Stiiiill looking for a beta/cowriter :P
I think I can safely say that 90-95% of my chapter is error-free, language wise. But if you want a perfect chapter with no mistakes, volunteer to be a beta and see to it that it is.
He inclined his head gracefully, moving it just enough to avoid the red beam of light that raced towards him. This was one of the first things Flitwick had taught him as a duelist.
"You expend too much time and energy while dodging one spell. Wizarding duels are all about speed. Any worthwhile opponent would hit you with a second spell while you're still in the motion of dodging his first."
It had proved to be a valuable lesson. He had barely sprung away from the first tickling charm when the second hit him right in the abdomen. Flitwick was a monster when it came to speed, casting alone what it took five of his friends to do together.
Ironically, he was failing to dodge because he had gotten too used to the powerful attacks like Maragidyne or Magarudyne. Those spells took a while to cast, and could only be dodged by springing far away. Once cast, it took the opponent a while to resume attacking, which meant he had plenty of time to finish dodging and launch his own offense.
Wizarding spells seemed to require dodging he normally reserved for close quarters combat with his sword. Once he had visualized the scenario, he became to use his reflexes better.
"Most spells are designed to strike a specific point and act from that point," explained Flitwick, "So it doesn't matter whether you dodge them by an inch or a mile, as long as you do dodge them. Then there are spells like the full body bind, depending on how much power you put in them, it can strike a single point in your body, or even immobilize several people at once. For such spells, use a shield."
"Wingardium Leviosa!"squeaked Flitwick, flicking his wand in the direction of the ceiling.
"Shield," he muttered, and a glittering silver shield grew around him. He could feel Professor Flitwick's magic strike his shield, trying to get past it, but his magic held firm.
"Well done, Harry," said Professor Flitwick excitedly, "I'm still amazed that you don't need the incantations or wand movements. There are sixth years who probably kill you out of jealousy."
"Only if Padma doesn't kill me first, Professor," he replied with amusement. Funnily enough, it was his ability to cast wandlessly and wordlessly that irritated Padma, and not his ability to summon entities of unimaginable power. She had sworn to reach the same level of proficiency before the Fourth Year. He had no doubt that she would do. And she would probably streamline it while she did it.
"As impressive as it is, it'll be a long time before you can use it in any kind of a full-fledged duel," continued Flitwick.
"What do you mean, Professor?" he asked, confused. He had always been of the opinion that it would give him an advantage, not a disadvantage.
"Well, it'll certainly help you get in the first few shots in terms of speed, but think about if you're against an experienced duelist. What would happen if you had to cast more than a few spells?"
He frowned, trying to think through the scenario. He found that he couldn't. He had always relied on his opening barrage of attacks to get him through a fight. It was what he had done with Fluffy (the name still made his disbelief arise), and with his would-be assassin.
"I see you can't answer. Why don't we have a practical demonstration? I may be out of the dueling circuit, but I should make an adequate opponent," said Professor Flitwick cheerfully, readying his wind.
"Modesty doesn't suit you professor. You've been smearing me across the floor for days now. I'm sure you'll find blood if you cracked one of your floor stones open," he muttered as he readied for what would undoubtedly be a hectic round of fighting.
"No need to be so dramatic Harry," replied Flitwick cheerfully, "I'll even let you go first!"
Sadistic little goblin he thought to himself as he readied his wand.
First, he pushed, sending a powerful wave of magic towards the charms professor, making sure it covered a wide area. Then he moved his wand in the direction of a pile of tables and chairs nearby and threw the furniture across the room, not even waiting to see if his first spell connected.
Flitwick slashed through his first spell gracefully, sending a vertical wave of force tearing through the magic, and towards him. Even as he stepped out of the way of the attack, Flitwick slashed his wand downwards, forcing the furniture to stop mid-air and fall to the ground so hard they splintered.
Immediately he flicked his wand again, visualizing the broken pieces of furniture flitting towards the professor with deadly speed, like dozens of projectiles. Then he had to shuffle out of the way hastily as Professor Flitwick shot a stunner at him, and then redirected his projectiles once again, making them clatter harmlessly off the stone wall.
Shit! And he's not even trying he swore internally. He now began to realize what Flitwick meant by the speed of his mind. Already his mind seemed to be freezing, set on the kind of force moves he had used earlier. It didn't help that his mind kept shouting abilities his Personas had, as Flitwick had asked him not to use those powers when he trained.
"Done already, Harry?" asked Professor Flitwick, twirling his wand idly.
He scowled - a rare display of emotion on his part - before aiming his wand at Flitwick once more.
"Burn!" he thundered, and torrents of blazing hot fire emerged out of his wand, enveloping the other side so completely that he couldn't see anything on the other side of the room.
He barely had the time to register the drain this spell was causing on his energy, before the waves of fire were torn apart, and he felt himself lose control over the spell. The fire washed against the walls and ebbed away, even as two purple flashes of light hit him, one on the knee and the other straight into his wand arm. He collapsed as he lost control over the muscles that had been struck, flailing on the ground helplessly as he tried to regain control.
"Impressive, I didn't think you could overpower an Incendio to that extent," Professor Flitwick remarked clinically as he undid the spells he had cast on him.
He rose again, wincing at the sensation of blood rushing through the deprived muscles again, "I wasn't thinking about an Incendio. I was thinking about fire."
"There's the problem you have. Your mind can't focus on strategy, defense and still have enough left to visualize attacks for you."
He nodded, agreeing with the assessment. His concentration had wavered greatly, slowing down his ability to cast spells successively. When he fought with Personas, he only had to provide the raw power. His Personas would do the rest. But now, now he also had to channel it, and that made it a new and difficult experience for him.
"Nevertheless, excellent progress today," said Professor Flitwick, "And don't worry. With practice will come a point where you can duel like you do now. It's how most powerful wizards do it, including Professor Dumbledore."
"And you, sir?" he asked snidely, knowing Flitwick held on to a sense of modesty for some reason.
"And I as well," deadpanned Flitwick, refusing to acknowledge his mischief, "But always remember, dueling is about strategy and deception. If you begin a duel by casting verbally, you lure your opponent into a sense of false security. Begin by casting non verbally and you'll put them on guard for the rest of the duel."
This man really needs to stop making so much sense he thought bemusedly. He had always been used to fighting silently for the most part, as there was no reason behind shouting aloud in combat. But in this world, combat went by different rules. He would learn them first, and then break them.
"Well then, that should be enough for today. By our next session, I want to see five new incantations in your arsenal."
"Slavedriver," he muttered as he began to head towards the door. They had bonded greatly over their training sessions, to the point where Flitwick had begun to call him "Harry" and he treated Flitwick with more familiarity than he would any other teacher.
Seconds after he left the door, someone pulled him sharply by his right arm. Instinctively he reached for his magic, ready to turn it upon whoev-
"Ron? What did you do that for?" he asked, annoyed, as his magic subsided. Ron would have gotten seriously hurt had he not assessed a potential threat so quickly.
"Harry! Terry got kidnapped!" hissed Ron as his eyes darted around the corridor in a frightened manner, checking to see that no one was listening.
His eyes grew cold. The enemy had made the first move, something he hadn't expected.
"Tell me more," he said quietly.
"Professor Quirrell walked in when we were in an empty classroom. He shot spells at all of us, but when I woke up, Terry was gone! Now come on!" yelled Ron hysterically, pulling him into a running pace.
Quirrell? The man was some actor, I thought he was completely incompetent. Idiot! It was clearly a front he berated himself as the duo careened through the corridors at a wild pace, drawing many curious stares.
A cold pit formed in his stomach at the thought of one of his friends dying, before it was washed away by the torrent of rage that surged through him. His battle-loving personas howled and screamed within his mind, knowing they would soon be let loose.
"Thank God you're here!" cried out Padma when they reached the abandoned classroom, "Daphne and Draco are still unconscious! Ron and I woke up a few minutes ago, but I haven't even been able to revive them with the Rennervate spell!"
He swore as he considered the scenario Quirrell had orchestrated.
"He planned this, down to every last detail," he said in a hollow voice, and Ron looked confused.
"He hit you two with mild spells," he began, gesturing to Ron and Padma, "But Daphne and Draco with more dangerous spells."
"Oh," breathed Padma, comprehension entering her face, "He knows two of us will have to take Daphne and Draco to the Hospital Wing and then fetch the teachers."
"Which leaves me to go after him. Alone."
He wasn't worried about the confrontation, no. But Daphne and Draco were turning a sickly pale color, their breathing already becoming labored. A small part of his mind was glad that his friends couldn't go with him, despite their declarations to accompany him. He would never have forgiven himself if one of them had died.
"Go. Take them to the hospital. Then go to Flitwick. He'll convince the other Heads and Dumbledore," he commanded in a steely tone, falling all too easy into the role of the leader.
"But Harry-" began Padma.
"No. They need your help, and Quirrell clearly wants me alone," he cut across her sentence. Then a frighteningly cold smile appeared on his face.
"He should be careful what he wishes for."
The three headed beast was sleeping when he opened the door, and a harp strummed itself musically near the beast. He was not surprised that Quirrell knew how to subdue the cerberus, magical beasts were something of his area of expertise after all. He strode forward fearlessly, determined to reach the end of this...obstacle course, for lack of a better word, as soon as possible.
But he had scarcely taken a few steps, when the harp suddenly stopped playing.
Shit! Some kind of motion detecting magic.
Already the beast was beginning to stand, its three heads moving drowsily as it tried to comprehend its surroundings.
He aimed his wand at the Cerberus.
"Garula!" he thundered, and was shocked when a gust of wind many times stronger than what he had expected hurled itself against the Cerberus, sending it flying to the stone wall so hard that the wall cracked, and the beast fell, unconscious.
"Interesting. My wand can amplify the persona attacks I use too," he muttered dispassionately as he opened the trap door and prepared to jump through it.
I doubt that was enough to kill it, but I owe Hagrid an apology for injuring it he thought to himself before plummeting through a dark space.
His fall was broken unceremoniously by what felt like damp roots. He winced and moved slightly, only for the roots to tighten around him some more. He froze.
The next puzzle. Sentient plant. It clearly responds to motion.
He moved his left hand again, just to test his theory. Sure enough, the roots grew ever more constrictive, now making it a little hard for him to breathe.
Right, it's the Devil's Snare. It responds to motion, so take its stimulus away from it.
He forced himself to be absolutely still, even as the roots coiled around him, pulling his ever deeper.
Here's hoping Sprout knows what she's talking about he thought wryly as he took a deep breath, just before the roots enveloped his face as well. He was not unduly worried. If the plant didn't drop him soon, he would just burn it away.
Sure enough, he soon fell through the plant barrier to the floor, wincing as his elbow hit the stone floor jarringly.
This is getting to be really annoying. Was Dumbledore insane? The average thief could waltz right through this! he thought angrily. He could understand Dumbledore's desire to draw out Voldemort, but was there really no other way? Unless…
Dumbledore wanted to get him involved with Voldemort. Or at the very least, he set up the necessary conditions that could lead to him getting involved. But to what end? To see if the events from thirteen years ago would repeat themselves?
He shrugged the thought away as he encountered yet another door. This was no time to hypothesize. But he would have many questions to ask Dumbledore when this was over and Terry was safe.
A heavy buzzing sound greeted him when he opened the door, as if a thousand bees were trapped in it. He was not far off the mark, however, when he saw what appeared to be hundreds of keys with wings. The keys were of varying colors, sizes and shapes. At the other end stood a door that thrummed with magical energy, as opposed to the flimsy magic on the very first door.
This is Professor Flitwick's magic he realized as he moved closer to the door. He had been on the receiving end of Flitwick's hexes enough times to recognize the distinct signature his magic held.
It was clear that this was not a door he could force open without expending a considerable portion of his powers, and he needed his reservoir when facing Quirrell. That left him with only one option, which was in the form of a broomstick that was floating near the door.
He was never truly comfortable in the air, preferring to be on the ground and in control of more variables than he could be if he were flying.
No. It wouldn't look good if I made it to Quirrell and I was still motion sick he decided and drew on his powers. One of his minor summons wouldn't take too much energy now. And this one could do with some menial labor.
"Pixie" he summonded, and it answered, materializing in a shimmer of blue light.
"Great. You call me to fetch you a key," sniffed the tiny persona before looking at the horde of keys that hovered near the ceiling, "You figure out which one it is yet?"
"No, but look for the one that's less pristine than the rest. Only the real one is likely to have been used before."
"Well aren't we smart," mocked the sarcastic persona even as it flew near the keys and began to inspect them. He waited patiently as the pixie flitted from key to key, looking for any telltale signs of use.
"That one!" it cried out and lunged towards a key before bringing it to him. As it drew closer, he realized it was right. The wings on this particular key looked crushed, as if some had roughly grabbed it before.
"Nice job," he complimented, accepting the key and dispelling the summon before it could make another wise-ass remark.
He had to stop and blink when he realized what occupied the next room. A chess board. A giant chess board. Of all the- a giant chess board with life-like pieces. This was, without a doubt, McGonagall's work. The woman was fascinated with chess. One of the few objects of value in her otherwise spartan office quarters was one of the very first sentient chess sets to ever be created.
Even as he watched, one of the white bishops moved away from the board, leaving one spot empty. Clearly he was meant to take its place.
If I leave this trap intact, it might slow down Quirrell if he tries to escape he reasoned before taking the place of the white bishops. This would not take too long.
"Pawn to E4" he called out, and one of the white pawns moved to the corresponding location, its size giving the movement an ominous look.
Silently a pawn from the other side moved, reaching E5. He almost felt like snickering. Enchanting the chess pieces to have some level of sentience apparently had a cost - no human chess player would have fallen into the trap so easily.
"Queen to H6," he commanded, and his queen rumbled through the floor to the indicated location, looking deadly as it towered over the other pieces.
Now the other side brought out its Knight, moving it to C6 on the board.
"Bishop to C4," he called out, even as he walked slowly through the large chess tiles to his destination. It felt exhilarating, being part of a fight that was so controlled and turn-based. Real fights were usually a free-for-all. Perhaps he would ask Professor McGonagall how to enchant his own gigantic chess set.
The opponent moved again, this time directing its Knight to F6.
And you just lost he thought idly as he contemplated his next move, making sure he had it right.
"Queen to F7!" he finally exclaimed, and the Queen thundered towards the pawn that occupied the tile it was supposed to take, before clobbering the pawn so hard that the pawn was completely dismantled. Now the queen took the place of the fallen pawn, before rotating silently to face the black King.
He waited in anticipation to see if the rules would truly be followed. Then the Black King allowed its sword to fall to the ground heavily, and the black pieces moved away from their place on the board. The other side was now clear.
How many more little puzzles, Dumbledore? snapped an irritated voice in his mind.
The next room's challenge had been dealt with already, he realized, as he found an enormous troll - far larger than the ones Titan had killed - knocked out on the ground. Clearly Quirrell did not consider it to be enough of a challenge to leave standing. He trod lightly, not wishing to tempt his sometimes astonishingly bad luck by treading heavily. Fortunately, the troll remained unconscious.
A towering wall of fire now blocked his path in the next room. But by now, he'd had enough. His friend was in danger.
"Sati!" he intoned. She emerged out of flame, and encased in flame. In giving herself to fire completely, she gained its absolute respect. Flame and fire would never refuse the bidding of this beautiful goddess.
"I require passage," he said calmly, indicating the wall of flame. Sati merely nodded silently before raising an elegant hand and pointing in the direction of the fire. Immediately the fire submitted to her will, ebbing away until only fumes remained.
He released the summon. Five months ago, summoning Sati would have rendered him unconscious. But now, it merely ate away at a portion of his energy - a sizeable portion, however. Hopefully, he had enough left to hold Quirrell at bay.
He steeled himself, sensing strong magic in the next room. The real fight was about to begin.
"How good of you to join us, Mr. Potter," hissed a smooth voice as he entered the final room. The room was very dimly lit, and he could very vaguely make out what appeared to be the silhouette of a large mirror.
Suddenly, the wall of fire he had crossed roared to life once more, and the room was cast into an eerie mix of flickering light and writhing shadows. He was reminded forcibly of a "boss dungeon" as SEES came to call them. Clearly major confrontations were meant to happen in esoteric locations.
He walked forward slowly, now able to see Quirrell, who was looking at the mirror, and by extension, him through the reflection. The turbaned professor didn't even seem concerned to see him there, and made no move to go on the offensive. Perhaps it was the confidence that he would not attack first. Not when Quirrell had his wand pointed at Terry's prone form. He schooled his face, showing no visible emotion, though he was greatly worried about Terry. Thankfully, the boy seemed to be breathing at the very least, taking labored, shallow breaths.
"That was a well executed plan to get me to come here alone," he commented casually. Show no agitation or fear.
"Yes, I was rather pleased with it," replied Quirrell just as easily. There was no traces of the stuttering, frightened man that he had seen throughout the year. He was quite chagrined that he wasn't able to see through the facade. His perception was one of the few things he prided himself on.
"It takes talent to break into Gringotts. I can't imagine the goblins are very pleased with you," he continued as he gathered his magic.
"Like I care what those disgusting little creatures think," sneered Quirrell, a scowl and a look of disgust fighting for dominance over his face.
Right. Wizarding superiority complex whispered his snide inner voice.
"Why did you lure me here? Clearly you're capable of reaching this point on your own. You could simply have taken the stone and vanished."
This was actually a question that he wanted answered. Quirrell had needlessly endangered a mission that he could otherwise have completed successfully. Perhaps he did not consider a eleven-year-old to be a significant threat.
"Two reasons. It will work out much better if we have a scapegoat to take the blame. And it would be a delicious twist of irony if the scapegoat was also the wizarding savior," smiled Quirrell. It was an unpleasant smile. The scorn when he said the words 'wizarding savior' was almost tangible.
"And the second?" he asked as he cast a discreet Diaat Terry. The minor healing spell was all he dared use at present, as he had a feeling he would need most of his energy for the fight.
"My master wanted to meet you, face-to-face."
"Unless he's very small and lurking in the shadows, you're the only person I can see here," he replied sarcastically, trying to bait Quirrell into anger.
"Enough!" snapped Quirrell, "I'll not have a filthy half-blood like you scorning my master!"
"Let me speak to the boy," rasped a feeble voice, and immediately Quirrell's face became one of subservience.
"Master, you do not have the strength at the moment. Allow me to kill the brat!"
"I have strength enough...for this."
He watched with morbid fascination as Quirrell began to unravel his turban. Once the turban was off, the man turned his back to him. He was shocked that Quirrell would so easily turn his back on a potential enemy. The first spell was already at his lips when sheer shock stopped him dead in his tracks.
A second head was worming its way out of the back of Quirrell's skull. The skin stretched in an abominal fashion, before flowing into a rough approximation of a human face. Two narrow eyes gazed at him, and a cruel smile played on the lips of the face.
"Voldemort," he breathed, feeling a strange sensation go through him at the sight of the ma-thing that had killed Harry Potter's - no, his parents.
Thanatos howled in his mind, no doubt in his war-like Persona.
MASTER. THAT THING IS AN ABOMINATION. SUMMON ME. LET ME TEAR HIS TAINTED SOUL APART.
He winced slightly at the mental tirade. It took a lot to anger the normally stoic personification of Death, but he could see why Thanatos would be angry. Whatever means Voldemort had used to survive his death thirteen years ago, it had tainted his very soul. And Death did not like being cheated.
I don't have nearly enough energy to summon Thanatos he agonized. He would not die, no. How could he, when Death lived within him? But he would be as good as lifeless for several days, and he had to stop the Philosopher's Stone from falling into the hands of an enemy. Thanatos would have to wait for retribution.
"Harry Potter...the Boy-Who-Lived. The boy who vanquished me, Lord Voldemort," rasped the voice and then laughed, harshly.
"It is good that you at least show potential, boy. I would have been furious if the one who defeated me ended up being...sub-par."
"Yeah, I can see how defeat at the hands of the sub-par could be awkward when you're supposed to be an invulnerable dark lord," he conversed agreeable, "However, I think the humiliation of being defeated by a mere baby will still scar your reputation, no?"
The face scowled for an instant, before laughing harshly once more.
"Insulting me to ensure I become angry and lose focus. Clever, Potter. But you forget, I am the heir of Slytherin himself."
"Well, what now, Voldemort?" he snapped, impatient with how slowly things seemed to be proceeding. It was looking to be more of a parlor discussion and less of a confrontation, "Quirrell has no chance against me, I promise you."
"I am well aware of Quirrell's incompetence."
"Which is why I am doing this."
Quirrell abruptly fell to his knees, screaming as the face seemed to change it's location, superimposing itself on Quirrell's face. The screams the man sent out were heart-rending, and echoed in the stone chamber, a thousand times amplified.
"Incendio!" he thundered, taking advantage of the enemy's weakness to send a torrential gush of flames towards his opponent. Immediately he threw up a shield, remembering how the previous time had left him unable to see an incoming attack.
Soon, the flames ebbed away, to reveal a pulsating red shield that had enveloped Quirrell. The shield crackled away to reveal a slightly burnt and smoking man, though he had escaped the worst of the fire.
"This body will not last me long," said Voldemort casually, for it was clear that Voldemort had somehow taken over Quirrell's body completely, "But I only need it to last until I get the Philosopher's Stone. Before that, however, flagellum de igne!"
A fiery whip cracked into existence as Voldemort held his wand like a conductor's baton, and then whipped it.
His shield was shattered into a thousand pieces, and the whip still kept coming at him, forcing him to dodge it repeatedly.
Voldemort cackled with insane glee as he kept brandishing the whip, allowing him no respite at all.
He let out a sharp cry of pain as the whip fastened around his left ankle. His flesh began to cauterize as the whip dug in with an angry hiss. He gathered as much magic as he could and slammed it into the whip, trying to overpower the magic that held it together. Fortunately, the whip dispersed, leaving only the smell of burnt flesh behind.
Damn it, I really didn't want to reveal my Persona abilities. But since I have to…
"Voldemort," he intoned solemnly, deepening his voice with magic. His eyes shone an unearhtly green and a faint silver aura of power began to surround him.
"Magnificent," breathed Voldemort as he beheld the display of power, "A pity you cannot join my ranks."
"Death is displeased with you, Voldemort," he continued in slow, deep tones as the silver aura grew thicker and heavier, "And He wants to speak to you."
A faint look of fear entered Voldemort's face,.
"Death has no dominion over me," sneered the red-eyed man.
He merely smiled in return, before raising a finger and pointing to his left.
Thanatos might be beyond my reach, but...
"Tell him yourself."
A world heading towards Death.
A pale horse pawed the ground impatiently with a spectral hoof, turning its scarlet eyes in Voldemort's direction.
A world steeped in Death.
A robe fluttered gently in the air, looking as if it had been weaved out of darkness itself. A thin, deadly blade curved along a wooden haft, gleaming oddly in the firelight.
And yet thy soul is desecrated. Mutilated.
Skeleton hands grasped the horse's reins, even as a frightening skull gazed at Quirrell's mutilated body.
Pathetic worm, writhing in the mud of mortality.
Voldemort's face was now distorted with pure fear.
"Ignis Hastam!" he cried out, and spears of fire threw themselves against the spectral figure with deadly force. They struck an invisible barrier and fizzled out, useless.
"Titulum Lapideum!" roared Voldemort, desperation now beginning to assert itself.
Stoned thundered and drew themselves out of the floor, fusing seamlessly together to form a deadly battering ram. Voldemort slashed his wand once more, and the pillar fell on the spectre with enough force to crush a car.
The scythe flashed once, and the pillar was torn apart, falling harmlessly on either side.
I am the Pale Rider. And I herald the coming of Death.
Now the Pale Rider pointed its scythe at Voldemort. Tendrils of darkness spun together at the tip of the scythe, and a dark power thrummed in the room.
"NO! I AM LORD VOLDEMORT! Protego Maxima!"
Again the red shield rose around him, sending pulsating tendrils of rage through itself as Voldemort's fear and anger grew to a new level.
Intoned the rider simply. The effect was palpable. The very stone on the floor began to get eaten away from the sheer force of the darkness that enveloped Voldemort. The intensity grew even further, and culminated in a tremendous blast of power that nearly threw him off his feet.
He winced and sank to one knee as the cost of the powerful attack took its toll. When it was done, Quirrell's body was seen, battered and bloody beyond all recognition, as if warriors had hacked away at it for days.
" !" came a strong, concerned cry, and he turned around to find Flitwick, Snape and McGonagall staring at him, wide-eyed.
Why do they always make it in time to see my summons? he moaned internally, knowing that more questions would be raised than ever. Snape looked particularly frightened at having seen the Pale Rider, his skin having gone a sickly pale color. Well, even more sickly pale than normal.
"Professor," he spoke light-heartedly, wanting to put this whole sorry affair behind him, "I didn't faint at the end this time. That should count as progress, right?"
Flitwick broke into a relieved grin, confident that his student would not be making jokes were he seriously injured.
An unearthly wail ripped through the chamber as a ghostly entity rose out of Quirrell's mangled corpse and raced away from the chamber, passing forcefully through his body as it did so. He felt it steal some of his energy as it passed, throwing him off his feet and onto the stone floor painfully.
Damn it! was the last phrase to pass through his mind as the world around him flickered and warped, and let him to blissful unawareness once more.
A hazy sea of colors flowed through his field of vision.
So much brown. Why was the brown twinkling? What were those long streak of dark color that kept moving up and down?
Oh. They were eyes. Brown eyes swam slowly into focus. Eyes filled with purpose. Eyes looking determined as they had a goa-
"Urgh! Umpf! Brgh!"
Clarity returned with a speed that sent waves of pain coursing through his body. Madam Pomfrey had just forced a phial of potion down his throat, and was looking down with a satisfied expression as his now alert eyes darted around, taking in his surroundings.
"Is this your way of punishing me for turning up here so often?" he eventually spat out, feeling the inside of his mouth coated with a foul layer of the potion.
"Now now, Mr. Potter, why on earth would I punish you?" shot back Madam Pomfrey merrily, "I run a business here, and you my boy are a repeat customer."
"Is it a requirement for all nurses to have a sadistic streak?" he shot back grumpily.
He really thought he would stay conscious this time. He had certainly been conscious in the aftermath of the battle. But noooooo, Voldemort just had to have the last laugh.
Oh well, he didn't get a chance to revive himself. I'd say this still counts as a win spoke the sensible portion of his brain.
"A requirement? No. An advantage? Most certainly," was the matron's parting repertoire as she walked back into her cabin.
Great. Now she got the last laugh too.
All was quiet for a few minutes, and he allowed the serenity to wash over him. He treasured companionship above all else, but he still enjoyed those rare moments when it was just himself and his thoughts. And a thousand chattering entities in his soul, but he preferred not to think of that.
"Ah, Harry. I'm relieved to see you're awake."
"Professor Dumbledore," he greeted neutrally, turning to face the old headmaster as he swept quietly into the Hospital Wing. The man was an enigma still, for he could tell that Dumbledore was genuinely happy to see him awake. And yet, this was the same man who had set a trap for a dark lord in a castle full of children.
The headmaster sat down softly, sadness now battling with happiness for dominance in his blue eyes. He looked as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders. And perhaps it was.
"Your reaction tells me you are far from pleased with me, Harry. I take it you've reached the conclusion that I was baiting Tom?"
"Tom?" he asked, confused.
"Tom Riddle. Although these days he prefers the moniker of Lord Voldemort."
The old man sighed, casting a glance at Madam Pomfrey's office. It occurred to him that Dumbledore was actually wary of the strict matron. The thought amused him greatly.
"I understood your decision to bait him, sir. It was sound strategy. But you did it in a school full of children - Children you're sworn to protect."
"Yes, I did," nodded Dumbledore, "You see, whether it is true or not, Hogwarts has a reputation of being the only stronghold that is safer than Gringotts. Gringotts cannot, by policy, assist anyone in laying a trap. That meant I had to move the Stone to Hogwarts. Had it been too secure, Tom would never have found it. It had to be a place where Tom could believe there was no trap, and yet a place that his mind would turn to when the Gringotts vault turned up empty."
He nodded slowly. The train of thought made sense. That was why Hagrid had been sent to retrieve the stone. It would be hard to miss the well-known Dumbledore loyalist. And Gringotts had been robbed the same day as the retrieval. It helped that Quirrell had later been asked to help with the protection of the stone.
"That does not explain the enormous risk, Professor," he replied firmly. He wanted all the details, not half-truths.
"Tom would not have attacked any of the students, m'boy. Insane though he might be, he was and remains a highly intelligent individual. Attacking any student at Hogwarts would have forced the Ministry to launch a full investigation. I was reasonably confident that Tom would want to remain anonymous, at least until he built his power base. He has lost all the power he garnered in his previous regime."
"And?" he prompted, knowing there was more. One thing he was reasonably sure of now was that Dumbledore laid complicated plots, with many layers. The mirror in the last chamber had proved as much. Quirrell had stayed, which meant the stone wasn't yet in his possession.
"And the portraits, ghosts and armors of Hogwarts are completely beholden to the Headmaster. I was following Quirrell's every move, and would have stepped in immediately had he tried to endanger any of the students."
"You were nowhere to be seen when Quirrell attacked my friends today," he pointed out, a harsh edge in his voice. Dumbledore bowed his head.
"I admit to miscalculating there. I was expecting Tom to make his move closer to the end of the term, so Quirrell's disappearance would not cause alarm. My theory is that he was reaching the end of his strength, even with all the unicorn blood he had been consuming. That is what forced him to make his move so early. I owe your friends a great apology, Harry, but I assure you they are now hale and hearty, and very anxious about you."
He kept silent. As much as he hated to admit it, he could not blame Dumbledore. It was so similar to his strategies on the battlefield. He would never deliberately place his friends in a position of danger, but no battle went according to plan, and he had to make his fair share of hard decisions.
Dumbledore smiled at him sadly, "I wanted you to hold on to your childhood so badly Harry. I did not want the events of your past to define you, at least not yet."
"Holding on implies I once had a childhood, headmaster. My loving relatives decided I was not worthy of such a privilege."
Dumbledore's head bowed even lower, and his frame seemed to sag. He felt a powerful wave of sympathy wash over him, despite the injustice that the headmaster had wrought on him.
"Don't grieve for what never was, sir. As the saying goes, when life gives you lemons…"
"You make lemonade?"
"No, you take a shot of the strongest liquor you can find, and then bite into the lemon."
Dumbledore gave a watery chuckle, his eyes resuming their bright twinkle.
"An unusual twist to the phrase, m'boy."
"It was a very unusual monk who told me that saying."
"Will you forgive me, Harry? I would like to start afresh with you."
He surveyed the headmaster for a moment. He was not capable of holding a grudge, not unless the sin committed against him was cardinal, like the killing of someone close to him. He held out his hand.
"No more deception, sir."
If Dumbledore could not make that promise, he did not deserve a second chance.
"No more deception, Harry."
They shook hands and settled into a comfortable silence. He could not help but notice that Dumbledore's hands edged steadily towards a pile of sweets that occupied his bedside table. He snorted, too many people had a sweet tooth in these parts.
"HEADMASTER! What are you doing with my patient?"
At least he was in no danger of being bored in the infirmary any time soon.
I'm rather pleased with this chapter. Yes, I know parts of the "boss fight" resembled A Demon Among Devils. It was a style I wanted to try out, and it turned out reasonably well. Rest assured, every major fight will be different, so I won't be using the same style with future fights.
Diehard persona fans will recognize the first two lines the Pale Rider speaks as being from one of the Persona games. I just wanted to pay homage to that game.
The bit with the lemon and the alcohol? I don't know, it just always seemed like something Mutatsu would say. Philosophy wrapped up in a drinking metaphor :P That I just wrote in for plain fun. Don't like it? Tough.
Many of you did not believe me when I said this would not be a story with bashing. I hope the final part of this chapter has put to rest some doubts. I want to highlight the mistakes of each character. But I won't hang them with those mistakes. Resolution is a big part of the philosophy that went into the character development of the Persona games. I will be making it a big part of this story as well.
Review, review and review some more. I'm quite sad that my last chapter didn't get more reviews. Hopefully this one will make up for it.
Till next time.