Ginny and Kestrel flew down the stairs, their feet hardly seeming to touch the stone steps, such was their haste to reach the Main Entrance. They hit the landing of the Main Entrance just as the large wooden doors swung open admitting Sirius Black, his red Auror Robes swirling around him.
"Dad!" Kes came to a sliding stop in front of her father tilting her head back to meet grey eyes that matched her own.
"Where are they?"
"The Third Floor corridor. Quirrell was already on his way, I told Harry and Nev not to do anything stupid, but you know them."
"Only too well. They're probably already head over shoulders in trouble. Do you have the map?" Kes handed over the map and Sirius indulged in a brief wistful smile at having his old map back in his hands. But he quickly was back to all business when he saw the two dots labelled Harry and Neville, sneaking along not far back from the dot labelled Quirrell.
"Merlin's beard! Okay I'm going to get the boys, I want you two," he pointed at Kestrel and Ginny in turn, "to go and find a Professor, preferably a head of house, and tell them what's happening, and get them to that corridor."
They nodded and ran back towards the stairs. Kestrel stopped at the first step and turned back to face her father. "Be careful dad and bring yourself and the boys back in one piece."
"I'll do my best, luv. Go on now. Mischief Managed." He stuffed the now deactivated map into his robe and proceeded to change from a rather handsome black haired man into a shaggy furred, giant, black dog. He shook himself all over, barking once, and then took off up the stairs racing passed Ginny and Kestrel, hurrying to get to the third floor. Hoping against hope to be in time to keep Harry and Neville from getting into a situation they were ill-equipped to handle.
Ginny and Kestrel looked down every hallway they came to, calling out for various professors as they ran, hoping that someone would hear them.
"Black. Weasley. Is there a particular reason you are raising such a racket?" The two First Years came to a sliding halt, Ginny nearly tripping over Kestrel.
"That's Professor Snape, Black."
"Right sorry, I don't really have time for politeness." Snape's dark eyes narrowed and he glared down at the small girls before him. Before he could reprimand them for their rude behaviour, Kestrel was already pushing forward, hair rapidly changing colour in her harassed and worried state. "Quirrell's gone after the stone, Harry and Neville went to try and stop him, but we told Uncle James about Dumbledore being gone and he said he'd get here as soon as he could, but dad came instead and now he's here and trying to get to Harry and Neville before they get to Quirrell, who is getting the stone for Voldemort, so he can resurrect himself, and finish off the job he started when he tried to kill Harry when we were babies."
Snape could only stare down at Kestrel who was taking heaving breaths, having said all of that without taking one. "You're telling me that Sirius Black is in this castle and that the Potter and Longbottom brats are attempting to keep one of the most powerful wizards in history from retrieving the Philosopher's Stone?"
Snape stood in silence for several moments before pointing at both Ginny and Kestrel in turn, speaking softly and in a no nonsense tone as he always did. "Go to the Headmaster's Office, on the seventh floor. The password to get passed the Gargoyle is Blood Pops. There is a painting of the first ICW conference on the east wall. It's connected to the Ministers office. Tell the painting, to tell the Minister to send Dumbledore back to the school."
With his instructions given Snape turned towards the stairs black robes billowing around him as he strode away.
"Where are you going?"
A look of disgust came over his face as he glanced at the two first year girls over his shoulder. "To help your father save your brothers from their own stupidity." With those final words spoken Snape hurried up the stairs towards the third floor corridor.
"Right, so I guess Snape isn't in league with Voldemort."
"Nope, but he's still an evil, greasy git. Come on Gin; let's get to the Headmasters office."
A little while earlier:
"This is stupid!"
"Of course it's stupid, but dad is probably not going to make it in time, and at least this way we can tell him which way he went, at the most we can maybe try and slow the bugger down."
Harry and Neville were ducked down behind a statue at the base of the third flood corridor staircase, hiding under the Cloak, waiting for Quirrell.
"We're going to die."
"Well with that attitude we are, Longbottom. Geez, could you be more depressing?" Harry hissed.
"I can try, if you'd like."
"I wish you'd brought Kes with you instead, she's better with a wand than I am."
"She's faster yeah, but you can keep your head better in a crisis than Kes can. And you know me and Kes would just argue about the best way to do things."
"That's true. You two are kind of useless on your own."
"Harry? Neville?" Both boys slapped a hand over each other's mouths and froze, eyes wide and staring at one another. The peeked out from behind the statue to see Ron Weasley standing there looking rather confused as he tried to locate the source of his friends voices.
"Ron! Ron, get over here!"
Ron glanced to his left and sees two hands beckoning him over to the Statue of Gregory the Smarmy. As he reached the statue he was grabbed roughly by the lapels of his robe and pulled behind it by two separate pairs of hands. "Whoa, hey what the – "
"Shut up, Ron!"
"No, it's Snape."
"Where are you, I can't see you Harry."
"I'm right in front of…oh right the Cloak." Harry pulled the cloak off of his and Neville's heads revealing them to the confused red-head.
"Whoa, that's an Invisibility Cloak."
"Yeah, it's my father's I uh…borrowed it?"
Neville had a sudden coughing fit, and Ron would later swear he could make out the words stolen.
"Shut it, Longbottom. Anyway, what are you doing here Ron? I thought you were hanging out with the twins and Lee?"
"I was, the Squid got bored and it left, so we left."
"So you went wandering?"
"I'm not as smart as Ginny, or you three, or Hermione, I have to focus a lot more on my school work just to keep up with you, so I don't get time to explore like you guys. I'm taking the time to do it now."
Harry looked embarrassed and busied himself with rearranging the cloak. Neville patted Ron's shoulder, "Fair enough, mate. While I don't want to discourage you from your exploring, but you really need to do it on another floor."
"What? Why? What's wrong with this floor?"
"Nothing it's just that –"
Harry's hand shot up, gesturing for silence. "Shh, I thought I heard something."
Harry dug into his pants pocket and pulled out a mirror. "Kestrel Black." The image in the mirror swirled smoke and Kes' worried face appeared in the mirrors surface. "Kestrel, what's happening?"
"Quirrell's on his way. My 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."
He watched as Kes' face paled in the mirror before going red with anger. "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."
Harry ignored Ron's squeak from over by Neville. "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."
"For the last time, not helping, Neville. Shh! I hear him. We'll be fine, Kes, go wait for your dad." Harry deactivated the mirror before Kestrel could say anything further.
"So what's the plan Harry?" Neville whispered.
"I'm working on it."
"I have a question." Harry and Neville turned to look at Ron, as if seeing him for the first time. "What did Kestrel mean when she said Vol-V-V- He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?"
"You need to go, now, Ron. Before Quirrell gets here…better yet, duck behind the statue and after we leave to follow Quirrell, go and find a Professor. Tell them Quirrell is going after the Philosopher's Stone."
Ron opened his mouth to tell them exactly what he thought of that idea, but Neville clapped a hand over his mouth and pulled him further behind the statue and Harry quickly swung the Cloak over the three of them. Being crouched behind the statue, the Cloak was easily able to cover all three.
The three boys peered around the statue and watched as their usually stuttering, shy professor strode up the corridor with a confidence they had never seen. Quirrell walked up to the door that Fluffy was behind, he tapped the door to unlocked it, and it swung open, and the imposter professor stepped inside. The snarling and growling of three heads filled the corridor along with the unmistakeable sounds of music.
Harry grabbed the sleeves of Neville and Ron's robes and dragged them with him to the doors edge. The three boys peered inside to see a harp resting in the corner, playing a slow soft melody, which miraculously was keeping the Cerberus asleep.
"Music, really? Music is what keeps that monster asleep?"
"Right? I totally thought it would have been a giant, juicy steak."
"You guys ran into this thing?" Ron's voice went up several octaves as he looked at the three-headed dog, curled up asleep in the corner.
"Yup. Now listen Ron, we want you to go back and try and find a professor to come and help. Nev and I are going to try and slow down Quirrell."
"What, no way!"
"No. You listen. I'm not letting you guys go down there on your own."
"NO!" Neville and Harry hurriedly shushed him and Ron lowered his voice accordingly, and continued on in a hissed whisper. "First off, do you know what Gin would do to me if she found out that I was with you and just left?" All three winced at the image that conjured up. Ginny had a temper like an insulted Hippogriff. "Secondly, I know we haven't seen eye to eye for a lot of the year, but you're still my friends, and I'm not leaving you to face You-Know-Who by yourselves!"
Neville and Harry could only stare at the gangly red-head in front of them in confounded bewilderment for a few moments, before they both broke out into huge grins.
"What? Why are you two looking at me like that?"
"We'll tell you later. Come one." Harry said, the smile sliding off his face. "Let's go and catch up to Quirrell-mort before he gets too far ahead of us."
They slowly crept into the room, making sure to stay under the Invisibility Cloak, only the very edges of their shoes showing. lhad already slipped through the trap door and moved on beyond Fluffy's chamber. The music was still playing softly and the Cerberus was still snoring loudly, so Harry pulled the Cloak off and shoved it into the pocket of his robe and Neville walked over to the trap door.
Neville had his wand out and was peering down; trying to see what was below the trapped door. He stood up straight and shook his head, "It's too dark to see what's below, no idea what we're jumping into."
Harry and Ron walked over and joined Neville in looking down into the dark pit that was beyond the trap door, all of their faces pale in the unlit room. "Well, I'm not letting Quirrell get any farther ahead than he already has." Without waiting for input from Ron or Neville, Harry gripped his wand tightly in his hand and leapt feet first into the opening in the floor. Neville, not willing to let his brother, and best friend, go into danger alone and jumped in after him. Ron, not wanting to be left alone in a room with a monster that could wake up at any moment, followed Harry and Neville into the abyss.
They landed on what felt like a soft mat or strips of foam, but when Ron tried to push himself to his feet the floor flowed around his hand like a snake. "Ugh! What was that?"
"What was what?"
"The floor! It moved!"
"Floors don't just move, Ron." Harry tried to get his feet under him, but his foot was grabbed around the ankle and he was yanked back to the ground. "What the bloody hell was that?"
"I told you!"
"Well good for you, Weasley!"
"Shut it, and stop moving, the both of you!"
Harry and Ron turned to look at Neville who was sitting stock still, not a muscle twitching.
"What is it Nev, what's wrong?"
"We're sitting in Devil's Snare, the more you move or struggle the tighter the vines get, it'll strangle you if you struggle enough."
"How do we get out of it?" Ron asked, with more than a bit of panic in his voice.
"Give me a moment. I'm just trying to free my wand arm."
Harry and Ron waited with bated breath as Neville bit by bit, carefully extracted his arm from the constricting vines, the vines slowly wrapping themselves around the three wizards. With a final wrench Neville pulled his arm free with a yell and held his wand aloft, "Lumos!"
The small room was filled with a light as bright as the noon day sun, and the Devil's Snare retreated immediately to the dark crevices still hidden from the light of Neville's wand. The three boys hurried to get off the floor and through the door that led to the next room.
"Why is it always plants!" Harry complained as he pulled bits of plant matter out of his hair and straightened his robes.
"That was brilliant Neville. How'd you know how to get rid of that plant?"
"Easy. We have them at Longbottom Manor, guarding an underground escape tunnel. Gran taught me the rhyme when I was younger so I could escape if I ever had to. 'Devil's Snare, Devil's Snare. It's deadly fun, but wilts in the sun.' See, easy as pie!"
"Genius, as always Neville. See I knew I brought you for a reason." They arrived at the door that led out of the room, and Harry tapped with his own wand, Neville's still glowing, keeping the Devil's Snare at bay. "Alohamora."
With a click the lock turned and the door swung open, admitting the three boys into the next room. A room in which they promptly had to duck, as hundreds of small birds swooped down around their heads.
"What the bloody hell are those?"
"Well that's just useless." Harry complained as he swatted a winged key out of his face and made his way to the door across the room. He tapped his wand again, muttering the unlocking spell and cursed colourfully when nothing happened. Harry glanced from the lock, to his wand and back again, struggling to figure out why it hadn't worked.
He was about to attempt the spell again when one of the keys flew into the side of his head; he swatted at the offending key in annoyance and swung his wand up, only to have it knocked aside by both Ron and Neville.
"Think with your head, instead of you wand for once, Potter?" Harry blinked a few times and started to smile, only to have Neville smack him again. "Now is not the time!"
"Fine, why can't I blow up the keys?"
Ron snatched one out of the air and tried putting it in the keyhole. "Nope, not a fit."
Harry looked from the key in Ron's hand to the door. Then to the flock of key's circling the room. "Oh."
Neville took the key from Ron, observing it closely. "Yes, oh. This key looks too new for this lock. We're looking for an older key, probably iron, like the lock itself."
The three boys scanned the room for the one key out of a thousand that they were looking for, but were having difficulty focusing with all the fluttering and the glittering above them.
"Trying to find one key out of thousands is going to take too long, Quirrell is going to get the stone!" Ron threw his hands up in frustration then froze suddenly, starting at the door they had originally come through. "You have go to be bloody joking."
"What?" Harry and Neville turned to look where Ron was now pointing. There, leaning against the door frame were three brooms; old and rickety, but still flight worthy.
Neville and Harry cursed simultaneously and walked over to the brooms, each mounting one and tossing the third to Ron. The three Gryffindor's took to the air after circling the room a few times, Neville spotted the key they were looking for, out of the corner of his eye. He angled his flight to intersect the erratically flying key and gently snagged it out of the air, one of its silvery-blue wings was bent badly. "Got it!'
The three boys landed, leaving the borrowed brooms against the frame as Neville turned the look and opened the door. The door swung open and they were hit in the face with a stench that nearly had them retching.
"Ugh, what is that god awful smell?" Ron demanded, his words muffled by the sleeve of his cloak which he had stuffed over his nose and mouth.
"It smells like that bloody troll from Halloween."
"That would be because there is an unconscious Troll on the floor, Harry." Neville's voice was just as muffled as Ron's, and his face was twice as pale, remembering the terror he felt on that Halloween night.
"Well, look on the bright side," Harry forced a shaky smile, swallowing hard. "At least we didn't have to knock this one out ourselves."
"Let's just get out of this room before it wakes up yeah?"
"You guys and the girl's took down one of these things?!" Ron squeaked as they skirted around the edge of the room, doing everything possible to not accidently awaken the troll.
"Yeah, but it was mostly just team work and a lot of luck."
The door to the next room wasn't locked, thankfully. They opened the door only enough that they could slip in one by one, not wanting to risk the door creaking and waking the Troll. The sight of what waited for them on the other side, however, made Harry want to go back and face the troll instead.
"What the bloody hell is this?"
"Yes, but why is it so…giant?"
Indeed the chess board and pieces were at least 10 times the size of a standard Wizard Chess set.
"Who cares why it's giant, what is it doing here?"
"This must be McGonagall's contribution to the protection. We probably have to play our way across."
"In case the memory of Christmas has escaped you Weasley, Nev and I are terrible at Chess.
"Yes, but I'm not. I beat Percy and our older brother, Bill, at chess all the time. Neville, you take the place of that Castle there on the right, and Harry, take the Bishop on that same side."
"What about you Ron?" Neville questioned as he took the space the Black Castle had just vacated. Harry and the Bishop he was to be replacing seemed to be having some sort of staring match.
"I'm going to be a Knight." He suited words to action and walked over to the Knight that was on the left side of the board and took its place.
"Ready?" The Potter and Longbottom heirs nodded, trusting Ron's superior chess abilities to get them through that door.
"Okay, white generally plays first." He pointed as a white pawn move forward two spaces, and with that opening move from their faceless opponents, the game was on.
Ron directed their chess pieces with the precision of a general commanding his troops.
"Harry, move four squares to your right."
"Neville, back two spaces."
Their first loss was brutal. Not because it happened, Ron had explained before he moved the pawn, but the violence with which the white pawn took out theirs was staggering. After that things moved much more quickly as Ron directed them and their other pieces to move here and there, taking out white pieces in retaliation to their attacks. A few times Ron almost missed Neville or Harry being taken out, but he always managed to get them out of the way in time.
The Black Queen brutally dispatched their other Bishop, quite near to where Neville currently was, his facing going nearly as white as their opponents forms.
"Sorry Neville, had to do it, now Harry can take out their last Bishop." Harry moved to the space directed and the Queen moved out of the way.
Ron looked over board trying to decide on his next move. "Where nearly across, just give me a few moments to think." He rocked back on his heels suddenly and nodded to himself, "Yes, there's nothing else for it, it's the only way."
"I have to be taken."
"What, no!" Neville and Harry both started to protest, but the youngest male Weasley cut them off sharply.
"That's chess! Sometimes you have to make sacrifices to win!"
"Do you want Quirrell-mort to get the stone! I take one move forward, the Black Queen will take me out, and that Leaves Harry clear to put the King in check."
"We don't have time to argue about it! If we don't hurry up, he'll get the Stone."
Realizing that there was nothing that they could say to change Ron's mind. "Alright Ron, make your move."
"Right. Don't dawdle after you put the King in check, I'll be fine just go stop Quirrell." The two boys nodded and Ron took a deep breath. "Here goes nothing." He moved forward, shakily, freckles standing out on his ashen face. The opposing Queen moved forward and struck with brutal precision, striking him across the head with one massive stone arm. Ron slumped to the ground and the Queen dragged him off the board. Both boys managed to hold their squares, despite the overwhelming need they felt to check on their friend.
Harry moved forward three paces and stood in front of the King, "Check Mate." The King threw the crown at Harry's feet, ending the match. The boys hurried off the board glancing at Ron, who looked for all the world like he was fast asleep.
"Do you think he's –"
"I'm sure he's fine." Harry said, sounding more like he was trying to convince himself than his brother. "We'll get him on our way back through, let's just do what he asked and go stop Quirrel."
"Right. Who do you think's next?" The flames of the torches that lined the walls danced and jumped as the two boys jogged down the hallway.
"Well, we've hit Hagrid's, Sprout, the key's had to be Flitwick, I'm guessing the Troll was Quirrell, the Chess was McGonagall, and the next will either have to be Snape or Dumbledore's."
They entered a large chamber with small table in the centre of the room with seven different shaped vials, filled with liquid. In the far wall was an archway that lead to a darkened corridor. As soon as they crossed the threshold into the chamber a wall of purple shot up behind them, and the previously open corridor was blocked by black flames. They leapt away from the flames behind them, checking to see if the robes had accidently caught fire.
They approached the table warily, hoping not to set off any more traps, and noticed a slip of parchment sitting in front of the row of bottles, written in a very familiar spidery scrawl:
"Danger lies before you, while safety lies behind,
Two of us will help you, whichever you would find,
One among us seven will let you move ahead,
Another will transport the drinker back instead,
Two among our number hold only nettle wine,
Three of us are killers, waiting hidden in line.
Choose, unless you wish to stay here for evermore,
To help you in your choice, we give you these clues four:
First, however slyly the poison tries to hide
You will always find some on nettle wine's left side;
Second, different are those who stand at either end,
But if you would move onwards, neither is your friend;
Third, as you see clearly, all are different size,
Neither dwarf nor giant holds death in their insides;
Fourth, the second left and the second on the right
Are twins once you taste them, though different at first sight."
"Logic." Harry grumbled in disgust. "I hate logic puzzles, can't we just blast our way through?"
"Knowing Snape, I highly doubt it."
They stared at the parchment for several moments before Neville abruptly reached into Harry's cloak and pulled out the mirror. "Hey, watch it."
"Sorry, Harry. Kestrel Black!"
It was a few moments before Kestrel's face came into view in the mirror. "Neville! Where's Harry?"
"He's here, but we have a problem."
"There's a wall of fire and a riddle puzzle between us and Quirrell."
"Dad's on the way, he should be there soon, can't you just wait?"
"No, there's no time, he's already in the next room which probably has the stone."
"Fine. What's the puzzle?"
Neville hurriedly explained the problem showing Kes the riddle and the layout of the table. It was several minutes more, and the sound of Kestrel and Ginny discussing the puzzle. "Show me the table again."
Neville turned the mirror and let the two girls look at the table. "Okay, we got it!" Neville turned the mirror back to face himself and Harry, to see Kestrel holding up a scrap of paper with seven circles drawn on it, and two were circled.
"The one on the right hand side well get you back the way you came in, and the smallest one will get you across to where you need to go. Are you sure that you can't just wait for Da?"
"Yes, we're sure!"
"Okay, be careful. Please."
"We'll do our best. Finite." Neville cancelled the charm on the mirror and handed it back to Harry, who pocketed it carefully. They looked at the smallest vial and came to the same realization simultaneously. There was only enough potion in the vial for one of them to go through the fire, and onto the Stone.
Before Neville even had the chance to make a logical argument on waiting for Sirius, Harry snatched the tiny, sparkling blue vial from the table and shot it back, diving threw the now cool to the touch, black flames, leaving a now livid Neville on the other side.
"Potter, you utter prat! What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"Saving time. We don't have time for you to try and talk us into waiting for Padfoot. Drink the other vial, go and get Ron and then get to Sirius. I'll go stall Quirrell-mort."
Neville stared at him hard for a few seconds, but nodded in the end. The rage he was feeling was still plain on his face. "Fine, but for the record," he picked up the tall, smoky green vial and uncorked it. "If you get out of this alive, I am making your summer a living nightmare, Potter. You've been warned."
"Warning received. See you later."
Harry didn't wait to hear Neville's parting shot, just spun on his foot and ran down the dimly lit corridor. Hoping he was going to make it in time to stop Voldemort from getting the Stone, and coming back into the world.
He'd give his life to keep that from happening.