still needs her rest."
"Oh, come on, I'm fine," Harry said with a grin. "See? Look at me?"
Madame Pomfrey frowned but then nodded very, very slightly. "Very well, five minutes, and that's it." She then left the room to give them privacy.
"So?" Ron asked, clearly absurdly curious.
Harry smirked. "So what?"
"Don't be annoying," Hermione chided. "What happened after you went through the fire? I mean, I assume Quirrell was there, of course, considering what happened to him, but then what?"
"It was Quirrell," confirmed Harry. "But he was there with someone else - our old friend Lady Volotredi."
The others winced.
"Oh, stop that," Harry said in an annoyed voice. "It's just a name, after all. Dumbledore even said so."
"Well, still," said Parvati, biting her lip. "Stop leaving all of us in suspense and tell us what happened!"
"Well, okay," Harry smiled. "But promise to keep it a secret, okay? Like the Mystery?"
They all nodded.
"All right, then," said Harry, leaning back in his bed. "So there I was, in a room with Professor Quirrell and a mysterious Mirror..."
Harry and the Headmaster take a short trip, and the end of Book One.
"It's you!" Petunia shrieked.
"A pleasure to see you too, Mrs. Dursley," replied Dumbledore with a short bow.