An AU of a Sixth Year AU Story: What would have happened if two liberal American druids had taken Harry to America, before returning with him to Hogwarts? In this chapter, Harry decides the Stone i...
As exams approached and then started, Harry and his friends expected something to happen at any moment. After they had thought about the information they had, they had realized that things were far from as simple as Henry Dorff had tried to portray them. The students believed Snape was likely in league with Voldemort, and that he would be making an attempt on the Stone at some point. If Voldemort managed to kill more unicorns, the growing darkness in him would no doubt make him urge Snape on. If he failed to feed on the unicorns, he would be even more desperate.
They had also decided that it would actually be harder for Snape to take the Stone once the term was over. It would be easier for Dumbledore to move in people like Henry Dorff once the students were gone.
Harry was also distracted because his scar was hurting more and more, and his dreams of a hooded figure made him sleep less and less. Still, he managed to make a pineapple dance across Flitwick's desk in his Charms final better than anyone. In the Transfiguration final, only Hermione had managed a better mouse-into-snuffbox transformation. The two friends had been especially pleased with their Astronomy finals, while Neville had been very happy with his Herbology final. Ron had only been happy with the Flying final, and Harry had coached Neville and Hermione to satisfactory performances as well.
Quirrell had been nervous throughout the Defense final, and Harry's headache had been worse than ever. Snape had been agitated during the Potions final, and their last exam, History of Magic, had been as boring as the class itself.
Out of all this, Harry had become very fidgety. He felt as if a crisis was coming. Hermione forebear her usual rehashing of the exam, and took Harry out into the bright sunlight, Ron and Neville following. Harry cheered up a little at the sight of the Weasley twins and Lee Jordan tickling one of the giant squid's tentacles, but then his face fell.
"Cheer up, mate," Ron said. "By this time next week, we'll be home, and these problems will be someone else's." They started to walk over towards Hagrid's.
"That's part of the problem," Harry said. "For some reason, I feel like they're mine, and that everything is closing in today."
"Got the inner eye, have you?" Neville teased.
"Maybe," Harry answered. "I felt I almost had the solution towards the end of the Defense exam."
"Harry!" Hermione exclaimed, scandalized.
"I had finished first, I was just waiting for the rest of you to catch up," Harry teased back. Again, he turned serious and rubbed his scar. "I wish I knew what this means. My scar keeps hurting. It's happened before, but not like this."
"Should you go to Madam Pomfrey?" Hermione asked, concerned.
"No, I'm not ill," Harry answered. "I think it's a warning . . . it means there's danger coming."
Ron tried to push that idea away. "Relax, Harry. Look, the Stone's safe as long as Dumbledore's around. Anyway, we've never had any proof Snape found out how to get past Fluffy. He nearly had his leg ripped off, so he's not likely to try it again. And we all know Neville here will play Quidditch for England before Hagrid lets Dumbledore down."
"I didn't fly that badly," Neville grumbled.
Harry nodded, but he knew he had forgotten something, or hadn't realized the importance of something. Something to do with Hagrid. Still, Hagrid would never betray Dumbledore. Not knowingly. After all, Hagrid wouldn't tell Snape how to get past Fluffy, not even for another dragon egg.
"Come on!" Harry called, racing towards Hagrid's. "We've got to see Hagrid now!"
"Why?" Hermione demanded, huffing to keep up.
"Don't you think it's a bit odd that what Hagrid wants more than anything else is a dragon, and some stranger turns up who just happens to have an egg in his pocket? How many people wander around with dragon eggs, since it's against the law? Lucky they found Hagrid, isn't it?"
"What are you getting on about?" Ron demanded, since Hermione and Neville were too winded to ask.
Harry didn't answer, but kept them moving until the quartet ran up to Hagrid, who was sitting in front of his hut, shelling an immense bowl of peas.
"Hello, you lot," Hagrid said to them smiling. "Finished yer exams? You look hot. Got time fer a drink?"
"Yes, please," Ron asked, panting. Hermione and Neville were too winded to even ask.
"We're in a hurry," Harry said. "Hagrid, I've got to ask you something. You know that night you won Norbert? What did the stranger you won him from look like?"
"Dunno," Hagrid answered with a shrug, "he wouldn' take his cloak off."
The four students stared at him. "Wot? It's not that unusual, yeh know. You get a lot o' funny folk in the Hog's Head -- that meh pub down in the village. Mighta bin a dragon dealer, mightn' he? I never saw his face, he kept his hood up."
Harry sank to the ground from the shock, but managed to ask, "What did you talk to him about? Did you mention Hogwarts?"
"Mighta come up," Hagrid allowed, frowning as he tried to remember. "Yeah . . . he asked what I did, an' I told him I was gamekeeper here. . . . He asked a bit about the sorta creatures I look after, so I told him . . . and I said what I'd always wanted was a dragon . . . it's hard to remember, 'cause he kept on buyin' me drinks. . . . Let's see . . . yeah, then he said he had a dragon egg an' we could play cards fer it if I wanted, but he had ter be sure I could handle it. He didn' want it ter go to just any old home. So, I told him, after Fluffy, a dragon would be easy!"
"And did he seem . . . interested in Fluffy?" Harry asked, keeping his voice calm.
"Well, yeah, 'course he did. How many three-headed dogs d'yeh meet, even 'round the magical world? So I told him, Fluffy's a piece o' cake if yeh know how to calm him down. Jus' play him a bit o' music, and he'll go straight off ter sleep. . . ." Hagrid realized what he'd said. "I shouldn'ta told yeh that! Forget I said it!"
The quartet assured Hagrid they would and took off.
"We'll have to go to Dumbledore," Harry said as they hurried back to the castle. "Mum, Dad, and their friends were called to London, Remus and Sirius are still out of the country, and Master Cadfael mentioned that he'd be gone until next Monday. Tonight or tomorrow night would be perfect for Snape."
"But he has all those exams to grade!" Hermione objected.
"Exactly," Harry said. "The druids and my parents and their friends will be back next week, and no doubt will help watch the Stone when the castle empties out. The sooner Snape makes a grab for it, the better off he'll be. Everyone is exhausted from the exams today. By tomorrow night, students will be trying to sneak around again."
"That's true," Ron reminded Hermione. "Remember what Percy said? That the current House standings mean nothing, because so many points are taken the last week?"
"So we're going to see the Headmaster?" Neville asked nervously as they entered the castle.
"Where is his office?" Hermione asked.
"This way," Harry answered.
"What are you four doing inside?" a loud voice demanded. They were both frightened and relieved that it was Professor McGonagall, carrying a large pile of books.
"We want to see Professor Dumbledore," Hermione said boldly.
"Why?" McGonagall asked, puzzled.
"It's important," Harry said, "and something of a secret. Really."
McGonagall snorted. "Professor Dumbledore is on his way to London. He received an emergency owl a short time ago. He just flew off ten minutes ago."
"He's gone?" Harry demanded. "Now?"
"Professor Dumbledore is a very great wizard, Potter, he has many demands on his time."
"But this is important!"
"You have something more important than the Ministry, Potter?"
"Look, it's about the Philosopher's Stone. . . ." Harry started.
McGonagall was so surprised, she dropped her books and just stared at them. "How do you even know. . . ." she sputtered at them.
"Professor, I know that Sn . . . that someone is going to try an steal the Stone soon. I've got to talk with Professor Dumbledore!
McGonagall stared at him. "The Headmaster will be back tomorrow. I don't know what you think you've found out, but rest assured, no one can steal it. It's too well protected."
"But. . . ."
"Potter! I know what I'm talking about!" McGonagall started to pick up her books, and Hermione and Neville helped her. "I suggest you all go back outside and enjoy the sunshine."
But they didn't.
"It must be tonight," Harry whispered once McGonagall had left. "Snape's going through the trap door tonight. Dumbledore is out of the way, and the professors who are here won't listen. Anyone else we could ask for help is gone. I bet the people in London will be surprised when Dumbledore and everyone shows up there."
Neville frowned, "So what. . . ." Hermione gave a gasp of surprise, and they all turned to see Snape standing near by.
"Good afternoon," he said in a more natural and even nicer voice than they had ever heard him use. "You shouldn't be inside on a day like this," he said with a small twisted smile. The four students just gawped at him. "You want to be more careful. Hanging around like this, people will think you're up to something. And wouldn't it be a shame for Gryffindor to lose any points?" Gryffindor was running a close second to Slytherin in the race for the House Cup.
The four students all nodded, and started edging away towards the door.
"Be warned!" Snape said firmly, "any nighttime wanderings and I will personally see to it that you are expelled! Now, good day to you!" He turned towards the staff room. They didn't hear him murmur, "That should get them down that trap door!"
Harry turned to the others. "Right. Here's what we have to do. One of us has to keep an eye on Snape. Wait outside the staff room, and follow him if possible. If not, tell the others, waiting at the back entrance to Fluffy's room. Hermione, you should keep an eye on Snape."
"It's obvious," Ron teased. "You can pretend to be waiting for Professor Flitwick or someone." He tried to imitate Hermione's voice and accent, ""Oh, Professor! I'm so worried. I think I may have misread question fourteen b. . . ."
"Oh, shut it," Hermione snapped.
"Neville, you can go to dinner and snaffle some extra food for us. Ron and I will start off looking after the back way to Fluffy. Drop food off for Hermione and then us, and you can replace one of us."
Unfortunately, they hadn't even gotten in place when McGonagall turned up. "I suppose you think you're harder to get past than a pack of enchantments!" she stormed at the pair. "Enough of this nonsense! If I hear you or your friends have planted yourselves here again, I'll take fifty points off you! Yes, Weasley, fifty points off for each of you. Now scat!"
Heading back towards the common room, they ran into both Hermione and Neville. Snape had sent Flitwick out to talk to Hermione and disappeared.
"That's it then," Harry said. "After dinner, I'm sneaking out and finding the Stone myself. It's the only way.
"You can't!" Neville said.
"If Snape or McGonagall catch you, you will be expelled!" Hermione protested.
"So what?" Harry demanded. "Don't you understand? If Snape gets a hold of the Stone, Voldemort's coming back. If that happens, there won't be a Hogwarts to be expelled from, from what I've heard, at least not for long! He'll destroy it or make it Dark Arts. He'll kill you, Hermione, for having the wrong sorts of parents, and don't think he'd love the Weasleys or Longbottoms, either."
"We know," Neville said.
"Sorry," Ron said. Hermione just stood there, nearly in tears. There should be some authority figure she could turn to, but not even she could think of one at this point, not one who would take them seriously.
"I'll use the invisibility cloak," Harry said simply. "I'll take care of it."
Hermione looked at Harry, and realized that she believed in him, that she believed he could make things right. "You're right, Harry," Hermione said. "But can it cover all of us?"
"All of us?"
"You don't think we'd let you go alone?" Ron asked.
"We're in this together," Neville agreed.
"But if we get caught. . . ."
"Remember what you just told us," Neville reminded Harry.
"Don't worry," Hermione stated. "We're with you. And don't worry about our getting expelled. Professor Flitwick told me that I got a hundred and twelve percent on his exam, and that you were a close second. They're not letting us go."
After dinner, the four sat quietly at their usual table in the back corner. No one paid them any attention. Neville and Ron were playing torpid games of chess, Hermione was studying her texts and notes, while Harry practiced some of the basic meditation Tabitha had taught him.
Slowly, the room emptied. "Wait here while I get the cloak," Harry murmured. He picked up the cloak and the flute Hagrid had given him at Christmas and came back just as the last of the other students had left.
It was a tight fit. Ron had to stand in the middle, with Neville on one side and Harry and Hermione on the other. Ron had to wrap his arms around Neville and Harry's shoulders, while they held Ron around the waist. Harry and Hermione had to do the same, while Hermione and Neville used their free hands to hold the cloak.
The quartet moved cautiously but quickly through the halls, but saw no one until they were well up the last set of stairs, when Peeves nearly came up behind them. Fortunately, he became occupied in trying to loosen the carpet that ran up the center of the stairs.
To their shock, when they arrived at the final door, they saw it was already slightly open. "If any of you want to go back, I won't blame you," Harry said. "You can take the cloak. . . ."
"Don't be stupid," Ron said.
"Seriously," Harry said, "maybe one of you should go send an owl to Dumbledore. If he's flying, they might meet along they way. Then you could go along and warn McGonagall."
"Don't look at me, Harry," Hermione said firmly. "I'm coming with you."
"So am I," Neville added, while Ron glared at Harry.
"All right then, let's go in." Harry pushed the door fully open. They all heard soft music, and saw that Fluffy was asleep, and a small enchanted harp was playing by its left head.
"Let's go," Harry whispered. "The harp might stop playing, and Fluffy has almost got its paw on the trap door."
Ron and Neville easily opened the door, and Harry crawled over the edge. When he was hanging by his fingers, he said, "I can't see any bottom. If something goes wrong, Ron, you owl Dumbledore. Hermione, go to McGonagall. Neville, you alert Madam Pomfrey."
As the others whispered 'Good luck,' Harry dropped.
And landed in something tough but springy.
"It's okay," Harry called up. "It's a soft landing. Just make certain you roll off to one side!"
"Hurry," he heard Hermione say, "the harp is slowing down!"
Ron jumped, followed by Neville and Hermione. Just as Hermione landed with a soft FLUMP, they heard Fluffy growling at the top.
"We must be under the dungeons here," Hermione said.
"Lucky this plant was here," Ron said.
"Lucky?" Hermione replied, a note of panic in her voice, "look at you!" She started to struggle towards a wall. She had to struggle, because the plant was trying to grab her ankles. The tendrils had already twisted Harry and Ron's legs without their noticing it. It was also making the same moves against Neville.
"It's only Devil's Snare," Neville said. "It doesn't like light or heat. Lumnos!" The light drove the plant off Neville, and he fell through. "It's only about a five foot drop from the bottom of the plant," they heard Neville say. In less than two minutes, he was joined by the others.
"Thanks, Neville," Harry said. "Come on." He led them in the dripping silence down the passageway, which sloped downwards.
"Can you hear something?" Ron asked softly a few minutes later.
They paused and listened. They could hear soft rustling and clinking up ahead.
"Think it's a ghost?" Neville asked.
"Sounds more like . . . wings," Harry answered.
"I see some light up ahead," Hermione pointed out.
They emerged into a well-lit chamber a few minutes later, its ceiling high above them,. It was full of small, jewel-bright birds near the ceiling, and there was a closed door opposite them.
"Do you think they'll attack if we try the door?" Neville asked.
"They don't look dangerous, but I suppose they might be. There's only one way to find out," Harry answered, and he sprinted across the floor. To his surprise, the birds stayed overhead. He tried the door, but it was locked.
The others came cautiously across, but they couldn't open the door, either, even when Hermione's opening charm was cast by all four of them.
"Now what?" Ron asked.
They looked around the chamber. "There're some brooms," Neville pointed out.
"Do you think we have to fly through the birds to find the real exit?" Hermione asked.
"Wait! Those aren't birds!" Harry exclaimed, pointing, "they're flying keys!"
"But there are hundreds of them!" Neville complained.
Ron looked back at the door. "We're looking for a big, old-fashioned key, probably silver, like the handle."
The four took off, trying to catch the keys to examine them. The keys darted away from them, and after nearly five minutes of this, Neville rammed into a wall, falling to the floor. While Hermione and Ron went to check on him, Harry spotted the key he wanted, which he noticed had slightly crumpled wings. He went after it like a snitch, and grabbed it.
Harry landed and asked, "How are you, Neville?"
"I think I broke my wrist," Neville answered. Hermione had immobilized it. "One key almost hit me in the eye!"
"Look, take one of the broomsticks and go back to the Devil's Snare. If we're not out in say half an hour, fly out to the owlery. Make certain you're whistling when you get up near Fluffy. You do know how to whistle, right?"
"Right." Neville limped out to the incline, while Harry rammed the key into the lock and opened the door. The key then flew out of his hand, and went back towards the ceiling.
The three went through to a darkened chamber. When the door unexpectedly slammed shut behind them, however, the room was flooded in bright light.
In front of them was a giant chess board. They saw a few pieces were just finishing reassembling themselves. They obviously had to play their way across the board, and their opponent was just as obviously just ahead of them.
"How do we do this?" Harry asked.
"I think we have to take the places of the chessmen," Ron answered. He approached a knight and touched it. The piece sprang to life, the horse pawing the ground and the knight looking ominously at Ron.