Neville ran back into the Chessboard room and hurried over to Ron's crumpled form. He checked his head wound, trying not to cause the unconscious redhead any more injury. He was about to cast a levitation charm to float Ron back the way he had come, when he heard the approach of hurried footsteps. He drew his wand and grabbed a hunk of rock, spinning around to confront whoever it was.
He nearly fainted with relief when he saw Sirius running up to him. "Neville!"
"Uncle Sirius!" Neville dropped the stone as Sirius dropped to his knees and wrapped his arms around his nephew's shoulders.
"Are you ok?"
"Yes, I'm fine. Ron's hit his head, but he seems alright, too-"
"And where's Mr. Potter?" Neville glanced up in confusion at Snape, briefly wondering why he was even there to begin with.
"He went on ahead to try and stop Quirrell."
"Of course he did, much too much like his dad for his own good. Come on, Snape." Sirius stood, a hand on Neville's shoulder. "We're going to go and get your brother, take your friend up to the hospital wing."
"Okay." Neville flicked his wand, and Ron slowly began to float.
Neville called out just before Snape and Sirius would have disappeared into the other room. "Uncle Sirius?"
"Be careful, and bring Harry back."
"I'll do my best, get going." Neville nodded and watched as the two men vanished through the door.
Sirius scowled at the fire that sprung up behind them as they crossed the threshold, following Snape to the table that held the potions and the riddle. "Logic puzzles, Snape?"
"Many Wizards and Witches lack basic common sense, something I would think you would know a lot about, Black."
Snape's sneer did not go unnoticed by Sirius, but his biting retort was not to be heard, as a short scream echoed into the room from the one beyond.
"Harry!" Sirius turned a panicked expression to the dark Professor. "Which bottle is it?"
Snape two took long strides to the table and picked up the smallest bottle, nearly dropping it when a second scream, this one longer and more agonizing than the first.
"The potion, Severus!" Snape nearly dropped the bottle again at the uncharacteristic use of his given name, but managed to toss the bottle to Sirius. The Auror uncorked it and downed the potion in one smooth motion, tossing the bottle back to Snape.
Without waiting a second more, Sirius turned into Padfoot and leaped through the now cool flames, and Snape returned the potion to the table, waiting impatiently for it to refill.
The scene that Sirius entered to, made his blood run cold. There were pieces of stone ceiling scattered across the floor, a red stone glinting among the debris. A man he assumed to be Quirrell was in the centre of the room, his skin was like burning charcoal, fading red in places, and flaking in others, bits falling off and disintegrating before even hitting the floor. His godson was slumped against the wall, near the doorway he had entered through, blood running down from his now, angry red scare, his hands were blistered and burnt, glasses nowhere to be seen, and skin deathly pale.
He ignored the crumbling form of Quirrell and dropped to his knees next to his godson, shaking hands reaching up to check Harry's pulse. A relieved, slightly hysterical, laugh escaping him when he found a steady, but faint beat beneath his fingers. He pushed Harry's messy hair off his face, checking him over for further hidden injuries.
His wand snapped up when footsteps approached, only lowering after he recognized the faces of Snape and Dumbledore.
"Harry! Sirius, is he - "
"Alive? Yes, no thanks to you." He scooped Harry up into his arms, standing and turning to glare at Dumbledore, gray eyes burning with a cold rage. "If my arms weren't full of unconscious eleven year old I'd hex you so thoroughly they'd never be able to remove the asses head I want to give you."
"DON'T! Don't you dare, 'Now Sirius,' me old man! You hid the bloody Philosopher's Stone in a school full of children! Have you lost your damn mind?"
Dumbledore opened his mouth to try and defend himself, but was cut off once again. "Don't bother answering, I don't have time for whatever tale you going to try and spin, to make this okay. If you'll excuse me, I'm taking my godson to the hospital wing. Out of my way."
Harry opened his eyes, groaning faintly as he tried to sit up, his whole body was one huge ache, as if he had been pounded by a horde of bludgers. The room was blurry so he did not see the hand that reached out for him until he felt it touch his shoulder. He jumped and reached for a wand that wasn't there. "Easy there, son. You're safe now."
"Dad? Where am I? Are Nev and Ron okay? What happened to Quirrell-mort?"
James chuckled as he handed Harry his glasses. "One question at a time, kiddo." He waited until Harry was sitting up and comfortable, glasses resting on his face once again. "You're in the Hospital Wing, Sirius brought you here after he arrived to find you unconscious. Neville and Ron are fine, they're probably with Kestrel and your other friends, waiting to know when they can come and see you. As for Quirrell, why don't you tell me what you remember of what happened, and I'll try and fill in the blanks."
"Okay. I left Neville behind in the potion riddle room, I'm assuming he went to go and get Ron to the Infirmary, and I went on ahead to the next room and found Quirrell-mort standing in front of a giant mirror."
"Hello Potter. I must admit I'm surprised, I did not expect it to be you who came to try and stop me." Quirrell spoke without a hint of a stutter, a calmness in his face that Harry hadn't seen all year, reflected back at him from the large, ornate mirror that the Professor was looking into.
"Yes well, no one believed us when we said you were after the Stone, so we decided to take matters into our own hands."
"Yes, who would believe that p-p-poor st-stuttering P-Professor Quirrell, would be out to steal the Stone?" As he had been talking Harry had been slowly making his way down the stone steps, into the sunken chamber that held the mirror and Quirrell. Once his feet hit the chamber floor, however, Quirrell snapped his fingers and ropes sprang up from the floor, wrapping around him tightly, trapping his arms against his sides.
Quirrell finally turned then and faced Harry, annoyance clearly written on his thin face. "You and your friends are much too nosey to live, Potter. All of your running around on Halloween, searching for your friends. For all I knew you could have seen me going to see what guarded the Stone."
"So it was you who let the Troll into the castle!"
"Yes it was. I have a special affinity with them you see. You must have seen what I did to that troll a few rooms back. Unfortunately while the other Professors were looking for the Troll, Snape – who already suspected me – headed to the Third Floor Corridor to cut me off. So not only did my Troll fail to kill you and your rotten siblings, but that great beast also could not even bite Snape's leg off properly."
"Now, stand there and be quiet Potter. I need to examine this mirror. Only Dumbledore would come up with something as ingenious as this." Quirrell walked around the mirror, tapping it here and there with his wand, muttering to himself as he circled it.
As soon as Quirrell was on the back side of the mirror Harry started to struggle trying to get his wand arm loose so he could get free of the ropes.
"It's no use, Potter, you won't get free, and so it's no use to keep trying. I'll retrieve the stone, kill you, go and find your siblings, kill them, and then revive my master." He turned back to the mirror, missing the rude gesture Harry gave him. "I see myself presenting the Stone to my Master, but how do I get it out of the Mirror?"
"Use the boy." Harry looked around trying to locate this newest voice, which seemed to fill the room like the sound of a thousand hissing snakes.
"What was that?" Harry demanded, struggling harder to free himself, or at least his wand arm from the ropes.
"My Master. He is with me wherever I go,' said Quirrell quietly. "I met him when I travelled around the world. A foolish young man I was then, full of ridiculous ideas about good and evil. Lord Voldemort showed me how wrong I was. There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it...Since then, I have served him faithfully, although I have let him down many times. He has had to be very hard on me.' Quirrell shivered suddenly. "He does not forgive mistakes easily. When I failed to steal the stone from Gringotts, he was most displeased. He punished me ... decided he would have to keep a closer watch on me."
"So it was Voldemort I've been reacting to all year then, not you."
"Quite so. No come over here," he flicked his wand and Harry floated over to the Mirror, where Quirrell set him down, right in front of it.
"Now, what do you see, boy."
Harry could not help but gaze into the Mirror, tying to think up a lie and at the same time prevent Quirrell from retrieving the Stone. He did all he could to hide his astonishment when his reflection was suddenly no longer encased in ropes. His reflection gave him a cheeky grin as it held up a fist-sized red stone, then slid it into its pocket. Harry felt his previously empty pocket become heavy, as if someone had just placed something inside.
Harry turned his head and stared Quirrell dead in the eye, "You dead, and my family safe and happy."
"Can't prove it." He stuck his tongue out defiantly and regretted the action almost immediately when Quirrell back handed him. He glared up at the masquerading professor and spat out a wad of blood from his bitten tongue, just missing Quirrell's robes.
"Tell the truth, boy what do you see!"
"Let me speak to him."
"Master, you are not yet strong enough."
"I am strong enough for this. Do as I say,"
Quirrell turned his back on Harry, and began unwinding his Turban, and the pain in Harry's scar, which had been at a dull ache since he entered the chamber, increased tenfold, making his eyes water, as the Turban fell to the floor.
"Harry Potter, we meet again."
"Voldemort? Have to say, not what I expected for an evil, megalomaniac."
"Yes. You see what I have been forced to become, after that fateful Halloween. Do you see what I must do to survive?" Harry blinked the tears from his eyes, shaking his head, trying to rid himself of the searing pain in his scar. "Live off another like a mere parasite, all thanks to you, because you did not have enough sense to die."
"I'm not really sorry about that, just so you know."
"Unicorn blood can sustain me, as you know doubt may have heard about the attacks on the Forest's herd, but it cannot give me a body of my own. But there is something that can, something that, conveniently enough, is inside your pocket."
Three things happened at once, Quirrell turned around to reach out for Harry; Harry managed to get his wand arm free, and dispel the ropes; and Quirrell drew his own wand.
"Very good Potter, it would seem that you are not as helpless as you would have most people believe."
"You think our dad's would let us attend a school full of Death Eater brats and not teach us how to defend ourselves? How stupid do you think we actually are?"
Harry screamed briefly before he managed to control himself, his knees hitting the unforgiving stone floor with a crack that echoed through the Chamber.
"Don't be a fool Harry." Voldemort began, as Quirrell moved closer to the gasping eleven year old. "Why suffer a horrific death, when you can join me and live."
Harry looked up at Quirrell form his position on the floor, hate filling his green eyes. "Never!"
"Bravery. Your Mother had it too. Tell me Harry, would you like to see her again. And Kestrel's mother, I could even heal Neville's mother of her insanity." Quirrell-mort waved his hand and the Mirror turned to face Harry. This time he did see his family, happy, and whole, and safe. "We can bring them back, together. All I ask for, is something in return."
Harry stood on shaky legs, pulling the Stone from his pocket as he straightened.
"That's it Harry. There is no good, or evil, only power…and those that are too weak to seek it. Together we can do extraordinary things. All you have to do is give me that Stone."
Harry glanced at the Mirror again to find that it was empty of his family, instead only showing the reflection of Voldemort's disembodied face on the back of Quirrell's head, smiling in triumph.
"Liar!" Harry snapped his wand at the air, in a whipping motion and a huge bang filled the room, echoing loudly, pieces of the stone ceiling falling between them. He turned to make a run for the hall he had entered through.
With his back turned Harry did not see Quirrell leap for him, floating across the room like a Dementor; easily clearing the rubble that was between them. Quirrell slammed into his back, taking them both to the floor, causing Harry to drop the Stone. Quirrell wrapped his hands around Harry's neck and began choking him. Harry tried to reach for his wand, but quickly realizing that it was too far out of reach, grabbed at Quirrell's wrists instead.
The possessed Professor released Harry with a scream of pain and surprise, and looked at where Harry's hands had touched his wrists. The skin was blistered, hard, and cracking, and pieces were flaking off like ash.
"What magic is this?"
"Get the Stone!"
Quirrell reached for the Stone, and Harry in a desperate attempt to stop him, shoved his hands into Quirrell's face. Quirrell screamed in agony, a sound that Harry echoed as the pain in his scar became unbearable. With his eyes scrunched shut, he did not see Quirrell's body changing to a stone like form, or feel the energy of the room building. As his consciousness slipped from his grasp, he heard what sounded like an explosion, rock the room, and felt himself become weightless, before everything went dark.
"And that's all I remember."
James nodded, the look on his face more serious than one Harry had ever seen before. "Padfoot arrived just after that, I think. Gave Dumbledore a bit of an earful, and then brought you here. Ron was released the next day."
"Next day…how long have I been out for?"
"Almost four days."
"Four days! But I wasn't even hurt that badly!"
"No, but you expanded a lot of magical energy doing what you did to Quirrell, we thought you'd be out for a week or more. Your hands were also badly burned." James couldn't keep the worry from his eyes, and Harry couldn't help but feel guilty for making his family worry so much about him.
"Well that explains the bandages then. I'm sorry Dad, I know I should have waited for Padfoot, but I didn't know how far away he was; I just didn't think I had the time."
"I know, son, and we aren't mad at you, Kestrel probably is, but you know that she is most likely glad that you aren't hurt, and uses her anger to hide her worry."
They sat in silence for a few moments, before Harry broke the silence, asking something that had been bothering him since he had started telling James what had happened. "Dad, what exactly was it that I did to Quirrell? How, how did I stop him?"
James ran a hand through his perpetually messy hair, a small look of confusion passing over his own features. "Well as to that, I'm still not quite actually sure –"
"Maybe I will be able to shed some light on that particular mystery, James." Head and Heir of House Potter turned simultaneously to look at Dumbledore as he entered the Infirmary.
"I apologize for interrupting, I was coming to see if Harry had awoken yet, and could not help overhearing his question. Glad to see you up and about my boy."
Harry ignored the platitude and sat further up in his bed, "How did I stop Quirrell. It was like I, I burned him up from the inside out." Harry's skin went pale and his bandaged hands started to shake at the mere memory, of what he saw and felt as Quirrell was burned alive from just his touch. He jumped again when James put a hand on his shoulder, trying to offer his son whatever comfort and support that he could.
Dumbledore conjured up a simple, wooden chair, and sat down at the foot of Harry's hospital bed. He laced his fingers together, elbows resting on his knees, his chin on his hands, blue eyes gazing at Harry over his half-moon glasses.
"Come again?" Harry said, confusion flashing across his face.
"You're going to have to elaborate on that one for me as well, Albus."
"Of course." Dumbledore straightened a bit in his seat as he thought how best to explain his theory. "You see Harry, the night that Voldemort came to your home, you're mother refused to step aside, and sacrificed her own life to save not only yours, but Neville and Kestrel's as well." Harry nodded, following along so far. "Now that is not to say that if it had been Kestrel, or Neville, in your place they would have had the same reaction."
"Why not?" Both Potter's questioned.
'Because, Voldemort marked you, that night in Godric's Hollow, and not your brother or sister."
"Your mother sacrificed herself for all of you, but because Voldemort targeted you, it was you that your mother's protection latched on to. He didn't realize that love as powerful as your mother's for you, and your siblings, leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign...to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever. It is in your very skin. Quirrell, full of hatred, greed and ambition, sharing his soul with that of Voldemort, could not touch you for this reason. It was agony to touch a person marked by something so good."
Harry was dressed and sitting on the edge of his hospital bed, waiting for Madam Pomfrey to give him the okay to join the rest of Hogwarts at the Leaving Feast.
His head snapped up when he heard the click of the door, expecting to see the kindly Medi-Witch. He only just managed to hide his disappointment when it turned out to only be the Headmaster.
"Hello, my boy. It's good to see you up and about. I'm sure you're eager to join your family and friends at the feast, so I won't keep you long."
"You mean I'm free to go?" Harry stood up from his bed, an excited grin on his face.
"Of course, lad. I just wanted to ask if you had any further questions for me, that you maybe did not want your father to hear?"
Harry tilted his head in confusion, wondering why he wouldn't want his father to hear any questions he had to ask. He shook it off when one came to him, but he'd discuss whatever answer he got with his family, once they were safe at home. He wanted to see what the ageing Wizards answer would be.
"Actually, Professor Dumbledore, now that you mention it, I did have one question. Why? Why did Voldemort want us dead? Why now, and why eleven years ago? I mean, we were just babies. What threat could three toddlers, barely out of diapers, pose to a full grown Wizard?"
Dumbledore sighed sadly, "Unfortunately Harry, that is not a question I can answer for you at this time. Ask me again another day, it is not something that someone your age, with your whole life to look forward to, needs to be burdened with."
Harry glared at him suspiciously. "But you do know though, why he wants me and my siblings dead?"
"I have no definitive answers, only the suspicions of an old man." Before Harry could question further, Dumbledore clapped his hands and smiled. "Now, enough of that, I beleive your father is here to collect you and bring you down to the Feast. We shouldn't keep everyone waiting." His blue eyes twinkled merrily. Harry was positive that before his time at Hogwarts was over, he would grow to hate that twinkiling gaze.