Everywhere hurt. Alex wondered, Am I dead? Then, her hand twitched. Nope, not dead. If I was, right now, I wouldn't feel like I was on fire. What happened? The last thing she remembered was- was- the chess game… Harry! Hermione! She shot up, and her hand immediately flew up to her head, as her head felt like it was about to split in two.
Then, she looked around. She was in the hospital wing. What happened? she wondered, as she looked around curiously. She was about to call for Madam Pomfrey, when she heard faint voices. No matter how much she strained her ears, everything still sounded a little fuzzy.
She whispered, "Some people are a gem, some people are a rat, to learn who's who, give me the ear of a bat." A bat's ear replaced her right ear, and she listened in to the conversation. It was between Dumbledore and Harry. So he's fine! She thought, relieved. But what about the others? She suddenly remembered Ron and Hermione, and wondered how they were doing.
"How long have I been in here?" "Three days. Mr. Ronald Weasley and Miss Granger will be most relieved you have come round, they have been extremely worried. Although, I can't say for Ms Russo." Harry paused for a moment, probably wondering what he meant by that, but drove distractions from his mind, and asked, "But sir, the Stone-"
"I see you are not to be distracted. Very well, the Stone. Professor Quirrell did not manage to take it from you. I arrived in time to prevent that, although you were doing very well on your own, I must say." "You got there? You got Hermione's owl?"
"We must have crossed in midair. No sooner had I reached London than it became clear to me that the place I should be was the one I had just left. I arrived just in time to pull Quirrell off you." "It was you." "I feared I might be too late." "You nearly were, I couldn't have kept him off the Stone much longer -"
"Not the Stone, boy, you - the effort involved nearly killed you. For one terrible moment there, I was afraid it had. As for the Stone, it has been destroyed." "Destroyed?" said Harry blankly. "But your friend - Nicolas Flamel -" "Oh, you know about Nicolas?" said Dumbledore, sounding quite delighted. "You did do the thing properly, didn't you? Well, Nicolas and I have had a little chat, and agreed it's all for the best."
"But that means he and his wife will die, won't they?" "They have enough Elixir stored to set their affairs in order and then, yes, they will die." Dumbledore paused for a moment, and when he spoke up again, he sounded like he was smiling.
"To one as young as you, I'm sure it seems incredible, but to Nicolas and Perenelle, it really is like going to bed after a very, very long day. After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure. You know, the Stone was really not such a wonderful thing. As much money and life as you could want! The two things most human beings would choose above all - the trouble is, humans do have a knack of choosing precisely those things that are worst for them." Again, they paused, and Alex started getting impatient. Ugh, if you want to talk, stop pausing for the dang dramatic effect! It's already dramatic! She cried in her head.
"Sir?" said Harry. "I've been thinking... sir - even if the Stone's gone, Vol-, I mean, You-Know- Who -" "Call him Voldemort, Harry. Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself." "Yes, sir. Well, Voldemort's going to try other ways of coming back, isn't he? I mean, he hasn't gone, has he?"
"No, Harry, he has not. He is still out there somewhere, perhaps looking for another body to share... not being truly alive, he cannot be killed. He left Quirrell to die; he shows just as little mercy to his followers as his enemies. Nevertheless, Harry, while you may only have delayed his return to power, it will merely take someone else who is prepared to fight what seems a losing battle next time - and if he is delayed again, and again, why, he may never return to power."
Then Harry continued, "Sir, there are some other things I'd like to know, if you can tell me... things I want to know the truth about..." "The truth." Dumbledore sighed. "It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution. However, I shall answer your questions unless I have a very good reason not to, in which case I beg you'll forgive me. I shall not, of course, lie."
"Well... Voldemort said that he only killed my mother because she tried to stop him from killing me. But why would he want to kill me in the first place?" Dumbledore sighed very deeply this time. "Alas, the first thing you ask me, I cannot tell you. Not today. Not now. You will know, one day... put it from your mind for now, Harry. When you are older... I know you hate to hear this... when you are ready, you will know."
And Harry knew it would be no good to argue. "But why couldn't Quirrell touch me?" "Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn't realize that love as powerful as your mother's for you 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 Voldemort, could not touch you for this reason. It was agony to touch a person marked by something so good."
They paused for a while, with Alex soaking in all that information. Wow, she thought. When harry continued, his voice sounded slightly shaky. Harry said, "And the invisibility cloak - do you know who sent it to me?" "Ah - your father happened to leave it in my possession, and I thought you might like it." Dumbledore's eyes twinkled. "Useful things... your father used it mainly for sneaking off to the kitchens to steal food when he was here." Man, I didn't think of that! Alex berated herself for the lack of pranking with the twins, since they were busy worrying about the stone.
"And there's something else…" "Fire away." "Quirrell said Snape -" "Professor Snape, Harry." "Yes, him - Quirrell said he hates me because he hated my father. Is that true?" "Well, they did rather detest each other. Not unlike yourself and Mr. Malfoy. And then, your father did something Snape could never forgive." "What?"
"He saved his life." Man, Alex thought, British people are complicated! "What?" "Yes..." said Dumbledore dreamily. "Funny, the way people's minds work, isn't it? Professor Snape couldn't bear being in your father's debt... I do believe he worked so hard to protect you this year because he felt that would make him and your father even. Then he could go back to hating your father's memory in peace..."
"And sir, there's one more thing..." "Just the one?" "How did I get the Stone out of the mirror?" "Ah, now, I'm glad you asked me that. It was one of my more brilliant ideas, and between you and me, that's saying something. You see, only one who wanted to find the Stone - find it, but not use it - would be able to get it, otherwise they'd just see themselves making gold or drinking Elixir of Life. My brain surprises even me sometimes... Now, enough questions. I suggest you make a start on these sweets. Ah! Bettie Bott's Every Flavour Beans! I was unfortunate enough in my youth to come across a vomit flavoured one, and since then I'm afraid I've rather lost my liking for them - but I think I'll be safe with a nice toffee, don't you?"
By the sound of it, he picked one up and popped it in his mouth, choked and said, "Alas! Ear wax!" It took Alex a lot of restraint to not bust out laughing. Right before he left, he said in a deliberate loud voice, "Ms Russo, eavesdropping is not nice. But you need to teach me that spell!" He left on a slightly cheerier note, as Harry seemed confused.
Indignant at being caught, she muttered the countercurse, and Harry strained his neck to peek around the curtain. "Alex?" he called. "No, it's Ron, Dumbledore just called me Ms Russo because he was bored," she deadpanned. Harry chuckled, and replied, "Nice to see you still have your sense of sarcasm. So, um-" he rubbed the back of his neck nervously, "Are you uh, okay? You took a nasty hit to the legs, if I remember correctly."
"Oh, so is that why my legs feel like they're on fire, and that it's in a cast? I never would have guessed!" she remarked sarcastically. Harry just smiled and shook his head, rolling his eyes in a good- natured way.
Madam Pomfrey, the nurse, was a nice woman, but very strict. "Just five minutes," Harry pleaded. "Absolutely not." "You let Professor Dumbledore in..." "Well, of course, that was the headmaster, quite different. You need rest." "I am resting, look, lying down and everything. Oh, go on, Madam Pomfrey..." "Oh, very well," she said. "But five minutes only."
And she let Ron and Hermione in. "Harry!" The two of them flew in, and ran to Harry's bedside. "Well, at least now I know who's your favourite," Alex laughed. "Alex!" Hermione hugged her, and Ron beamed at her. "Madam Pomfrey told us you weren't due to wake up until tomorrow!"
"Well I don't like obeying rules. Apparently even when I'm unconscious." Hermione gave her a watery smile, and Ron chuckled awkwardly, unable to think of what to respond to that.
Harry coughed, and they all turned their attention back on him. Hermione looked ready to fling her arms around him again, but Harry was glad she held herself in as his head was still very sore. "Oh, Harry, we were sure you were going to - Dumbledore was so worried -"
"The whole school's talking about it," said Ron. "What really happened?" It was one of those rare occasions when the true story is even more strange and exciting than the wild rumours. Harry told them everything: Quirrell; the mirror; the Stone; and Voldemort. Ron and Hermione were a very good audience; they gasped in all the right places, but Alex just laughed at certain places, earning herself disapproving looks from Hermione whenever she did, and when Harry told them what was under Quirrell's turban, Hermione screamed out loud.
"So the Stone's gone?" said Ron finally. "Flamel's just going to die?" "That's what I said, but Dumbledore thinks that - what was it? - 'to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure." "I always said he was off his rocker," said Ron, looking quite impressed at how crazy his hero was.
"So what happened to you three?" said Harry. "Well, I got back all right," said Hermione. "I brought Ron round - that took a while - and we were dashing up to the owlery to contact Dumbledore when we met him in the entrance hall - he already knew - he just said, 'Harry's gone after him, hasn't he?' and hurtled off to the third floor. But no matter what I did, I couldn't wake up Alex, and I was so scared - and then when we finally got her to the hospital wing, Madam Pomfrey said it was because when the stone sword hit Alex in the legs, it almost caused permanent damage, and it hit a vein, and she didn't have the medicine for that, so Alex had to heal the muggle way, and- and-"
When Hermione finished blabbering, she was a blubbering mess. She hugged Alex tightly, and hiccoughed into her shoulder. Alex slowly pried Hermione off herself, and said, "Sorry, 'Mione, I'm not much for hugging." Hermione wiped her eyes, and sheepishly apologised.
"D'you think he meant you to do it?" said Ron. "Sending you your father's cloak and everything?" "Well, " Hermione exploded, "if he did - I mean to say that's terrible - you could have been killed." Alex laughed at Hermione's sudden mood change, and thought, At least she's not crying or hugging me anymore.
"No, it isn't," said Harry thoughtfully. "He's a funny man, Dumbledore. I think he sort of wanted to give me a chance. I think he knows more or less everything that goes on here, you know. I reckon he had a pretty good idea we were going to try, and instead of stopping us, he just taught us enough to help. I don't think it was an accident he let me find out how the mirror worked. It's almost like he thought I had the right to face Voldemort if I could..."
"Yeah, Dumbledore's off his rocker, all right," said Ron proudly. "Listen, you've got to be up for the end-of-year feast tomorrow. The points are all in and Slytherin won, of course - you missed the last Quidditch match, we were steamrollered by Ravenclaw without you - but the food'll be good."
At that moment, Madam Pomfrey bustled over. "You've had nearly fifteen minutes, now OUT" she said firmly. After a good night's sleep, both Harry and Alex felt nearly back to normal. "We want to go to the feast," they told Madam Pomfrey as she straightened his many candy boxes. We can, can't we?" "Professor Dumbledore says you are to be allowed to go," she said stiffly, as though in her opinion Professor Dumbledore didn't realize how risky feasts could be. "And you have another visitor."
"Oh, good," said Harry. "Who is it?" Hagrid sidled through the door as he spoke. As usual when he was indoors, Hagrid looked too big to be allowed. He sat down next to Harry, took one look at him, and burst into tears. "It's - all - my - ruddy - fault!" he sobbed, his face in his hands. I told the evil git how ter get past Fluffy! I told him! It was the only thing he didn't know, an' I told him! Yeh both could've died! All fer a dragon egg! I'll never drink again! I should be chucked out an' made ter live as a Muggle!"
"Hagrid!" said Harry, shocked to see Hagrid shaking with grief and remorse, great tears leaking down into his beard. "Hagrid, he'd have found out somehow, this is Voldemort we're talking about, he'd have found out even if you hadn't told him." "Hagrid, to put it in different terms, suck it up and stop blubbering like a baby," Alex piped in, which made Hagrid form a weird noise, which sounded like a cross between a laugh and a cry.
"Yeh both could've died!" sobbed Hagrid. "An' don' say the name!" "VOLDEMORT!" Harry bellowed, and Hagrid was so shocked, he stopped crying. Alex, however, started picking at her nails uninterestedly. "I've met him and I'm calling him by his name. Please cheer up, Hagrid, we saved the Stone, it's gone, he can't use it. Have a Chocolate Frog, I've got loads..."
Hagrid wiped his nose on the back of his hand and said, "That reminds me. I've got yeh a present." "What, nothing for me?" She half- joked. "Sorry, I'll get yeh summat nex' time."
He gave Harry his gift, and it seemed to be a handsome, leather-covered book. Harry opened it curiously. It was full of wizard photographs. Smiling and waving at him from every page were his mother and father.
"Sent owls off ter all yer parents' old school friends, askin' fer photos... knew yeh didn' have any... d'yeh like it?" Harry couldn't speak, but Hagrid understood. Alex peered curiously at the pictures, and snorted at a particular picture of Lily scolding James when he knocked over a flower pot in the background.
Harry made his way down to the end-of-year feast along with Alex that night. They had been held up by Madam Pomfrey's fussing about, insisting on giving them both one last check- up, so the Great Hall was already full. It was decked out in the Slytherin colors of green and silver to celebrate Slytherin's winning the house cup for the seventh year in a row. A huge banner showing the Slytherin serpent covered the wall behind the High Table.
When Harry and Alex walked in there was a sudden hush, and then everybody started talking loudly at once. Harry slipped into a seat between Ron and Hermione, and Alex dropped down next to Hermione with a 'plonk' at the Gryffindor table and Harry was trying to ignore the fact that people were standing up to look at him.
Fortunately, Dumbledore arrived moments later. The babble died away. "Another year gone!" Dumbledore said cheerfully. "And I must trouble you with an old man's wheezing waffle before we sink our teeth into our delicious feast. What a year it has been! Hopefully your heads are all a little fuller than they were... you have the whole summer ahead to get them nice and empty before next year starts...
"Now, as I understand it, the house cup here needs awarding, and the points stand thus: In fourth place, Gryffindor, with three hundred and twelve points; in third, Hufflepuff, with three hundred and fifty-two; Ravenclaw has four hundred and twenty-six and Slytherin, four hundred and seventy- two."
A storm of cheering and stamping broke out from the Slytherin table. Harry could see Draco Malfoy banging his goblet on the table. It was a sickening sight. "Yes, Yes, well done, Slytherin," said Dumbledore. "However, recent events must be taken into account."
The room went very still. The Slytherins' smiles faded a little. "Ahem," said Dumbledore. "I have a few last-minute points to dish out. Let me see. Yes… First - to Mr. Ronald Weasley..." Ron went purple in the face; he looked like a radish with a bad sunburn.
"...for the best-played game of chess Hogwarts has seen in many years, I award Gryffindor house fifty points." Gryffindor cheers nearly raised the bewitched ceiling; the stars overhead seemed to quiver. Percy could be heard telling the other prefects, "My brother, you know! My youngest brother! Got past McGonagall's giant chess set!"
At last there was silence again. "Second - to Miss Alexandra Russo... for facing threats with admirable bravery, I award Gryffindor house fifty points." While everyone cheered, Alex relished in the attention, even getting up and bowing. "Thanks, Dumbledore! It's what I do!" Harry could have sworn Dumbledore winked at Alex.
After the cheers finally died down, Dumbledore continued, "Third - to Miss Hermione Granger, for using cool logic in the face of fire, I also award Gryffindor house fifty points." Hermione buried her face in her arms; Harry strongly suspected she had burst into tears.
Gryffindors up and down the table were beside themselves - they were a hundred points up. "Third - to Mr. Harry Potter..." said Dumbledore. The room went deadly quiet, "for pure nerve and outstanding courage, I award Gryffindor house sixty points."
The din was deafening. Those who could add up while yelling themselves hoarse knew that Gryffindor now had four hundred and seventy-two points - exactly the same as Slytherin. They had tied for the house cup - if only Dumbledore had given Harry just one more point.
Dumbledore raised his hand. The room gradually fell silent. "There are all kinds of courage," said Dumbledore, smiling. "It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends. I therefore award ten points to Mr. Neville Longbottom."
Someone standing outside the Great Hall might well have thought some sort of explosion had taken place, so loud was the noise that erupted from the Gryffindor table. Harry, Ron, Hermione and Alex stood up to yell and cheer as Neville, white with shock, disappeared under a pile of people hugging him. He had never won so much as a point for Gryffindor before. Harry, still cheering, nudged Ron in the ribs and pointed at Malfoy, who couldn't have looked more stunned and horrified if he'd just had the Body-Bind Curse put on him. Alex looked in his direction, and burst out laughing, even harder.
"Which means," Dumbledore called over the storm of applause, for even Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff were celebrating the downfall of Slytherin, "we need a little change of decoration."
He clapped his hands. In an instant, the green hangings became scarlet and the silver became gold; the huge Slytherin serpent vanished and a towering Gryffindor lion took its place. Snape was shaking Professor McGonagall's hand, with a horrible, forced smile. He caught Harry's eye and Harry knew at once that Snape's feelings toward him hadn't changed one bit. This didn't worry Harry. It seemed as though life would be back to normal next year, or as normal as it ever was at Hogwarts.
It was the best evening of Harry's life, better than winning at Quidditch, or Christmas, or knocking out mountain trolls... he would never, ever forget tonight. Harry had almost forgotten that the exam results were still to come, but come they did. To their great surprise, both he, Alex and Ron passed with good marks; Hermione, of course, had the best grades of the first years.
Even Neville scraped through, his good Herbology mark making up for his abysmal Potions one. They had hoped that Goyle, who was almost as stupid as he was mean, might be thrown out, but he had passed, too. It was a shame, but as Ron said, you couldn't have everything in life.
And suddenly, their wardrobes were empty, their trunks were packed, Neville's toad was found lurking in a corner of the toilets; notes were handed out to all students, warning them not to use magic over the holidays ("I always hope they'll forget to give us these," said Fred Weasley sadly, while Alex laughed, as she was allowed to use it); Hagrid was there to take them down to the fleet of boats that sailed across the lake; they were boarding the Hogwarts Express; talking and laughing as the countryside became greener and tidier; eating Bettie Bott's Every Flavor Beans as they sped past Muggle towns; pulling off their wizard robes and putting on jackets and coats; pulling into platform nine and three-quarters at King's Cross Station.
It took quite a while for them all to get off the platform. A wizened old guard was up by the ticket barrier, letting them go through the gate in twos and threes so they didn't attract attention by all bursting out of a solid wall at once and alarming the Muggles. "You must come and stay this summer," said Ron, "all three of you - I'll send you an owl."
"Thanks," said Harry, "I'll need something to look forward to." People jostled them as they moved forward toward the gateway back to the Muggle world. Some of them called: "Bye, Harry!" "See you, Potter!" "Still famous," said Ron, grinning at him. "Not where I'm going, I promise you," said Harry.
Harry and Ron, followed by Alex and Hermione, passed through the gateway in twos. "There he is, Mom, there he is, look!" It was Ginny Weasley, Ron's younger sister, but she wasn't pointing at Ron. "Harry Potter!" she squealed. "Look, Mom! I can see him!" "Be quiet, Ginny, and it's rude to point." Mrs. Weasley smiled down at them.
"Busy year?" she said. "Very," said Harry. "Thanks for the fudge and the sweater, Mrs. Weasley." "Oh, it was nothing, dear." "Ready, are you?" It was Uncle Vernon, still purple-faced, still mustached, still looking furious at the nerve of Harry, carrying an owl in a cage in a station full of ordinary people. Behind him stood Aunt Petunia and Dudley, looking terrified at the very sight of Harry.
"You must be Harry's family!" said Mrs. Weasley. "In a manner of speaking," said Uncle Vernon. "Hurry up, boy, we haven't got all day." He walked away. Harry hung back for a last word with Ron, Hermione and Alex. "See you over the summer, then." "Hope you have - er - a good holiday," said Hermione, looking uncertainly after Uncle Vernon, shocked that anyone could be so unpleasant. "If you need me to prank that walrus of a man, and pig of a cousin, just call." Alex mischievously grinned, no doubt already forming a plan in her head.
"Oh, I will," said Harry, and they were surprised at the grin that was spreading over his face. "They don't know we're not allowed to use magic at home. I'm going to have a lot of fun with Dudley this summer..." I have taught you well," Alex laughed, and hi-fived Harry right before he left. She waved goodbye to Ron and Hermione before flashing out, and the last thing she saw was Mrs Weasley spluttering in surprise and the twins cheekily waving at her.