Blinded at the age of four, Harry Potter only wants to lead a normal life with his family. On his eleventh birthday, he finds out that he can have anything but...
Harry and Draco made it back to their tower without getting caught, but once there Harry was discouraged to find that there was still no sign of Hermione. Much later, after midnight, the boy woke up to hear Neville come stumbling back into the room and fall over his bed in an exhausted sleep. The next morning the podgy boy confided with his friends that the headmaster had come to him while he was at the mirror and explained some things about it. He had also said that Dumbledore said it would be moved to a safer place.
They talked among themselves trying to figure where their missing friend could be. Neville was of the opinion that she must be sick, though Harry didn't believe it as he'd seen her dragging herself to class with a terrible cold not a month before. He knew that keeping Hermione from a lesson would likely require physical restraint. Draco had been uncharacteristically quiet on the whole subject, neither adding his own thoughts nor even commenting on their ideas.
By Monday evening, Harry was beside himself after a full day of classes without a word from the girl. After dinner he made his decision to talk to the Gryffindor Head-of-House about Hermione and made his way towards her office. He liked the professor alright but he felt uncomfortable going to her. He felt he had let her down in some way by not excelling in transfiguration.
He was standing outside Professor McGonagall's door building up the courage to knock when he heard voices coming from the other side of the door. They sounded like the professor and Hermione so he let his Slytherin side get the better of him and cocked his ear towards to the door to listen more closely.
"Really, Miss Granger," came McGonagall's worried voice. "Are you sure you're up to returning to class so soon? It's hardly been a week..."
"Please Professor," he heard his friend reply. Her voice sounded strained and tired. He wanted to stretch his senses out but between the thickness of the door and the splitting headache he already had from a day of classes, he didn't think he could manage it. "My parents were adamant about me returning when I talked to them last. Neither they nor I are going to let anybody dictate where I go to school."
"And what about your arm?"
"The healer at St Mungo's said there was no permanent damage and that I'll be able to take off the bandages in another week or so. She also said that there won't be that much scarring."
There was a short pause where Professor McGonagall was likely debating the wisdom of returning the girl to classes but in the end she agreed. "Right then, gather your things and I'll walk you to the tower."
Harry turned and fled down the hallway, not wanting it to look like he was eavesdropping. He made it back to the dorms in record time and found Neville and several others playing Exploding Snap in the common room.
"Hullo, Harry," said the podgy boy as his friend came through the portrait hole.
"Nev," he answered, "have you seen Draco? I've got news!"
Neville nodded, "He just went to the Owlery to post a letter to his father I think, what news?"
The raven-haired boy frowned. He'd rather have told them all at once, but he couldn't wait for the blond boy to return since he was near bursting as it was. "Hermione's back! I overheard Professor McGonagall talking to her; they'll be here directly!"
As if on cue the portrait hole opened, allowing the Gryffindor Head-of-House and their missing friend to enter. Harry had to force himself not to gasp in surprise as he got a good look at her aura. The normally golden sparks that represented a healthy wizard were replaced by angry red ones that indicated burns. They were clustered mostly on the girls left forearm but were present all over her, especially on her face and other hand.
"Children," admonished McGonagall as everyone began to move in their direction. "Miss Granger has had a bit of an accident over the holidays, but as you can see, she is quite alright. I would ask you all to give her some time to get settled in before bothering her with unnecessary questions." The professor gave them all another stern look and shot an apologetic glance in the girl's direction before departing.
The common room was deadly silent for a small eternity. The only sounds that could be heard were the children's breathing and ticking from the great clock above the mantle. Then, as if a wave was breaking, the Merlins surged forward and bombarded Hermione with questions.
Harry fought his way through the crowd, latched on to the girl and pulled her into the boys' dorm. Once in he kept everyone else but Neville outside, with a little help from Hedwig, and closed the door.
"Are you alright?" asked the boys in unison as they led her to one of the beds and sat her down.
"We were so worried when you weren't on the train..." said Harry as he began scanning her in earnest.
The girl's aura became tinged with fear, not at him he was sure, but most likely in response to the memory of whatever had caused her injuries.
"A fire sprite got into our house after we went to bed Christmas Eve," she answered, putting on a brave front. "My parents and I got out alright but our house is ruined."
"What about them?" asked Harry as he gently put his hands on Hermione's shoulders to begin healing her. "Were they hurt too?"
Hermione's faÃ§ade of strength crumpled as tears welled up in her eyes. "They saved me Harry. We were all asleep but my mum smelled the smoke somehow and woke us all up...everything was on fire. Things got so bad that she had to push me out a window. They were...they were hurt pretty badly but the Healers say that they'll be released from the hospital in a week or two."
They all sat quietly for a time as Harry continued to work on her burns. Little by little, Hermione's aura shifted from red to gold and he noticed how her muscles were relaxing as the pain ebbed. He was just helping his friend remove the bandages from her arm when the door suddenly opened and Draco burst in. The raven-haired boy sensed agitation, guilt, and more than a little relief coming from the blond as he saw for himself that Hermione was alright, but his face hardened after just a few moments.
"Granger," snarled Draco in a tone he normally only reserved for Weasley. "I see you finally decided to show up at school. Over the holidays I've had time to think about the company I've been keeping and quite frankly you are beneath me."
The three Merlins already in the room stood with their mouths hanging open, unable to quite comprehend the words that continued to come from the blonde's mouth.
"I won't have it known that I'm consorting with a..." Draco's speech stopped for a moment as he almost seemed to be choking on his words, but he went on. "A filthy mudblood. So I'm telling you now...stay away from Harry and I."
"What are you on about Draco?" Harry asked as he walked over to the boy. "Hermione is our friend."
Draco's face turned a bright shade of pink and he growled, "No she's not, she's a dirty Muggleborn freak and we'll have nothing do with her. Now tell her to get out."
Harry tried to argue further with his blond friend but found himself having difficulty not telling the girl to do as Draco demanded. The boy took on an almost panicked look as he fought an internal battle over whom to side with, and as it was happening he felt the medallion on his chest growing uncomfortably warm.
Grinding his teeth in frustration at Harry's lack of response, Draco snorted and said, "Fine then, if Granger won't leave then we will! Come on, Harry."
With that the blond boy turned and left the room, not bothering to see if the other boy would follow. As it turned out he didn't have to. The moment Draco walked away, Harry turned and went after him like a puppet on a string.
Harry didn't know how long he walked after the other boy, he felt like he was traveling in a daze. It seemed almost a surprise when they ended up out by the lake well past curfew.
"Draco," he asked finally after listening to his friend throw rocks into the lake for several minutes. "What was that all about? Why are you being so mean to Hermione?"
There was no answer for several moments and Harry watched the other boy's aura flickering as warring emotions fought for control. He could sense anger and hate but they didn't seem to be connected to Hermione's name when he'd said it. The strongest emotion was guilt, however and it flared sharply at the mention of her name.
"Listen Harry," said Draco with determination. "Hermione is a Mudblood. Neither of her parents are magical. She isn't like our kind and it's not safe for her to be around us."
"What are you talking about?" asked the raven-haired boy in confusion. "Hermione isn't a danger."
His question was answered by a bitter laugh. "Hardly. You've met my father, Harry. He's really smart and he always finds out what's happening at school. Over Christmas he said I wasn't to associate myself with such trash, said that he'd make sure... that was on Christmas Eve. Now drop it--we're not talking about this anymore."
They sat in silence for a time and Harry was just about to suggest they head back to the tower when he sensed someone approaching from the castle. Motioning to Draco for silence, he pulled the other boy with him against a nearby tree as none other than Professor Snape stalked by on his way to the Forbidden Forest. Curiosity getting the better of their common sense, the two boys waited a few seconds then followed the Potions Master into the woods.
It was slow going, moving silently enough not to be caught yet still keeping the professor within sight, but they managed not to lose him and soon came upon a meeting between Snape and Professor Quirrell
"You came alone?"
"Y... yes of course," replied Quirrell weakly. "But why meet out here?"
The Potions Master's face took on a deadly serious air as he closed with the other professor. "I thought we'd keep this little conversation private," answered Snape. "After all, the student population isn't supposed to know about the Philosopher's Stone.
The defence teacher mumbled to himself inaudibly, his words stumbling over themselves as Harry strained to hear.
"Have you found out how to get past that monster of Hagrid's?" asked Snape sharply.
"You don't want me as an enemy Quirrell."
The two continued to talk in low tones but Harry wasn't able to hear any more as Draco, spooked by the whole affair, dragged him away from the clearing and back towards the castle.
"What was that all about?" asked the raven-haired boy when they were out of earshot.
Draco shook his head and answered, "I'm not sure but at least we know that that beast is guarding--something called the Philosopher's Stone-and that one or both of Snape and Quirrell want it badly."
The next weeks were the most uncomfortable that Harry could remember since coming to Hogwarts. Hermione was no longer speaking to him or Draco, which seemed to suit the blond just fine. She and Neville had begun spending more time away from them in the library with that prat from Gryffindor, Ron Weasley.
It still bothered him, the reproachful looks from her or Nev whenever their eyes met, but Draco was steadfast in his insistence of not speaking with them. It irked Harry, but for some reason he was allowing the other boy's opinion to be more important than what he knew was right. There were times when he felt like he was on the verge of figuring out why he was feeling so oddly, but something always seemed to distract.
Some things, however, had improved for the boy in that time. The understanding of his magic and senses, under Sal's tutoring, had made serious progress. Barely a week back from holidays, Harry was able to see the ghostly images of non-magical outlines through his inner sight, though it took quite a bit of concentration to do it. He still couldn't visualise things well enough to attempt any transfiguration spells, but he had been able to make a feather fly just the day before.
Harry and Draco were spending some time in the library going over what they'd learned about the stone. After learning its name, it took almost no time to dig up information on it and learn about Nicholas Flamel as well. It turned out the stone was created by an alchemist of that name several hundred years before; it could change metal to gold and create something called the Elixir of Life, a substance that was said to give the drinker immortality.
The blond boy had decided that it would be a brilliant idea for him and Harry to get the stone for themselves and become rich. He was just telling Harry about his plans for all that gold when Ron Weasley burst into the library and rushed over to Hermione and Neville where they sat, pouring over musty tomes.
"I think Weasel has found Flamel for them," said Draco quietly.
The blond sneered as he watched the commotion at the other table, "Because Weasel is swinging a chocolate frog card around like he's swatting flies."
"You know we could have told them about the stone when we first heard of it." said Harry in a conspiratorial whisper. "They could have helped us."
The blond boy paused for a moment as if considering the thought then shook his head. "Let's go," he said in a voice loud enough to be heard by their one-time friends. "It's beginning to smell a bit ripe in here."
The two of them left the library followed by the angry and somewhat worried looks of Hermione and Neville. Unseen by any of them was a group of four translucent wizards hidden in the shadows. They watched the short exchange with concern.
"Things can't stay this way much longer," said Sal quietly to his companions as they faded from sight.