The morning that they were to return to Hogwarts was dull and dreary, the sky a gray cloud filled haze that hurt the eyes. The six First Years grabbed a compartment together, while Percy went to join the other Prefects, and Fred and George wandered off in search of their best friend, Lee Jordan.
As soon as they were seated and the door to their compartment closed, Ron pulled out some parchment and a quill, along with his Transfiguration text book and started to scribble furiously. Hermione looked at him with a disapproving frown and, though she already knew the answer, asked, "What are you doing, Ron?"
"You guys talking about the Christmas ornaments, that we did for McGonagall before the holidays, reminded me that I forgot to do my essay."
"We've had almost two weeks to do the essay Ron. Why would you leave it to the last minute?"
Ron glared at his parchment as he continued to write, "I hadn't meant to, I had even started it before we left for home. I just got caught up in the excitement of going home and it slipped my mind."
Hermione and Ginny both fixed unbelieving looks on the red head who scowled back at them. "Don't look at me like that, I really did start it. Besides I still have the weekend to get this done. So it'll be fine, I promise." They both shook their heads and decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and let him work on his essay in peace.
In the seat across from them, Neville and Kestrel were going over her manual on how to care for her Fire Orchid. Unlike the Muggle version of the plant, this one was actually on fire, and had to be tended to carefully. While Kestrel wasn't the best at Herbology, she had always had a fascination with fire type plants and had become enamoured of the Fire Orchids and the Fire Seed Plants that the Longbottom's had in their Greenhouses, and happily helped Neville to tend them when they were there.
Harry was in the corner seat, his feet pulled up underneath him and Sirius' Marauder Journal open on his lap, a smirk on his face as he read over his 11 year old godfather's notes. He had gotten his dad to charm it before they had left for the Weasely's so that it would look just like an ordinary note book, and not arouse the older twins' suspicions more than they already were. So far they had yet to realize, or guess, that the younger Gryffindors' fathers were indeed their idols, and Harry wanted to keep them guessing for as long as possible.
The trolley witch eventually came by, and they each purchased a few snacks to tide them over until they arrived at Hogwarts. Ron and Hermione both left the compartment not long after the Trolley witch had departed. Hermione had left to use the loo and Ron had gone to ask Percy a few questions about his essay. The twins were less pompous about things than Percy was, but Percy wouldn't make fun of him for asking like they would. Leaving the remaining four friends with a few unexpected moments to discuss any new revelations that they had made over the holidays, with out the others overhearing.
Kestrel pulled out a book from her bag. It was one of the books on Magical Britain, which she had received from Remus; she flipped it open to one of the many tagged pages. It was an old leather bound book that looked like the only thing holding it together was magic and spell-o tape, the title on the cover was faded and barely decipherable.
She quickly skimmed the page and found the section that she had been waiting to show Ginny. She turned the book around and pointed it out to the red head, her own hair turning a bright blue in excitement. "Uncle Remus got me this book for Christmas; it belonged to one of Rowena Ravenclaw's daughters, who had been raised at Hogwarts. Rosetta Ravenclaw was a sort of Building Historian in the time of the founders; she'd documented dozens of other magical buildings all across Britain and the Mainland and this one is all about Hogwarts." She was practically vibrating in her seat she was so excited. Neville and Harry just smile at her enthusiasm, since they had gotten used to seeing her like this after she had read the first few pages. Ginny could only nod at her friend's exuberance as she read through the section that had been pointed out to her.
"It explains what each of the Four did to help build Hogwarts, what enchantments they added, why they used quartz granite, in certain parts of the castle and not others, almost everything." She sighed as she took the book back from Ginny after she was finished and tucked it back into her bag for safe keeping. "Unfortunately the book is really old and a lot of the stuff has been scribbled out, like the location to Slytherin's supposed Chamber of Secrets. Which I'm sure with a little effort on our part we could probably find. But that's for next year maybe. But as the passage I just showed you clearly states, each Founder had a Common Room of sorts that was located near, but not in each of the Houses, where students from all four Houses could mingle. I looked through my copy of Hogwarts: A History and found no mention of them anywhere, nor in any of the older copies at Longbottom Manor."
"So their locations have been lost then?"
"Yes, but there are clues throughout the books chapters on each of the four houses, and we should be able to find them."
"I thought, though that the Baron said a place of all four founders would be best?"
"Yes, and there's another section in there that I have tagged, it's really worn through and hard to read, but it mentions a room within the Castle that all four came together to create, that's what we're looking for this term, whenever we get a spare moment." Kestrel voice trailed off towards the end as the door to the compartment rattled.
The door slid open and Hermione walked back in, taking in her quiet friends wearily. "Is everything all right?"
"Yeah, no worries Hermione, we just thought you might have been someone else." Harry said, picking his own book back up.
"Who else would I have been, besides Ron maybe?"
"The Slytherins. We saw Draco and a few of his ilk giving us strange looks on the platform." Harry explained further, trying to find where exactly he had been in Sirius' journal.
"Well, to be fair that may have been because Tonks and I were having a hair colour changing contest, to see who could change their hair colour the fastest." Kestrel grinned. She and Harry had wandered away from the Weasely family and their friends when they had spotted their Hufflepuff cousin and their Aunt and had gone over to say 'hello'.
"Oh right I had forgotten about that."
Ginny and Hermione laughed, "Who won?"
"Tonks did, but I still say that she cheated."
"Kes, it's your own fault, you got too fancy towards the end, trying to add polka dots and stripes and things."
"Quality over quantity, Potter."
"Not in a contest, Black."
"Whatever, I still get points for creativity." She muttered, crossing her arms and scowling at the floor.
The four of them laughed good naturedly as Kestrel pouted, prompting her to stick her tongue out at all of them, which just made everyone, including her, laugh harder. Which is what Ron walked in on, a look of confusion falling over his face as he slid open the door.
"Did I miss something?"
Hermione wiped a few tears from her eyes and answered, "No, nothing important. Percy help you finish up your essay?"
"Hmm? Oh yeah, he did." He tucked the rolled up bit of parchment back into his trunk and sat down. "He corrected a few mistakes I had made in some of my spelling, so I'm going to re-write it over the weekend, which shouldn't take me too long to do hopefully."
The rest of the train ride passed in good natured jokes and laughter and unlike their first train ride to Hogwarts, no interruptions from snooty Slytherins and their troll-like body guards, though Blaise did pop in to say hi for a few moments. The talk wasn't as tense as it could have been, he and Ron had come to a sort of truce and refrained from snarking at one another, as they had done previously in the year.
The supper they enjoyed after their arrival back to the school was just as enjoyable as every other before and the students all went to bed, happy, healthy, and full.
The new term was not off to a good start as the whole school had woken up to a blizzard, adding several more feet of snow to the Castles already covered grounds. The blizzard lasted all week, though it stopped snowing on the Wednesday; the winds were so bad that it kept blowing snow everywhere making it impossible to see.
Hagrid, the large Grounds Keeper, could be seen from the windows shovelling paths from the Main Entrance to the Greenhouses, the Quidditch Pitch, and his own hut. Despite his best efforts, however, the roaring winds and heavily falling snow soon made all his hard work moot. Most of the Herbology classes were cancelled until the blizzard abated, though several Hufflepuffs, as well as Neville, went out to the Greenhouses anyway to help Professor Sprout wrap up the plants that could not take such extreme climate changes, or helped to reinforce the warming charms on the glass walls.
Every other class went on as scheduled, even though the Potions classroom, which was located in the dungeons, was so cold that students were wearing the warmest clothes that they owned in layers just to try and keep warm. Kestrel was so bundled up that she could barely see the board on which that class's assignment was written, let alone stir her cauldron. While normally Professor Snape would have been berating and belittling her, and her fellow Gryffindors, the fact that he was almost as bundled up as they were, had left him with very little ground to stand on.
The students were not the only ones glad to get out of the dungeons and up into the warmth filled Great Hall for a much deserved break and some hot food, Snape left all most as fast as they did. The residents of the great Castle were provided, as they had been all week, with several different kinds of hot soups, breads and beverages to help warm them up.
Harry bit into a fresh out the oven bun with a sigh of pleasure, "Wish I could just fill my robes with these, they're lovely and warm." Kestrel was too busy trying to figure out how to eat her steaming bowl of chicken noodle soup, without removing any of her layers, to comment on Harry's odd statement.
Hermione came racing into the Great Hall from the direction of the Main Staircase, her already bushy hair even more frazzled than normal. Ginny looked up from her mug of hot chocolate, gazing at her dorm mate in concern. "Are you all right Hermione?"
"Yes and no. Do you guys know about that great beast on the third floor?" She asked in a harried whisper.
"Yes, but why do you?" Neville looked at her in bewilderment.
Harry and Ginny both grinned at her proudly, but it was Harry who said, "Hermione, have you been sneaking?"
"Not on purpose." She hissed back at him, which only made him grin more. "I came across it in my first few weeks here, when I was wondering about on my own. I got a bit turned around and ended up on the forbidden corridor. I came to the locked door and thought that was the one I needed to get out; needless to say I was wrong. If Hagrid hadn't come along when he did, I would have been a goner."
"Okay, but that was ages ago, why are you only bringing this up now?" Kestrel had finally given up and removed her scarf so that she could both eat and participate in the conversation.
"Because of what I found out. I asked Hagrid why there would be a giant three-headed dog inside a school full of children. And he told me it was between the Headmaster and Nicolas Flamel, then he started muttering about how he shouldn't had said that and that he wouldn't say anything more. He walked me to the Entrance Hall and then left.
"I tried asking him a few times what he had meant but he always told me that it was none of my concern. So when that led to a dead end I went to the library,"
"Naturally," her four friends said together grinning at the girl.
"Do you want me to finish my story or don't you?"
"Right then…as I was saying, I went to the library and looked up anything I could on Nicolas Flamel. He's not mentioned in any of the books that I've gone through in the library or any of the books in Flourish and Blotts on recent achievements in Wizarding History, or any books on related topics. Then when we got back from holidays I went to the library and got this book out for a bit of light reading." At that she pulled out a large old tome that could have doubled as a tabletop for two easily.
"A bit of light reading, you say? Jeez Hermione, you could club a troll with that thing." Kestrel said, impressed by the sheer size of the book.
The girl just blushed, "Yes well, anyway. I found him."
Hermione rolled her eyes at her friends and hissed impatiently, "Nicolas Flamel, here listen:
Nicolas Flamel is the only known maker of the Philosopher's Stone.
The ancient study of Alchemy is concerned with making the Philosopher's Stone, a legendary substance with astonishing powers. The stone will transform any metal into pure gold. It also produces the Elixir of Life, which will make the drinker immortal.
There have been many reports of the Philosopher's Stone over the centuries, but the only Stone currently in existence belongs to Mr. Nicolas Flamel, who celebrated his six hundred and sixty-fifth birthday last year, and enjoys a quiet life in Devon with his wife, Perenelle (six hundred and fifty-eight).
See, the dog must be guarding the Stone for Flamel!"
"That's great in theory Hermione, but why would Flamel hide something like that in school? Wouldn't it be safer at Gringotts?" Neville asked, scratching at his dark hair as he thought.
"Well yes but –"
"The break in!" Kestrel and Harry said together turning in their seats to look at their baffled friends.
"Our first week here, we read about a break in at Gringotts that had happened on my Birthday," began Harry as he racked his brain trying to remember the details.
Kestrel snapped her fingers. "Someone had broken in to Gringotts to steal something, but they didn't get anything because the vault had been emptied that same day."
"So maybe, the Stone had been at Gringotts, and Flamel got wind that someone was going to steal it then moved the Stone out of the bank, and…into the School?"
"No, that doesn't make any sense." Kestrel said a disbelieving look on her face. "I mean really, who in the world would be stupid enough to hide something as valuable as that in a School?"
In his large circular office on the Seventh floor, Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, sneezed violently, scattering papers and scraps of parchment off his desk.
Once the blizzard had ended, the school and its occupants returned to their usual routines. Kestrel and Ginny, seemed to find it the easiest among their friends to sneak away, and so were left in charge of finding the Founder's secret room. Though they were not having much success, they did manage to map out all but the 7th floor, and half of the 6th. Harry and Neville, occasionally with Ron, when Neville was at Quidditch practice, were helping Hermione unravel the mystery of why the Philosopher's Stone was inside Hogwarts, which was going just as slowly as the hunt for the Founder's room.
It wasn't until one day near the end of February, when Neville was racing back from a gruelling and mud filled Quidditch practice, that they had a significant break through on the Philosopher's Stone mystery. Once he was sure that their conversation wouldn't be over heard, he explained what he had heard Professors Snape and Quirrell talking about in hushed whispers out by the Pitch's broom shed.
"So who do you think is after it, Quirrell or Snape?" Harry asked once Neville had finished his story.
"Well from the sounds of it, they may both be after it, but working for different parties. I mean it was Snape who asked if Quirrell had figured out how to get by it yet or not."
"True. I'd ask why either of them would want the stone, but that's sort of a dumb question, isn't it?"
"A bit yeah. Where are the girls? It's Kes and Hermione that have the minds for puzzles, not us."
"Hermione's in the library again and Kes is with Ginny, trying to wheedle the Marauder's Map out of the twins for a few minutes to see if the Founder's secret room is on there."
"Think they'll have any luck with that?"
"Don't know, they may try to barter with them for the knowledge of who the Marauder's are with letting them see the map. Ginny and Kestrel are smart though, and sneaky, if anyone can convince the twins it'll be those two."
"Which two can do what?" Ron asked as he entered the Gryffindor Common Room, having just left the First Year Boys dormitory, his Transfiguration text and essay under one arm, and the last of his Christmas chocolate in his opposite hand.
"Your sister and ours are trying to get some information out of the older twins." Harry explained, penning a few more sentences onto his own essay for charms.
Ron snorted inelegantly. "Good luck with that, Fred and George horde information like goblin's horde treasure." He sat down at the table the other two boys were sitting at, next to one of the west facing windows, looking out across the grounds towards the Pitch.
He set his chocolate in the middle of the table before setting up the things he would need to finish off his essay, telling the other two to help themselves to whatever they would like.
Harry reached for a Chocolate Frog, he unwrapped it as he read through his essay, looking for any mistakes or facts he may have missed. He glanced at which Famous Wizard card he got, absently reading the facts as he rolled his parchment up to read his conclusion, an nearly choked on a bit of chocolate as the words he was reading registered.
"Neville, Ron, I think I found the last piece of the puzzle we've been looking for." Harry turned the card in his hand around so that the other two could see what he was seeing. There grinning mysteriously at them from the confines of the card was Albus Dumbledore. As they stared at the card in confusion Harry read the information on the back of the card aloud to them.
"Albus Dumbledore is particularly famous for his defeat of the dark wizard Grindelwald in 1945, for the discovery of the 12 uses of dragon's blood, and his work on alchemy with his partner Nicolas Flamel."
"That's it, that's why the stone is here. Flamel trusts Dumbledore, so the only logical place for him to hide it would be where Dumbledore is." Neville took the card from Harry and turned it over in his hands as he thought. "What did Uncle James say when you wrote him about Snape and Quirrell arguing about the Stone?"
"Apparently he talked to Dumbledore, and he has his own suspicions about who might be after the stone, but says that we don't need to worry, the stone is very well protected." Harry rolled his eyes and finished off his Chocolate Frog, ripping off a twitching leg in annoyance.
"Maybe he's right, I mean, do you know how to get passed a giant three-headed demon dog? Because I looked it up and couldn't find it in any book about magical creatures anywhere." Neville said reasonably standing up and swinging his Nimbus up onto his shoulder.
"I suppose you're right, we do have more important things to worry about anyway."
"Like just what exactly Snape has planned for next Friday's potion lesson?" Ron asked as he absent-mindedly sucked on a sugar quill, while his actual quill scratched away at his parchment.
"Yes, exactly like that." Harry said as he and Neville shuddered in unison. When James and Sirius had paid Dumbledore a visit, Sirius had taken it upon himself to visit his former classmate, and recreate a prank from his youth, and stick all of the furniture and various knick knacks in Snape's office to the ceiling. Now having no Sirius or James to take his frustrations out on, and even though he knows that the two first years were incapable of such magic, he had taken to meting out his petty revenge on their children. "Great, now that I know what we have that to look forward to, I'm no longer hungry."
Right they were to worry about Snape's vendetta, for between the two of them Kestrel and Harry managed to loose nearly 30 points for ridiculous things such as chopping their ingredients to roughly, or having too messy of a work station. While this seemed to amuse the Slytherin's a great deal, it only ostracized the two First Years from the rest of their house, even though they tried to defend themselves explaining that Snape was being more unfair than usual.
So instead of suffering under the baleful stares of their house mates they had taken to hiding in the library, much to the annoyance of Ron and the delight of Hermione.
It was during one of these periods of "hiding" that they discovered the grounds keeper's secret. While they were studying for their rapidly approaching finals (As Hermione had reminded them a week ago, "There ten weeks away, we should have started studying ages ago!") the noticed the giant form of Hagrid skulking around in the Magical Creature section, trying to keep his lumbering physique from being noticed.
It was Hermione who noticed the large man first, "Hello Hagrid, what are you doing in the library?"
Hagrid started violently and hide something behind his back as he turned to face group of First Years. "Jus' lookin' is all." He said his voice taking on the tone of someone trying to hide something. Harry and his siblings would know, they used that tone often enough with their parents. "What're you lot up ter then?" He turned a stern gaze on Hermione, "Yer still not lookin' fer Nicolas Flamel are yeh?"
"Oh we found out who he was ages ago," Said Hermione as she turned a page in her history text.
Ron nodded his agreement, looking up from his charms book to look at the now worried grounds keeper. "Yeah, that's old news; we also know that that giant three headed dog is guarding the Philosopher's St –"
"SHHH!" Hagrid looked around horrified, but relaxed slightly when he saw that no one else had been around to hear Ron. "What's the matter with yeh? That's not summat you jus' go shoutin' about."
"I actually had a few questions that I wanted to ask you, as a matter of fact," Said Hermione pulling out a fresh sheet of parchment and quill. "About what else may be guarding the Stone, besides the dog? Purely academic curiosity."
Hagrid shushed them again waving his hands at them. "Listen – come by me hut later, after supper. I'm not promisin' I'll tell yeh anything, mind, bit don' go chatterin' about it in here, students aren't s'pposed ter know. They'll think I told yeh –"
"Right, we'll see you later then Hagrid." Hermione assured him and Hagrid made a hasty retreat from the library, after hastily shoving something back onto the shelf.
"Wonder what he was hiding behind his back?" Ginny said, tilting her head and trying to read the titles from her seat. Hermione's curiosity got the best of her and she left her seat walking over to where Hagrid had been. She returned quickly with a worried look on her face. "Dragons!" She hissed, waving the book in her hand at her friends. "He was looking up stuff on Dragons. Dragon Species of Great Britain and Ireland; From Inferno to Egg, A Dragon Keeper's Guide. Why would Hagrid be trying to hide looking at these books?"
Kestrel shrugged and with a sarcastic smirk said, "Maybe he's secretly trying to hatch a Dragon egg?"
"I hope for his sake he isn't." Said Neville.
"Why not?" Hermione asked.
"I keep forgetting sometimes that you're Muggle-born." Hermione grinned at the compliment. "It's against our laws." Neville explained. "Dragon breeding anywhere, but on registered preserves, was outlawed by the Warlocks Convention of 1709."
Ron nodded his agreement, "Yeah it's hard to stop the Muggles noticing us if we're keeping dragons in the back gardens – besides dragons can't be tamed, it's dangerous. You should see some of the burns my brother Charlie got off wild ones in Romania."
"But there aren't dragons in Britain?" Hermione said, shocked.
Harry grinned at the bushy haired witch. "Sure there are. There's the Common Welsh Green and the Herbidean Blacks. Ministry has a hard time keeping them under wraps. Our lot has to keep memory charming the Muggles who see them, so word doesn't get out."
"There are all kinds of fines and probably jail time for those who get caught breeding dragons illegally." Neville stated in a very mater of fact tone.
"Oh, I do hope Hagrid hasn't done something stupid."
Harry, Neville, Kestrel, and Ginny returned to Gryffindor Tower after supper to try and work more on their own personal mystery while Ron and Hermione went down to Hagrid's hut to have their questions answered and to find out what the giant man was up to.
"So the Twins still being tight fisted over the Map?" Harry asked, pouring through Kestrel's copy of Hogwarts: A History.
Ginny nodded an annoyed look on her face. "Yeah, they won't even let me have a look at it, and I'm family! The stupid prats. Like I'd try and steal it from them." Ginny was clearly a little hurt by her older brother's refusal to let her look at their Map. "I even offered to not leave their presence with it, but they still said no."
Kestrel had a slightly guilty look on her face that mirrored the ones on Harry and Neville's, as she read through Rosetta Ravenclaw's book about Hogwarts. "Maybe I shouldn't have come with you to ask the twins, they looked right at me when they refused. They probably want us to offer up the Marauder's identities in exchange for letting us look."
"I don't blame you, Kes, Fred and George can be gits sometimes. This is just one of the many examples of that. Besides even if you hadn't had come, they probably would have done the exact same thing."
"It's probably not on the Map anyway, when I asked dad about it over the holidays he couldn't think of any such room." Harry said as he turned a page.
They sat in silence for a few moments, each reading from a book, jotting down places they hadn't checked out yet, or places they should check more thoroughly.
Ginny sat up suddenly and grabbed a quill and a blank roll of parchment and began to scribble furiously. Her three friends looked up from their own work to watch the red head write at a speed that matched Hermione during a pop quiz.
"Whatcha doing Gin?" Harry asked warily.
"I just realized that I have more than the three older brothers at Hogwarts."
"Yes, as I recall you said you had 6 brothers, two of which have already graduated."
Ginny nodded as she continued to write. "Right, Bill and Charlie. They weren't quite as prolific as Fred and George when it came to pranking, but they did get around a bit. Bill, he's the oldest brother, had decided pretty early on that he wanted to be a Curse Breaker, so I know he explored a bunch of the school. He may know of the room we're looking for."
"That's brilliant Ginny!" Harry said looking up from his book to send a grin to the red head, who grinned back without looking up from her letter writing.
As Ginny was finishing up her letter, Hermione and Ron burst into the Common Room both with frenzied looks on their faces.
Before they even had a chance to ask what the matter was they both burst into chatter trying to talk over one another in there rush to explain their eventful evening.
Neville slammed one of the heavy history books down onto their table silencing everyone. "One at a time, we can't understand either if you. Hermione, you go first."
"We found out that a bunch of the Professors have also set enchantments to guard the Stone; McGonagall, Flitwick, Sprout, Quirrell, Snape, and Dumbledore as well. We also mentioned our theory of either Quirrell or Snape, or both wanting to steal the stone. He told us that were mental and that none of the teachers would try to steal it. He was pretty adamant about that so we dropped it. But either way, they at least know how to get by their own part in the protections."
"Okay, that's a little less worrying now that we know it's not just that great beast guarding the stone." Harry said and the others nodded their agreement.
"The dog's name," said Hermione. "Its name is Fluffy."
"Who would name a creature like that Fluffy?" Kestrel asked a disgusted look on her face.
"Hagrid." The others intoned together, and really that was all the answer anyone needed.
"Now, what else had you two in such a tizzy?" said Ginny.
Ron took a deep breath and, as if he was still having a hard time believe it himself, said, "Hagrid has a dragon egg. He has a dragon egg sitting in a cauldron over a fire; he's trying to hatch the bloody thing." They could only stare in stunned silence for several minutes, each contemplating the repercussions that may happen because of this.
It was Kestrel who broke the slightly uncomfortable silence by voicing the only problem that she could see in this whole thing. "Doesn't Hagrid live in a wooden hut?"