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 confronts his fate.
"Now don't be offended," Ron said, "but neither of you is very good at chess."
"We're not offended," Harry said, "you're in charge. Let's get going."
"Harry, you take the king-side bishop, Hermione, the queen-side castle. I'll take this knight." The others had played Ron often enough as white to know he usually led off with the queen in combination with the other knight and castle.
"Shouldn't you be the king?" Harry asked. "Won't you see better that way?"
Ron shook his head. "I think the view would be better from the knight once the game gets going." At that, the three pieces moved themselves off the board. A white pawn moved forward, and the game began.
The only sounds were Ron calling out the directions, and the sound of the pieces moving, and the pieces being taken. Like in wizarding chess, the capturing piece would break the captured piece. Ron had to be careful not to let any of them be captured. Upon reflection, he realized he should have made one of them the king, as that would have been slightly less worrying.
As the opening flowed into the mid-game, Ron was getting worried. Not about losing, because the white pieces weren't winning -- they seemed to be playing for a draw. At that moment, he saw the queen turn to face him, and he knew what had to be done.
"Yes," Ron said softly, "it's the only way. I have to be taken."
"NO!" Harry and Hermione both shouted.
"That's chess!" Ron snapped. "You've got to make some sacrifices to win! When I make this move, I might not be taken and you'll take the queen and we'll mate in three anyway. If she does take me, you move three spaces ahead, to the left and it will be mate. Got it?"
"Ron. . . ." Harry tried to argue. Ron simply made his move, and the queen clubbed him right across the forehead with her stone arm before he could even try and duck out of the way.
Shaking, Harry made his move. The white king threw his crown at Harry's feet, and the pieces parted to show a path to the door, but not to Ron. Looking helplessly at each other, Hermione and Harry ran through the door.
As they moved through the door, Hermione asked, "What if he's . . . you know. . . ."
"He'll be all right, or at least he was breathing," Harry said. "What do you think is next?"
"Sprout did the Devil's Snare and Flitwick probably did the keys. McGonagall probably did the chess set. That leaves Quirrell, Snape, and Dumbledore." As she finished, they came to the other door.
"Go ahead," Hermione said.
Harry opened the door, and a disgusting smell filled the air. They pulled their robes to their noses and went into the dim room. There was a troll, even larger than the one that had threatened them in the lavatory. It too was out cold.
"Glad we didn't have to fight that one," Harry managed to say on the other side of the door, choking a little.
"It must have been there for weeks," Hermione agreed, looking ready to vomit. "All that filth." She shuddered and Harry put his arm around her.
They looked ahead, and only saw a table with seven differently-sized and shaped bottles.
"This must be Snape's," Harry commented. "I wonder what we have to do."
As they stepped forward, a wall of purple fire fared up around the threshold of the door behind them, and a black flame went up in front of the doorway they had to escape through. They also noticed there was a sheet of parchment laying on the table. Nervously, they bent over to read it.
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 drink back instead,/
Two among us hold only nettle wine,
/Three of us are killers, waiting hidden in line./
Choose, unless you wish to stay here forevermore,
/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 forward, 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 second one on the right
/Are twins once you taste them, though different at first sight./
"This isn't magic," Harry complained.
"No, it's logic," Hermione answered. "A lot of powerful wizards haven't got an ounce of logic."
"And you've solved it already, I suppose." He looked. "None of them are full."
"No, but that's not important. The smallest bottle sends us forward, towards the Stone."
"But there's only enough for a swallow," Harry said. They looked at each other. "Which one sends you back?"
"The round one at the right end," she answered in a small voice.
Harry looked at his watch. "You drink that. Get Ron and take another broom. If you hurry, you can catch Neville before he goes."
"Are you sure?"
"Do you want to be the one who goes forward?"
Hermione thought about it and shook her head. "No, no you're the one that has to do it. You're a great wizard, Harry."
"You're at least as good, probably better," Harry responded.
"Me? Books and cleverness. There are more important things, Harry. Friendship, bravery, and . . . oh, Harry, be careful!" She flung her arms around Harry and kissed his cheek. He moved to kiss hers as well, and they brushed lips. They broke slightly apart, very embarrassed.
"You're a great wizard, and my best friend," Hermione whispered.
"And you're mine," Harry answered, still blushing. He let go of Hermione and handed her the bottle. "You first."
Hermione took the bottle drank, and then grimaced. "Yech. It's like . . . I'm turning to ice."
"Quick then, go! Before it wears off!"
"Good luck -- and don't forget, we need you." Hermione kissed Harry's cheek again and took off through the purple flame.
Harry's hand brushed his cheek, and he felt more powerful than he ever had before. He took the small bottle and drank the mouthful of potion.
It was indeed like ice pouring through his veins, which only encouraged Harry's faith in Hermione. He walked confidently through the black flame.
And on the other side, someone was waiting, but it wasn't Snape.
It was Quirrell.
"You!" Harry said with a gasp.
Quirrell smiled a cold smile, and he didn't seem his usual nervous or frightened self. "Me. I wondered whether I'd be meeting you here, Potter."
"But I thought . . . we all thought . . . Snape. . . !"
"Severus?" Quirrell said with a hearty laugh. "Yes, Severus does seem more the type, doesn't he? So useful to have him swooping around like an over-grown bat. Next to him, who would suspect p-p--poor, st-stuttering P-Professor Quirrell?"
Harry managed to protest, "But Snape tried to kill me!"
"No, no, dear boy, I tried to ill you. Miss Granger interrupted my hex as she stopped Snape's counter-hex." He sighed. "Another few seconds, and I'd have had you off that broom."
"Snape was trying to save me?"
"Of course! Why do you think he wanted to referee your next match? To help Slytherin win the Cup? Well, that would have just been an extra bonus, to him. Funny, really. He needn't have bothered, since I couldn't do anything with Dumbledore right there. So all he accomplished was getting all the other teachers angry, because they thought he was trying to steal the Cup. And yet, after all that, it was all a waste of time, since I'm going to kill you tonight. Well, I will, or my Master will." Quirrell snapped his fingers and ropes sprang out of thin air, wrapping themselves tightly around Harry.
Harry was shocked. He never figured Quirrell as someone who could do that level of wandless magic.
"You're just too nosey to live, Potter. Scurrying around the school on Halloween like that. For all I knew, you might have seen me coming to see what might be guarding the Stone."
"So you let the troll in!"
"Certainly. I have a special gift with trolls. You must have seen what I did to the one a few chambers back. Unfortunately, while everyone else was running around looking for it, Snape thought to look for me. So, not only did my troll fail to beat you to death, that stupid dog didn't even manage to rip Snape's leg off." He shrugged and turned away. "Now, wait quietly, Potter. I need to examine this."
It was only then that Harry saw the Mirror of Erised.
"This mirror must be the key to finding the Stone," Quirrell murmured. "Trust Dumbledore to think of this kind of puzzle. Still, he's in London, so I should have plenty of time. . . ."
There was a whispering in the back of Harry's mind, telling him to talk, to think, and to wait. Talk, to slow Quirrell down. Think, to make a plan. Wait, and not cause Quirrell to attack him now.
Harry also thought of Ron and Neville, and both his birth and adoptive parents. He thought of his siblings, and his other friends and team mates, and then his adult friends and some of teachers and Dumbledore. He thought of Hermione, and he could again feel the two kisses she'd placed on his cheek, and the one on his lips.
Harry was no longer scared, or even worried. He felt powerful, and knew that he was. He looked and Quirrell and asked, "I saw you and Snape twice, once near the library at Christmas, once in the forest. I wondered about the change in you at Christmas. I might have suspected you instead of Snape if I hadn't seen you pretending to snivel the second time."
"Yes, Snape does seem more the type, doesn't he," Quirrell answered. Then his attention snapped back to the mirror.
"Well, he does seem to hate me," Harry commented.
"Oh, yes, he hates you! You inherited the hate he felt towards your father. They were at school together, you know."
"Yes, Sirius and Remus told me all about that."
"Hush, boy! Now what does this thing do. I see myself handing the Stone to my Master. . . ."
"Amazing, isn't it? Everyone thought it would have to be a powerful wizard like Sirius who brought back Voldemort. . . ."
"Don't say the name!" Quirrell commanded, swirling around.
"Why not?" Harry asked. "And it's not his name, is it? What is his real name? Something common? I'm Harry, so maybe it's Tom or Dick or. . . ."
"Silence!" another voice demanded.
"I was wondering if you were here," Harry said. "Master Cadfael and my father said you were living as a parasite now. I knew that whatever else Snape was, he wasn't weak enough to allow that!"
"Quiet!" Quirrell ordered.
"Such brave words from such a young boy," Voldemort's muffled voice stated. "Show me to him!"
Quirrell obediently raised his arms and started unwinding his turban. In less than a minute, Harry was confronted by something which could only be described as a horror, even if he was more than half expecting it. Where there should have been a back to Quirrell's head, there was a face, the most terrible face Harry had ever seen. It was chalk white, with glaring red eyes and slits for nostrils, like a snake.
"See what I have become, Harry Potter," the face said. "Merely shadow and vapor. I have form only when I can share another's body, but there have been those willing to let me into their hearts and minds."
"For how long?" Harry asked. "Are any of them still around?"
The red eyes glared. "Unicorn blood has strengthened me, these past few months, and once I have the Elixir of Life, I will be able to again form a body of my own. So, unless you wish to die, begging for mercy like your parents, you will help me."
Harry glared at the monstrosity before him.
"So, use the boy."
Quirrell clapped his hands, and ropes binding Harry fell to his feet. "Come here!" both Quirrell and Voldemort commanded.
'What did Mom tell me? That my mother died for me, giving me complete magical protection against her murderer. That anything Voldemort did would react against him.' Harry shuffled a bit closer to the mirror, avoiding coming too close to Quirrell/Voldemort. 'That the power of my mother's love saved me, especially because the one magic that could hurt Voldemort was anything based on love.'
Harry pretended to look at the mirror. 'Love. My birth parents loved me. My parents love me. Sabrina and Henry love me. I think Remus and Sirius love me, too. A lot of people love me, in fact."
"Look harder!" Voldemort hissed.
'Do I love them?' Harry wondered. He realized he did, and that he cared for all of them. He thought of his friends. His Quidditch team mates. Brave Ron. Steadfast Neville. Brilliant and cute Hermione.
'Cute?' Harry thought with a start.
"Did you find something?" Quirrell demanded.
Harry's lips and cheek throbbed, and the sense of power he had felt before entering this chamber came back. Harry turned to face the creature beside him, and his magical aura was actually visible to the monster.
Quirrell/Voldemort took a step back. The magic coming off the boy was actually starting to blister the skin. "Stay away!" Quirrell half-commanded and half-begged.
"Get us away!" Voldemort commanded, his voice rising in panic as well. "The boy must not touch us!"
Harry grabbed Quirrell's wrist. The wrist burned through, and the hand holding the wand dropped to the floor. Harry's hand stung, but he didn't care. As Quirrell's body fell to his knees, screaming, Harry grabbed the double head between his hands and squeezed with all his might.
The head dissolved so quickly that even Voldemort's essence didn't have time to escape.
The Dark Lord was no more.
Harry looked at his severely burned hands, and then as the adrenalin subsided, he passed out from the agony.
When Hermione ran back to the chess chamber, she was surprised to see that it was empty, other than the reassembling chess pieces. She couldn't believe Ron had already recovered, but that seemed to be the only explanation. She stepped towards the exit, and stopped.
A number of figures moved towards her. Hermione brought her wand up, wondering what she could do, when the first stepped into the full light of the chamber. "Headmaster?"
"Yes, child, it is I," Dumbledore said. Hermione saw McGonagall, Harry's parents, the druid Cadfael, Thomas Lawrence, and most surprisingly, Professor Snape, step in as well.
"I don't understand," Hermione said in a small voice, her wand dropping to her side.
"Harry is confronting Voldemort," Dumbledore said. "There were two prophecies which predicted this. If we do not help him more than any of us have, then Harry should totally destroy Voldemort tonight. We believe we have set things up so that even if Voldemort is not killed tonight, he shall at least be defeated. In any case, only Harry can destroy him."
"Does Harry know that?" Hermione demanded.
"Not as fact," Cadfael said. "His heart may tell him."
"Professor Sprout has taken Mister Longbottom to the Infirmary," Dumbledore went on. "Professor Flitwick has taken Mister Weasley. It might be best of Mister Lawrence took you to be with them, while we wait for Harry."
Hermione felt for the first time currents of magical power. She was never to realize that these were lines of power and fate. She had to make a decision, and that decision would affect her life's path more than she could ever guess. She looked at Tom Lawrence, and was drawn to him. She somehow felt that here was a scholar after her own heart, someone she could share ideas with more than anyone she had ever met.
Tom looked at the disheveled little girl and wondered why she was looking at him so oddly.
Hermione then realized that she was making a choice, although she didn't know why it was important. Still, she made her decision. "I'd rather wait for Harry," she said firmly.
"Very well," Dumbledore said. He turned to McGonagall. "Professor?"
McGonagall waved her wand, and the chess pieces disappeared. While she, Hermione, and Tom Lawrence waited there, the other's cast what Hermione later found later were bubblehead charms, so that they could wait in the troll chamber without the stench bothering them.
Although it was not a tremendously long time, it seemed like hours to Hermione. Finally, though, Snape and Cadfael appeared, then Henry Dorff, carrying Harry in his arms.
"Is he . . . is he all right?" Hermione cried out.
"His hands are severely burned," Tabitha Dorff said, coming into the room as Henry kept moving. "He'll be alright by morning."
"That's good," Hermione said. "He'll be angry if he misses the Quidditch game."
"He may have to miss it in any event," Dumbledore said. "The important thing is, Voldemort has been completely destroyed. Harry's life is his own again."
Tabitha put her arm around Hermione's neck. "Come along," she said. "You can see your friends."