Thoughts of Dragons, Founders rooms, and Philosopher Stone thieves were driven from their minds as finals approached, faster than a Bludger hit by one of the twins. Hermione panicked the closer exams crept, her hair getting frizzier and frizzier with each passing day. In her panic she had not only created a revision table for herself, but one for each of her friends as well, which they all accepted with grace and thanks, even Ron (after threats of bodily harm from Ginny). Thoughts and notes flowed freely between the six friends and any other First Years if they asked. Essays were written and rewritten, spells practised, and notes hastily scrawled in empty margins as hints of brilliance or something to study later came to mind.
Exams were written according to years in the Great Hall, each student was given quills with several anti-cheating jinxes on them, to prevent them from copying another student's paper. When exam time came to Hogwarts, summer was in full swing, making the Castle blisteringly hot. The heat made it hard to concentrate on what they were writing, and it certainly did not help when it came time for the practical portion of their exams. Especially potions, what with Professor Snape all but breathing down the back of their necks. It was really all Harry and Kestrel could do not to ask if the man would like a breath mint. Neville, in a stroke of brilliance had gotten Tonks to help him charm a pair of earplugs to be invisible when worn, and he managed to brew his best potion yet.
For Harry the worst exam by far was Defence Against the Dark Arts. Each student was called in individually to the Defence classroom and administered the practical portion of their exam. The minute Harry was alone with the stuttering Professor his scar began to pulse with pain, and he could swear that he could feel a wet trickle of blood slowly dripping down his forehead. Every time he went to wipe it away there was nothing.
Harry ran through the drill on the board as quickly as he could without making too many mistakes, and as soon as Quirrell dismissed him, he fled from the room, as if Fluffy was nipping at his heels. After, Harry's scar ached constantly, throbbing in time with his heartbeat.
Once exams were finally over the First Years happily threw their revision notes into their trunk and would have been more than happy to never look at them again. Hermione was talking with Padma Patil of Ravenclaw, Parvati's twin sister, about their exams in the courtyard, and Ron was with the older twins and their friend Lee Jordan, tickling the tentacles of the Giant Squid as it sunned itself on the shore of the Black Lake.
Harry, Neville, Ginny, and Kestrel were sitting beneath the shade of a large willow tree eating a bunch of sweets that they had had the twins purchase for them on their last foray into Hogsmeade, as they relaxed after their final exam, History of Magic. It was at this point that Harry told them about his scar hurting. They knew that it had been bothering him, but not to what extent.
"Why didn't you say something sooner, Harry?" Ginny asked as she watched Harry dodge the handfuls of Every Flavour Beans that Kestrel and Neville tossed at him.
"I didn't want you guys worrying about me on top of your exams. Besides I kind of thought that it would just go away, or it was just because I was so worried about the exams."
"And now that the exams are over and it still hurts? What are your thoughts on your scar now, Potter?"
"I think I'm going to write to dad and then I'm going to go to the Hospital Wing and ask Madam Pomfrey for a headache potion. Do one of you have any spare parchment on you?"
It was while Harry was penning his letter to his father that a thought occurred to Ginny and she sat bolt upright, dislodging Kestrel who had been using her shoulder as a pillow. "Guys, I just thought of something. Why would someone be randomly wandering around Hogsmeade with a dragon egg in their pocket?"
"You got a point Ginny. So you think that someone specifically targeted Hagrid, knowing how much he wanted a dragon in the hope of getting him in trouble?" Harry asked as he scribbled on the parchment that Neville had given him.
"That seems a bit far fetched." Kestrel had pushed herself back up off the ground, pulling bits of grass out of her hair. She twirled a blade and changed her hair to match the colour, making it short and spiky.
"Maybe not to get Hagrid in trouble, but Hagrid, bless his giant heart, loves dangerous creatures. So…maybe they used the dragon as a way to get Hagrid to talk about the other creatures he's taken care of." Ginny shrugged her shoulders and shook her head. "I'm not trying to blame Hagrid for anything, but I bet if Fluffy came up, he would brag about how he raised it, including how to get it to calm down. Don't you think?"
"I think you might be on to something, Ginny. Dad trusts Hagrid, but even he'd admit that Hagrid is a bit too trusting of people's intentions." Harry added a few more lines to his letter to his father, iterating his suspicions about someone going after the stone soon, before rolling it up and pushing himself to his feet. He had barely taken ten steps towards the school when the sound of wing beats reached his ears. He looked up and smiled when he saw his snowy owl, Hedwig, making her way over to him, lazily gliding down to land on his shoulder.
"You're such a smart owl, Hedwig. Can you take this letter to dad as fast as you can? It's really important that he get this." The regal white owl hooted softly and stuck out her leg for Harry to attach the letter to. "Thanks girl." He scratched the back of her neck a few times before holding his arm out for her to take off from. She nipped his ear affectionately and then with a few mighty flaps from her wings, took off into the bright Scottish afternoon sky.
"What should we do about the Stone in the mean time?" Neville asked, leaning back on his hands and tilting his head backwards to look up at Harry.
Kestrel, who had dropped back onto the grass and was trying to see if she could get her skin tone to match the exact shades of the grass, grinned and said, "Well we could be responsible children for once and go tell a Professor our suspicions about either Snape or Quirrell, or both, trying to steal the stone."
"That's actually not a bad idea." Mused Harry and he set off again towards the Castle.
Kestrel jumped up making an indignant noise, her hair and skin reverting back to their original colours in her surprise. "I was kidding Harry; you know how I feel about being responsible. I break out in a rash. Harry!"
The three that were still on the grass scrambled to their feet and hurried to catch up with Harry, who was taking long strides, trying to get to the Castle as quickly as possible without actually running. "Well what do you actually expect us to do Kestrel? Protect the Stone ourselves? Yes, because four first years have a chance against Voldemort."
"Whoa, wait a second since when is Voldemort after the Stone; I thought it was Quirrell and Snape?" Ginny demanded, looking between an equally confused Neville and Kestrel.
Harry tapped the scar on his forehead with his thumb. "I got this bloody thing from that tosser. I may not know much about it, but I'm almost positive that the only thing it would react to would be old Moldy what's his name. So it may be Snape and Quirrell that are going to steal it, but it's Voldemort that wants it." They reached the Main Entrance and started to head up towards the Seventh floor, but ran into Professor McGonagall before they even made it to the staircases.
"And just where do you four think you're going in such a hurry?" She gazed at them over her square spectacles, dark eyes stern.
"We need to talk to Professor Dumbledore. It's important." Explained Harry bravely, meeting her gaze without flinching. Gran Longbottom was scarier when she was on a tear.
"Talk to Professor Dumbledore," she repeated slightly bewildered. "Whatever for?"
Harry opened his mouth for a moment but closed it right away. How was he going to explain this one, they weren't supposed to know about the Stone.
It was Neville who spoke up and they all immediately wished that he hadn't, "It's a secret, Professor." He flinched back and fought the urge to hide behind Kestrel when McGonagall's mouth thinned and her nostrils flared dangerously.
"Professor Dumbledore left ten minutes ago for the Ministry. He received an urgent owl from the Minister of Magic, and he flew off immediately.
"The Headmaster is a very great and powerful Wizard, Mr. Potter, Ms. Black. I suggest you find something else to occupy your time."
"But this is important." Harry tried again, his friends nodding along behind him.
"What ever it is you have to say cannot be more important than the Minister of Magic." McGonagall started to turn to head up the staircases, assuming that the students would do as they were told.
Harry took a fortifying breath and dove right in. "Look, Professor, it's about the Philosopher's Stone."
The stern professor had not been expecting that, and she dropped the books and scrolls she had been carrying in surprise, not bothering to pick them up. Instead she just stared at the four First Years in astonishment.
"How do you know –"
"That doesn't matter right now. We think – no we know – that someone is going to try and steal it. And if Dumbledore is out of the Castle, I'll bet you Galleons that they're going to go after it tonight."
"So you see, we really need to speak with the Headmaster." Ginny added sweetly.
McGonagall eyed them with a mixture of suspicion and surprise. "Professor Dumbledore will be back by tomorrow morning. You have nothing to worry about the Stone is very well protected."
"But Professor –"
"No. I know what I'm talking about; I'm one of the professors who helped protect the Stone." She floated her scattered things back up into her arms. "Now I suggest that you all go back outside and enjoy the weather." She walked off ignoring the four children's protests.
Harry glanced back at his friends once McGonagall was out of sight. "It's definitely going to happen tonight. Dad should be getting the letter soon, so he'll be aware, I'll send him another letter as soon as we get to the tower, and hopefully get here in time."
"What do we do in the mean time then? There's no telling when Uncle James will get here." Neville pointed out reasonably.
Harry was about to start talking again but the sudden looks of alarm crossing his friends face made him turn around instead, his mouth snapping shut with a click. Standing behind them was Snape.
The four Gryffindors could only stare at him.
"You shouldn't be inside on a day like today." He continued an odd smile forming on his face, like he wasn't used to making the gesture.
"You're absolutely right Professor," Ginny said cheerily, grabbing a hold of the sleeve of Harry's robes, while Neville grabbed Kestrel's. "We were just heading back outside. Have a good afternoon Professor Snape." Ginny waved over her shoulder at the now slightly confused man, as she and Neville dragged the other two back outside, towards the courtyard and out of Snape's line of sight.
Once they were certain that the bat-like professor had moved on they hurried to a different part of the castle and made their way towards Gryffindor tower. "So what do we do about Snape and Quirrell?"
"We could follow them?" Neville suggested with a shrug. It wasn't the greatest plan, but then planning wasn't really his thing.
"Nah, that's too obvious." Kestrel said, shaking her head.
"We need the Map." Harry said. "But ours isn't even close to being done yet, Kes and I are still having trouble translating Remus' chicken scratch when it comes to how the runes are supposed to work."
"We'll have to ask the Twins. If we explain the situation they should agree to let us borrow it." Ginny said.
"Okay, you and Kestrel go and talk to the twins, Neville and I will meet you back in the Tower. I need to get something out of my trunk, and write another letter to dad." All four nodded and quickly went their separate ways, Harry and Neville headed up to the seventh floor, and Kestrel and Ginny headed back outside and down to the lake where they had last seen the twins.
The two girls were relieved to see that they were exactly where they had left them, playing with the Giant Squid. Though instead of tickling the creature's tentacles they were now playing catch with it.
"Fred, George!" The elder twins turned at the sound of their sister's yell and excused themselves from Lee and Ron, who continued their game with the Squid.
"What's up Ginny?" Said Fred.
"You look like mum caught you sneaking out of the house to fly again." Said George.
Ginny ignored the jibe and quickly asked, "Can we borrow the Map?"
"Haven't we already had this conversation with you two already?"
"I do believe you're right George, we've definitely already had this conversation."
"This is different." Ginny insisted, glaring up heatedly at her older brothers, brown eyes flashing dangerously. "This is an emergency."
Seeing the distressed look on the younger girls' faces they dropped their usual playful attitudes. "What's wrong?"
"We found out what that giant dog is doing on the Third Floor." Kestrel hurried to explain, knowing that every second they spent talking was a second wasted. "It's guarding the Philosopher's Stone, and either Snape, or Quirrell, or both have been out to steal it all year. But they're going to try for it tonight, because Dumbledore has left the School for London." She took a quick breath, holding up her hand when it looked like they were going to interrupt her. "We need the Map to keep an eye on them as actually following them would be too hard and obvious, and we don't want to tip them off that we know they're after it."
The two Third Years stared at them for a few minutes in silent contemplation before George asked, "You two are sure about this? Snape and Quirrell are after the Stone?"
"Yes." Ginny insisted. "We know that the Quirrell bit is hard to believe, but they are both after it. We need to keep an eye on them until Harry's dad can get here."
The twins held a quick silent conversation involving much eyebrow raising, and shoulder shrugs. Fred finally nodded and George looked at the two girls. "Alright you can use it. It's in my trunk, inside my potions text." He turned his gaze to Kestrel then, "I assume you know how to activate it."
"I do, yes. Thank you. We owe you guys one!" Kestrel thanked them as Ginny hurriedly pulled her after her towards the school, full on sprinting now. They managed to avoid meeting any teachers or other students as they ran pell-mell through the halls. They had to take a short cut from the fourth floor to the seventh, when they saw Peeves the Poltergeist setting up a trap for any passing students. Ginny called out the password, Periwinkle, before they even reached the portrait and they dove in as it swung open.
Kestrel joined Harry and Neville, while Ginny flew up the boy's stairs and up to the Third Year Boy's dormitory. She returned a few moments later and handed a folded piece of parchment over to Kestrel, who had her wand out and ready.
She quickly looked around making sure that they were still the only ones in the common room, then tapped the parchment with her wand and said, "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good." Ink started to spread across the paper, forming words and images. Ginny watched in amazement as the ink coalesced at the top of the folded paper to for the words:
'Messrs Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs
Purveyors of Aids to Magical Mischief-Makers
are proud to present
THE MARAUDER'S MAP
"That is the most brilliant thing I have ever seen." Ginny breathed quietly in amazement as she continued to watch the ink form the walls of Hogwarts and the grounds, marking out every entrance into and out of the School, as well as listing all its inhabitants.
"Just wait until ours is done, it'll be even better."
"We can pat ourselves on the back later; right now we need to find Snape and Quirrell." Harry's green eyes roved over the Map intently searching for the two names as quickly as possible.
"There." Neville said, stabbing a finger onto the Map. "Snape's in the Staff Room."
"Quirrell is in his office." Ginny said a few seconds later, having located their second target.
"Right, here's what we're going to do." Harry said, pulling two objects out of his bag.
Kestrel's eyes widened. "Are those what I think they are?"
"Two way mirrors? Yes. I had Tonks get me a pair at the first Hogsmeade weekend after the Holidays. I have two more, but I haven't keyed the last one yet, so we're just going to use these two." He handed Kestrel and Ginny one and tucked the other into the pocket of his robe.
"Nev and I are going to go down and camp outside the third floor corridor; you two are going to let us know which one of the professors heads are way."
"Wait a minute, why are Gin and I being benched for this one?"
"It's nothing personal Kes." Harry quickly assured her, raising a hand when it still looked like she was going to hex him. "You and Ginny are better at thinking on your feet and reacting quickly. I need you two on that Map."
The Black and Potter heirs stared at each other for a few moments before Kestrel finally let out an annoyed sigh. "Fine, but for the record I don't like this. Not one bit."
"How are we going to stay out of sight though Harry? There aren't exactly a lot of places to hide outside that corridor."
Harry reached once more into his bag and pulled out a cloak made out of a shimmering silver material that flowed like water. Ginny stared in amazement at the Invisibility Cloak while Neville and Kestrel glared at him.
"You stole Uncle James' Cloak?"
"Oh he is going to kill you when he finds out."
"He will not kill me, Kestrel."
"Okay true, he probably won't kill you, but he will definitely ground you for the whole summer.
"Probably, but it'll be worth it." Harry shrugged and threw the Cloak over himself and Neville. "Are our feet covered?"
"Yeah you're good." Kestrel walked them out of the Common Room so it didn't look like the portrait of the Fat Lady was swinging open by itself. It seemed as though lady luck was shining on them that afternoon as the portrait was empty when they entered the hallway. She whispered a quick good luck to her brothers then walked back inside the Common Room and rejoined Ginny in their usual spot.
Deciding to make it look like they were doing something Ginny had gone up to their dorm to get their research on Hogwarts and its Founders, and since they had the Map, Ginny gave it a quick scan for any room that they had not managed to find for their own map, specifically the room of the founders. Unfortunately they were not to be that lucky, as they could not find anything on the original Map that they may have missed.
Kestrel split her attention between reading books she had gotten from the library, on Hogwarts early history, and keeping an eye on the Snape dot on the Map. Ginny kept an eye on Quirrell while she tried to decipher Remus' notes. Ron's writing was nearly as bad as Remus' so the four of them were hoping that she would be able to translate the old Marauder's notes.
They sat for several hours alternating between watching the map for movement and their own research. Snape had moved from the Staff Room to his office, and had been there for the last two hours. Quirrell had spent the time seemingly pacing his office, only leaving for a brief moment to enter his quarters, before returning to his office and resuming his previous activities.
Not long before Curfew was to be reached several things happened at once. Quirrell left his office on the 5th floor and began making his way towards the stair cases; Snape had exited his office and began wandering about his classroom; Hedwig flew in through an open window in the common room and landed on Ginny and Kestrel's notes scattering several quills and a few pieces of parchment, including the Marauder's Map.
Kestrel dove out her seat and scooped the Map up off the floor, trying to relocate Quirrell's dot as fast as possible. Ginny took the scrap of paper that was clutched in the snowy owl's talons and scanned it quickly. "Mr. Black is on his way."
"My dad's coming, not Uncle James?"
"That's what the letter says. According to this he finishes work in," she glanced at a clock above the fireplace. "10 minutes. Then he's Apparating to Hogsmeade. He also says not to do anything stupid."
"Too late, where's that bloody mirror. Quirrell's on his way to the third floor." Kestrel had finally found the DADA Professor's dot and he was a lot closer to Harry and Neville than she liked.
Ginny handed Kestrel the mirror and she turned it so it was facing her. "Harry Potter."
The mirror shimmered for a few seconds then showed Harry's dimly lit face. "Kestrel, what's happening?"
"Quirrell's on his way. Dad should be here soon, but he's not going to make it before Quirrell reaches you."
Harry paled a little but nodded resolutely. "Okay. Neville and I are going to have to try and stop him."
"How?! You're First Years. Granted we were raised by Aurors and know more spells than most first years, but nothing that can match a teacher, let alone Voldemort."
"We were also raised Marauder's. We'll think of something. Go to the Entrance Hall and wait for Sirius to get here then bring him here. Hopefully he'll get here before we get in over our heads."
"I'm pretty sure we're already over our heads, Harry."
"Not helping Neville. Shh! I hear him. We'll be fine, Kes, go wait for Padfoot." Before Kestrel or Ginny could protest further Harry cut off the connection and the mirror went black.
Kestrel and Ginny stared at the empty mirror, their own worried reflections staring back at them, then both girls leapt to their feet, hastily shoving quills and books and parchment into whichever bag was closest. Kestrel snatched up the Map and followed Ginny to the portrait hole. They almost bowled over Fred and George who were just coming to the entrance to the Tower as they were exiting. Ginny ducked under Fred's arm and Kestrel dodged around George, dancing a bit so as not to knock him off his feet.
"Sorry still not done with the Map, We'll give it back later. Promise!" The older twins could only stare as the two girls vanished down the stairs, leading to the castle's lower levels.
"Barking mad the both of them." They said together and entered the still open portrait hole.