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By the time they reached the third floor, with its portraits of weeping women and ravaging monsters, the three were panting and gasping, for it was not easy trying to walk up an entire flight of stairs together and still remain huddled underneath an Invisibility Cloak. But they managed it, and crept down the corridor towards the door with the brass ring. Harry half expected Snape to appear out of the shadows and order them all back to bed, but the dark guardian was absent, and Harry hoped that he was merely guarding the Stone and not injured and dying.

As before, the door was locked, but a quick "Alohomora!" from Hermione allowed them entrance.

They could hear the sweet strains of a harp playing and the loud snores of Fluffy as they nipped inside, carefully shutting the door behind them.

Fluffy was sprawled on the ground next to the harp, all three heads snoring rhythmically. Puddles of sticky drool collected near the mastiff and bulldog heads, and the wolf head sniffed as it slept.

"Hell, Quirrell's already been here," Harry muttered, removing the flute from his pocket.

Sure enough, the trapdoor lay open near the Cerberus's head.

"The harp . . ." Hermione whispered. "It's stopped playing."

The dog's snores had been so loud that neither boy realized the sweet music had halted until they paused to listen. The enchantment on the harp had ceased and the wolf's head twitched and then awoke abruptly. Its golden eyes looked right at Harry and it snarled and howled, waking up the other two heads, and then the massive dog was lunging at them, startlingly quick for an animal of that size.

Hermione screamed and Harry was nearly bowled over, for the cloak was no protection against a dog who relied more on smell than sight to find an intruder.

"DO something!" Ron yelped. "Quickly! I don't wanna become puppy chow!"

Harry put the flute to his lips and blew, praying that Hagrid had been right, and the flute could play its own tune.

As soon as the air filled it, the sweet notes of a lullaby drifted across the room and the dog halted its mad rush and looked quizzical, all three head cocked.

The lullaby continued and Fluffy yawned sleepily, displaying fangs half the size of Harry, then it turned in a circle three times and lay down with its heads on its giant paws. In another minute the dog was sleeping soundly, dreaming of chasing mammoth deer and unwanted intruders.

"Merlin, that was close!" Ron hissed, moving over to peer through the trapdoor. "It's really dark down there. I can't see the bottom. What if there isn't one?"

"There must be." Hermione insisted.

"I'll go first," Harry said, pulling the flute away from his mouth. It continued playing on its own and would do so for about a minute. "Here, Hermione. Keep playing." He passed the flute to her and started to lower himself over the side. "Ron, if anything happens to me, go back and send an owl to Dumbledore. Get Hedwig, she's at Hagrid's, tell him and any other teacher you can find. Okay?"

Ron nodded, his face set. "Will do, Harry. But nothing's going to happen. We're going to kick Quirrell's bleeding arse."

"Right." Harry managed a grin before he made himself let go.

He fell for what seemed like an eternity into blackness before his feet hit the bottom and he pitched forward onto something soft and slightly warm. He quickly stood up and yelled, "I'm okay! There's something soft down here, just jump!"

About three seconds later, Ron landed next to him. "Lumos!" he cried, and the tip of his wand lit up to reveal a rather large stone cavern with a mass of curling ivy all over it. "Nice of them to put this here."

"Yeah, guess they didn't want to break a leg," Harry said, moving out of the way so Hermione could come through.

Hermione tucked the flute in her pocket.

As soon as the flute ceased playing, Fluffy stirred and growled, but by then Hermione was through the trapdoor and landing next to them with a soft thump. "How odd. A bunch of vines that look like . . ."she trailed off as she saw several vines move and wind themselves about Ron and Harry, climbing rapidly up the two boys.

"Ahh!" they yelled, struggling against the dreadful pressure. "Get them off! Get them off!"

"We're being eaten alive!" yelled Ron.

"Stop moving!" Hermione yelled, remaining perfectly still as the vines slithered about her sneakers, though inside she was trembling like a Christmas pudding. "This is Devil's Snare!"

"Who cares what it's called?" yelped Ron. "I just want it to stop strangling me . .. ack!"

The vine was now twining about his shoulders and a small tendril had wrapped lovingly about his ear.

"Be perfectly still. Now . . .what did Professor Sprout say about Devil's Snare?" she mused, sounding as if she were still back in the classroom, safe and sound.

"It can kill you in five minutes?" Harry suggested, trying hard not to move as the vines squeezed him.

"No . . .no . . .it likes the damp and dark . . ."

"Who cares?" yelped Ron.

" . . .and it hates sunlight and fire!" Hermione cried triumphantly. She pointed her wand down at the writhing mass of green and purple vines. "Close your eyes!" She warned. The two obeyed, shuddering. "Lumos maxima!"

A dazzling ball of light emerged from her wand and the Devil's Snare withered where the light touched, shrinking away and withdrawing into the furthest corner of the chamber. In two minutes, Harry and Ron were free and brushing dead leaves off themselves.

"Oh, thank you Merlin!" Ron gasped.

"Thank you, Hermione!" Harry corrected. "We're lucky you pay attention in Herbology."

Hermione blushed in pleasure.

"C'mon. Looks like the way out is this way," said Ron pointing to a long stone passage off to the right that had been hidden by the mass of Devil's Snare.

"We must be miles and miles beneath the school!" Hermione remarked in awe, gazing up at the rough hewn stone walls.

Harry gulped." Uh . . .let's not talk about that, okay? I don't like small dark places." He took several deep breaths and centered himself. He wasn't horribly claustrophobic, but he didn't like being trapped inside a closed space, he'd lived too long in a broom cupboard.

He walked quickly down the passage, lighting the way with the tip of his wand. He thought this passage reminded him a bit of Gringotts, it was made of the same stone, and he prayed that there was no dragon guarding the Stone. Because he had no idea how they would trick a fully grown dragon.

There came a breath of wind from somewhere ahead and Harry stopped and let it wash over him. It felt wonderful, and he tilted his head back, it ruffled his sweat soaked hair, making it stick up. "Feel that? A breeze."

"Great!" Ron said, cocking his head. "What's that sound?"

A strange humming noise was coming from up ahead.

"Bees?" Hermione guessed.

Ron swallowed hard. "Anything but that. I'm really allergic."

"Damn!" Harry swore, but forced himself to continue.

At the end of the passage was a door. This time Harry cast the Unlocking Charm and the door, marked with a stylized F with wings, slid open.

Harry peeked about the doorframe.

"Is it bees?" Ron called worriedly.

"No, it's birds. Hundreds of them!" replied his friend, walking all the way into the room.

"Birds? Oh, the poor things, trapped here!" Hermione cried and ran into the room, followed a moment later by a cautious Ron.

Hundreds of birds fluttered all over, some were small like starlings, others were larger, about the size of ravens. All of them carried something shiny about their necks.

Harry walked across the room and over to the big brass bound door opposite. He tugged on the knob. "Locked. Blast!" He chanted the Unlocking Charm. Nothing happened.

"Huh? What the hell?"

"What's wrong?" asked Ron.

"It's . . .the door won't unlock, even with the spell."

"It's probably been spelled against it," Ron said, frowning at the knob. "Looks like we need a key, a big silver one, from the look of the doorknob."

"That makes sense. But where . . .?" Harry jerked his head up as a small bluebird flew past, and he saw for the first time what the shiny objects were tied around their necks. "Ron, they're carrying keys!"

"Brilliant!"

Hermione was also studying the birds. "They're not real birds at all. They're models!" she gasped.

"Huh?"

"You know, taxidermy models, they've been enchanted to fly around the room with the keys."

"Oh, I get it." Harry felt silly for not figuring that out. "But we need to get a key and if they don't need to land . . .we need to fly."

"Know a spell to grow wings, Hermione?" asked Ron, trying to jump up and snag a bird.

It zipped out of reached.

"No, but I know where we can get some brooms," she pointed to several broomsticks beside the door they had entered.

All three mounted the brooms and soared into the air.

Harry, accustomed to his superfast Nimbus, thought his broom sluggish and slow, but it flew, and he started trying to see what keys the birds had about their necks on different colored ribbons.

There were all sorts of keys, large, small, encrusted with gems, brass, plain, but no silver.

Harry bit his lip hard. They had come too far only to fail now. "Where is it? It has to be here." He scanned the birds, using a technique Severus had taught him for finding the Snitch, how to see but not focus on any one thing. Suddenly, his eyes, which were sharp as a hawk's, caught a flash of something metallic. He turned his head ever so slightly and saw a hummingbird hovering, a large ornate silver key about her neck. The key was so heavy, however, that she flew tilted to one side.

"There! I see the one we want!" he called to the others, who were swooping and trying to catch a bird to no avail. "It's a hummingbird, she's flying a little crooked."

Ron dove down and nodded. "Hummingbird's fast, though. Think you can catch it, Harry?"

Harry set his jaw. "If I can catch a Snitch, I can catch this." He narrowed his eyes. "I just need to focus. Ron, keep the other birds away from me as best you can, along with Hermione."

"Right." Ron spun around and flew at the flock of birds, yelling.

They scattered, including the hummingbird.

Harry soared after it.

It flew very fast, but Harry was not the youngest Seeker in a century for nothing.

He managed to coax his broom into top speed and stayed on the hummingbird's tail, never letting it out of his sight.

Ron and Hermione kept the rest of the birds busy, waving their arms and flying into them so they didn't flock about the hummingbird.

The hummingbird was listing more to the side now. Harry swooped under and then around, flipping over to hang upside down, one hand reaching . . .reaching . . .until he felt the bird's feathers brush his fingers and he closed his hand about it with a snap.

"Gotcha!"

He righted himself and cried, "I got it! Come down!"

They landed and walked over to the door, Harry still holding the struggling hummingbird. Once they reached the door, Harry slipped the ribbon from about the bird's neck and released it. Then he stuck the key into the lock and turned it.

There was a snick and the door opened.

"Three down and who knows how many more to go?" Ron said, trying to sound cheerful.

They slipped through the door and into a strange square room with black and white checkerboard tiles. Suddenly, bright light shone down from a huge globe in the ceiling and they could see the whole room was one vast . . .

"Chessboard!" Ron exclaimed. "It's a huge chessboard." In front of them were lifesize onyx chessmen, some larger than he was. He stared across the room. Lifesize white pieces stood poised for play, carved from white marble.

"Now what do we do?" asked Hermione.

Ron was studying the chessmen. "I think . . .we need to play our way across the room to the door."He pointed to a small wooden door at the far end.

"How?" Hermione looked uneasy.

"I think . . .we have to become chessmen," Ron said, looking very eager.

"What?" Harry shook his head. "Ron, I can't play chess. You stomp my arse every time."

"I never learned how either," Hermione admitted softly.

"Guess you don't know it all, now do you?" Ron smirked. "Lucky you've got a chess master here to show you how its done." He marched up to the black king and tapped it.

The king turned and looked down.

"In order to play, we have to join you, right?"

The king nodded.

"Okay. Give me a minute." Ron studied the board again. "Since you two are clueless, no offense, I'm going to put you where you won't get hurt too much. Hermione, you're going to be a castle." he pointed to a castle and Hermione walked up and stepped into it. "Okay, Harry, you take the place of that bishop next to her."

Harry walked over and the bishop picked him up and set him on his shoulder.

"What about you, Ron?"

"Me? I'm going to be a knight." He walked over to a black knight mounted on a rearing stallion and climbed on it.

The chessmen seemed to accept Ron's leadership, for the king gestured to him and Ron turned to Harry and said, "Looks like I'm the commander. But white always moves first. Look."

Up ahead a white pawn had moved.

"Now it's our turn."

Harry shivered. What would happen if they lost? If this was Wizard Chess . . .would they be killed?

Ron was focused and intent, directing the pieces with the ease of a born chess player. All the pieces obeyed him silently, moving up and back as he indicated. "Harry, move four squares diagonally to the left."

Harry's bishop obeyed.

But then their other knight was taken and Harry reeled in shock at the brutality. The white queen smashed her mace down on the black knight and he fell to the board, broken and defeated. Then she reached down and dragged him off to the side.

"Christ!"

"Had to let that happen," Ron said, matter-of-factly, though he looked shaken. "That leaves you free to take their bishop, Hermione. Go on."

Hermione moved, and the bishop toppled over and was removed from the board.

They played steadily, and each time the white pieces took a black, they smashed them to cinders without mercy. Harry couldn't tell any more if they were winning, he just wanted the game to be over. He waited for Ron to tell him where to go next, then prayed for a checkmate.

Ron was in his element, moving all over the board, taking out the white pieces bit by bit.

"We're almost there!" cried Hermione.

"Yes, but . . ." Ron frowned. "I got to think . . ." He looked about at the remaining pieces, his own and the white queen's. He swallowed hard. "It's the only way . . .otherwise we'll lose."

"What are you talking about?" asked Harry.

"I have to let the queen take me, Harry. Once she moves, you can checkmate the king."

"No way!" Harry cried.

"Ron, you can't!" Hermione wailed.

"There's no other way!" he snapped. "It's how you play the game. Sometimes you have to sacrifice a piece so you can win."

"You're not a chess piece, you're my friend!" Harry shouted, horrified.

"You want to stop Quirrell or not, Harry?"

"Of course I do, but not like this."

Ron set his jaw. "I knew what I was getting into before I followed you. You said it yourself. Now quit acting like wimpy crybaby, Potter, and do what I told you. Are you a real Gryffindor or aren't you?"

"You stupid noble damn idiot!" Harry snapped, blinking hard.

"Save the lecture, Potter. Finish the game." Ron ordered. He stepped forward.

The white queen spun, and her scepter smashed into the side of Ron's horse, knocking it and him to the ground. He crumpled to the floor and lay still.

"Ron!" screamed Hermione, terror written all over her face.

Harry couldn't bear to look. I should have gone alone. This was my idea. Then he took his friend's advice and moved three spaces to the left. "Checkmate."

The king took off his crown and threw it at Harry's feet.

"Well played." The white king bowed and so did all the other chessmen. Then they stepped aside and the way to the door was clear.

"C'mon, Hermione," Harry called.

"But what about Ron? We can't just leave him there."

"Yes, we can. I don't think he's dead, just knocked out. Let's go. Don't make his sacrifice nothing."

Hermione sniffed. "When this is all over, I'm coming back for him," she said, then turned the handle of the wooden door. "I hate chess."

"I hate Quirrell," Harry snorted. "Bloody damn traitor."

They found themselves in yet another stone passageway. Harry leaned against the wall, trying to calm himself. He felt as though the walls were slowly smothering him. "Talk to me, Hermione. What do you reckon's next?"

Hermione nibbled her nail and after a moment, answered, "Well, I think all the teachers contributed here, plus Hagrid. Fluffy was his, then Sprout's was the Devil's Snare, Flitwick charmed the birds and the keys, McGonagall transfigured the chessmen to make them alive, so the only two we have left are Quirrell's and Professor Snape's."

 

"Oh, joy." Harry groaned. He wondered what Snape had invented for a challenge. He pushed himself away from the wall, breathing hard, his face ashen.

"You okay, Harry?"

"Yeah. Come on. I'll be better once this is over with. Until Snape gets a hold of me, that is." He winced. "Then I'm dead."

"You're exaggerating, Harry. He won't kill you, not really."

"No, but he'll . . .shake me to pieces and remember that smack he gave me before? I'll probably be getting a few more of them, most likely."

Hermione was looking at him speculatively again. "Harry, that's not the way a teacher would normally punish a student. That's more like what a father would do. Is Snape . . .he's not related . . .?"

"No, he's not my dad," Harry chuckled. I wish he was, heaven help me. Except when he's about to tear strips off me. "Though he acts like he is, sometimes. It's complicated. But I trust him with my life, Hermione. That's part of the reason why I'm doing this. He saved my life. Now it's my turn."

 

"I can understand that," Hermione said softly. "I'll tell him it was my idea."

"He'd never believe it." Harry laughed. "But I'll worry about that later. First we have to get to the Stone."

They had come to the end of the corridor.

There was another large iron-bound door. It was unlocked.

Harry shoved it hard with his shoulder.

The room beyond looked like a giant tilled field, with furrows such as a plow would make in rows of dirt. Harry half expected to see a scarecrow and corn husks. "Huh? What's this? What are we supposed to do here? Plant our way across?"

Hermione looked uneasy. "I . . .there's something weird going on here."

"Took you that long to notice?" teased Harry, then he stepped onto the dirt.

Suddenly the soil heaved and bucked and all along the furrows the earth exploded to reveal warriors in dragonscale armor armed with swords, spears, and shields.

"Blessed hells!" Harry yelped, then reacted on instinct and cast a Shield Charm.

And a good thing too, for one of the warriors tossed a spear at him and it struck the shield and bounced off.

"Harry! Look out!"

"I see it. Hermione, do you know how to cast a Shield Charm?"

"Uh, yes. I think."

"Do it. I'll cover you." Harry ordered.

He pointed his wand and chanted a quick Body Bind, and one warrior fell over, stunned.

"Warriors that spring out of the earth . . .now why does that sound familiar?" he mused. Then he recalled, with a flash of nostalgia, Severus reading to him from a large book of Greek myths when he was sick one time. In it there had been the story of the Golden Fleece, which had been guarded by magical warriors that grew from the teeth of . . ."Dragons! These are dragon's teeth!" Harry gasped.

"Huh? What do you mean?" Hermione asked, encased behind her own glowing shield.

"Haven't you ever read the Quest for the Golden Fleece? Cadmus makes an army from the teeth of a dragon, and Jason has to battle them," Harry informed her. "That's what these are. Dragon's teeth. They live for battle. And for killing."

"Oh, bloody wonderful. This must be Quirrell's little trap. What do we do? I don't know any spells that can take down an army."

Harry was thinking hard. "Sometimes the best way to defeat an army is by distraction."

"What?"

"It's simple. Right now they're focused on us and want to kill us. But what if we focused their attention on something else?"

"Like what?"

"Each other." Harry bent and picked up a handful of small pebbles. Then he pulled up the hood of his cloak and vanished. "Watch this! How to create chaos in the ranks in ten seconds."

He ran in and out of the furrows, throwing pebbles with deadly accuracy.

They struck the warriors on the face, back, arms, and bottom, stinging sharply.

Enraged, the first warrior turned to his neighbor and smacked him in the face. The other retaliated by drawing his sword.

Soon the line of disciplined warriors was turning on each other, thinking they had been attacked by someone behind them or to the left or right, and in five minutes the field was trampled and the dragon's teeth warriors were too busy pounding each other to a pulp to be worrying about one small girl and her invisible friend.

Harry grabbed Hermione's hand and dragged her under the cloak. "C'mon. Let's get out of here, quick!"

They raced across the field, dodging warriors as they went, until at last they came to a stone archway and yet another door, this one painted black.

Harry turned the handle and went inside, his wand out.

But there was nothing dangerous in this room, just a long low table with vials of potions and a scroll.

Hermione shut the door and the clash and screams of the warriors battling faded away. "That was awfully clever, Harry. Where did you learn tactics like that?"

"From a real Defense teacher," he answered softly. Thank you, Severus. He walked up and examined the vials, they were of all different sizes. "This must be Professor Snape's challenge. What do we have to do, identify these?"

No sooner had he said that, then purple fire encased the door they had just came through, and black flames swathed the door on the opposite end of the chamber. They were trapped.

"Nice one, Severus," Harry scowled. "What the heck does a Fireproof Potion look like?"

"I don't know. But maybe this will give us a clue." Hermione unrolled the scroll and read the following poem aloud:

"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 drinker back instead,

Two among our number 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 . . ."

---Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by JK Rowling 

She continued reading, the rest of the poem gave hints as to how to determine which bottles contained what substance.

Harry started laughing.

Hermione halted and gave him a worried look. "Harry? What's so funny? This is serious. Three of these potions are poisons. If we drink the wrong one . . .we could die."

"I know, but . . .this isn't magic, it's logic. Severus . . .he used to say that sometimes the greatest wizards in the world couldn't put two and two together and get four. That just because you were powerful didn't mean you had common sense, in fact it was usually the opposite."

"That's very true. Dumbledore can't even match his socks."

"Right. And I'll bet Voldemort can't either. But I've done puzzles like this before. Loads of them. When I was sick in bed . . ."Harry trailed off, recalling all the clever little logic problems his guardian angel used to write out for him, with sweets for rewards.

"So have I, but this looks tough. Let's do it together."

They bent over the parchment.

"One, two, three . . ." Harry counted.

"But not the one on the right . . ."Hermione mused.

"Or this one . . ."

"So it's got to be . . ."

"I've got it!" Harry yelled in triumph.

Hermione looked annoyed. "Okay. What's the order, Mr. Know-It-All?"

Harry grinned and pretended to sniff haughtily. "Well, Miss, it's like this: The smallest bottle will get us through the black fire. To the Stone." he indicated a very tiny crystal one.

"But there's only enough for one of us," Hermione said.

"Right." Harry sighed. "He did that on purpose. This round gold one will send you back through the purple flames." He picked it up and handed to her. "Drink it. Go back and help Ron, then get the brooms from the bird key room and fly back through the trapdoor. Go to Hagrid and send Hedwig to Dumbledore, like I told you before. Maybe he can get here in time to help me."

"Harry . . .no! You can't go in there alone. Voldemort's in there!"

"I know. But someone has to do this, and it might as well be me. I won't let you be the sacrifice, Hermione. Too many people have already died for me. This time . . .this is my fight."

"No! You'll die!" she sobbed.

"Shhh. Anything's possible. I could get lucky. Quirrell won't be expecting me. If I can take him by surprise . . ."

"But . . ." she threw her arms about him then and kissed him, very lightly, on the lips.

"Hermione!"

"For luck." She smiled up at him. "You're a great wizard, Harry."

"Me? Yeah, sure. You're more brilliant by far."

She shook her head. "No. All I have are books and cleverness. But you . . .you have true magic. And a true heart. Go. Kick Voldy's arse. I'll be waiting for you. Be careful, Harry!"

She hugged him again, then let him go.

He stood there, beet red, thinking My first kiss and this has to happen now? When I'm about to face a resurrected dead guy and a crazy teacher?

Hermione took the round gold bottle and unstoppered it and drank.

She shuddered and whimpered.

"Hermione, are you . . .oh, God, it was poison!"

"No . . .but it's like ice." She started to walk forward towards the purple flames.

"Quick, before it wears off!" he urged.

"Good luck, Harry!" She turned and waved, smiling through her tears. Then she stepped through the flames and was gone.

Harry took a deep breath. He picked up the smallest bottle and turned to face the black flames. "Okay. Here goes nothing." He drank it down.

Ice spread through him in a dizzying rush and he felt frozen to the marrow of his bones.

"Get ready, Voldemort! Because tonight you're going to pay," he growled savagely. Severus, I hope you can forgive me. If I live through this, feel free to kick my arse, you're going to anyhow. But this is my debt to repay. Then he walked through the black fire.

Flames dark as night surrounded him, licking at his body, but he felt nothing save freezing cold. He walked through midnight and came out on the other side, to see Quirrell standing before a familiar mirror and facing him, wand out, a look of hatred upon his face, was his guardian angel, Severus Snape.

"If you want the Stone, Quirinius, you'll have to get it over my dead body," Severus announced silkily.

Quirrell laughed, high and shrill. "So be it, Snape! Let us see who is the real Defense Master, shall we?"


 



Chapter End Notes:


So, how did you like this one?

Next: Snape faces off against Quirrell and Harry against Voldemort! Get ready for some major fireworks!

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