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Harry nearly fell backwards into the black flames, he was so startled to see his guardian there, and preparing to duel Quirrell to death, apparently. He took a deep breath, considering whether or not he should reveal his presence. An instant later, he decided against it, and tugged up the hood of the Invisibility Cloak and vanished. He knew from Severus's many lectures that concentration and focus were paramount during a duel, and if Snape saw Harry there, he would lose focus and be distracted, worrying about his ward instead of Quirrell. And he did not want to be responsible for getting Severus killed. Enough people had died for him already.

So he peered about the chamber, it was round and the mirror was set upon a raised dais with two stairs leading up to it. Snape was standing in front of the mirror, it was the very same one that had promised Harry his dream of a home and a real father over Christmas break. Dumbledore had called it a funny name-the Mirror of Erised, but to Harry it would forever be known as the Mirror of Dreams.

Besides the mirror, the chamber was empty. Harry looked but saw nowhere the Sorcerer's Stone could be hidden. Yet surely it must be here, else why would Snape be guarding this room? Harry bit his lip. Perhaps there was a Misdirection Charm or even an Invisibility Charm on it? Harry was not positive as to what it actually looked like, Hermione's book had not been specific about its appearance, saying it could appear to be a deep red jewel about the size of a golf ball or on occasion a golden amber one that was slightly smaller.

He backed up against the wall, sensing the further away he was from the two master wizards the better, especially when they began flinging spells around. Come on, Sev, kick his arse good. You're probably years better than he is at being a war wizard, look at what you taught me in just a few months.

Quirrell drew his own wand, a sharp sneer upon his sallow pallid face. "I have waited a long time for this, Snape. Always lurking in the shadows, threatening everything I do, protecting that wretched Potter brat and his little friends. He would have died long before now and my task here would be mostly complete had you not stuck your interfering long nose into my business."

"The welfare of any student at Hogwarts is my business, you whimpering cowardly arse-licking bastard," Snape snarled, his black eyes glittering. "You who would stoop to killing a child, Quirinius, you dare stand here and proclaim yourself a teacher? You are nothing but a joke, a cruel farce masquerading as a normal human being."

Quirrell drew himself up to his full height, which was not that impressive, Snape topped him by at least six inches, and snapped, "You dare to speak so to me-me who has been chosen to be the vessel for the greatest wizard the world has ever known? I shall make you writhe, Snape, make you beg for mercy before I am done, and my Master shall see and reward me greatly for my services."

"Will he now? All hail Riddle, the Great and Terrible Wizard," mocked Severus. "Who creeps through the forest sucking the essence of unicorns to preserve his pitiful life, who made a dark bargain long ago with the Prince of Darkness, and who now must pay the debt that is due! Step aside, lackey, and let your Master show himself! He shall find I am somewhat tougher to kill than a mere eleven-year-old!"

"My Master shall chew you up and spit you out, Snape! He shall rip out your guts and eat your liver while your heart still beats!"screamed Quirrell. Fire bloomed upon the end of his wand and he yelled, "Inferio maximus!"

He flicked the large fireball at Snape, who moved like the serpent that was his House symbol.

One minute the black cloaked warrior wizard was in front of the mirror, and the next he was not.

For one instant Harry thought he had Apparated or turned himself invisible, but then he saw a shadow behind the mirror.

The fireball struck the enchanted glass and bounced back, and Quirrell scurried backwards with a sharp cry of disbelief, nearly getting toasted by his own spell. He quickly waved a hand and the fireball was snuffed.

"Lazy, Quirinius. Somebody didn't do their homework," Snape scolded, coming out from behind the mirror and snarling a sharp, "Boreas frigidarius!" And an ice storm was born, shooting out of Snape's wand with a howl of primal fury.

Quirrell was borne backwards by it to slam up against the far chamber wall. Icicles formed upon his turban and his robe and he was drenched and shivering within a heartbeat. He chanted a quick Warming Charm, but it was like holding a candleflame in the middle of a hurricane.

His hand was almost too frozen to grip his wand, but he managed to call up a warm southern desert breeze a minute later and banish Severus's ice storm. "Nice t-try, S-Snape. But it'll take more than that to defeat me."

"Keep saying that to yourself, Quirrelly. You might actually come to believe it." Snape rotated his wand counterclockwise and hissed a phrase in Latin and from the vortex sprang a swarm of yellowjackets, which flew immediately to the attack.

Quirrell spent several minutes beating frantically at the angry insects, looking like he was dancing a rather unusual hornpipe, yelping and hysterical. At last he shouted a strange spell and the bees were blown backwards and banished. But he had several large red welts upon his face and arms where the yellowjackets had stung him.

Quirrell aimed his own wand then and shouted something that sounded like, "Metallica" and another word Harry couldn't quite make out. A barrage of knives arced from his wand and streaked towards Severus.

Harry cringed, waiting for the flying knives to impale his guardian.

But Severus chanted a greater version of the Shield Spell, and the knives struck the blue globe and fell harmlessly to the floor. "Pitiful, Quirinius. My fifth year students could give more competition. How about we play a little game of cat and mouse? You can be the mouse-" Here Severus gave the trembling Quirrell a truly evil sneer, and snapped his fingers, and Quirrell was suddenly a very large rat with watery blue eyes. "-and I'll be the cat."

Then Snape's form blurred and when Harry looked again he saw something that truly astonished him.

For Snape had become the snow leopard that had saved him in the Forbidden Forest.

Harry had only seen the big cat once, but he would never forget the way the magnificent animal had come to his rescue.

I should have known. He always knows when I need him most.

Wraith sprang off the dais, claws outstretched, and the rat that was Quirrell just managed to dart away, avoiding the great leopard's strike by mere inches.

Quirrell scurried about the chamber, trying to climb the walls , looking desperately for a place to hide, but there was none.

Wraith stalked the gray rat leisurely, his golden eyes glittering, giving the other wizard a chance to surrender, but Quirrell was too stupid or too frightened to transform himself back, and panicked, running in circles until Snape decided to end the charade and sprang upon the rat.

He pinned the rat to the ground effortlessly, snarling victoriously, and bent his head to break Quirrell's neck.

But Quirrell blurred, becoming a small green viper, and slipped away.

Wraith roared in fury and lunged after it, but the viper became a man then, and chanted the spell that broke an Animagus form, returning Severus to his original form in mid-leap.

Even then, the Potions Master was not caught totally off-guard. Instead of smashing face first into the floor, Snape tucked his head into his chest and rolled, reducing the sudden impact and ending up on his feet.

By then Quirrell was growing desperate, for Severus was much better at Defense and combat spells than he was, and he was running out of offensive spells to cast. Master, help me. I was always your loyal servant.

From somewhere deep within his soul, a dark voice chuckled. Are you willing to pay my price, little bug? 

Yes, yes. Anything, only let me defeat Snape, Master! Quirrell babbled, backing away from Severus, who was advancing on him again, his face set in a menacing sneer.

Very well. I shall give you what you desire.

Suddenly, Quirrell's demeanor changed, and his watery blue eyes lost their fearful look, instead becoming an odd reddish color.

Harry felt his scar suddenly flare and burn and he clutched at his head, unable to halt a cry of agony. He fell to his knees, clawing at his head, and his frantic movement knocked the hood of his cloak off, revealing him to the two battling wizards.

"Ah, now I have an audience for your demise, Snape!" chortled Quirrell.

But Snape did not hear him. He was staring in disbelief at the child huddled on the ground, the child he had sworn to protect, who had somehow gotten past all the safeguards, and was now in mortal peril. "Harry?"

It was but an instant of a distraction, a second later Snape was once more focused on his opponent.

But that second was all Voldemort needed. He took control of Quirrell's mind and body, using the other wizard to cast a spell of his own invention. It was an insidious evil bit of magic designed to cause acute pain and eventually death to its victim, known as the Green Venom Spell. "Viridinus Veniculum!"

A jet of green venom, like that from a spitting cobra only three times more venomous, shot from Quirrell's wand and struck Severus.

Most of it was deflected by his hastily raised Shield Charm, but a few insidious droplets managed to land on Snape's arm, where it began to eat through his robe in a matter of a second or two. He did not notice it right away, for he was intent upon throwing hexes back at his enemy, and only knew something was wrong when he felt a sharp burning pain in his arm and then his arm went dead, for the spell paralyzed the victim before it ate away the flesh.

Severus had a few seconds to realize that something was dreadfully utterly wrong before the venom began to affect his nervous system and he collapsed to the floor, writhing in agony, horrible moans coming from between his clenched teeth, for he would not give Quirrell the satisfaction of hearing him scream.

Harry managed to master his pain long enough to look up and see his guardian on the floor, his flesh glowing with an unnatural green patina, and howled, "NO-O-O! SEVERUS!"

Voldemort, for he now possessed Quirrell utterly, laughed chillingly. "Fool! Did you really believe you were my match, little wizard? Clever little serpent, you betrayed me and now you pay the price. Now you shall die as you have lived, in the shadow of greatness, forgotten and unmourned forevermore. My Green Venom will make sure of it!"

Through the awful pain in his heart, Harry heard Voldemort's last sentence. Green Venom? He's been poisoned? Oh God, Severus! I told you to keep the ring. He darted a glance at the silver ring with its moss agate upon his hand. Then his eyes sought his beloved dark angel, who had suddenly become so much more than just a protector.

No! I won't let you take him away too! Not him too! Harry thought frantically. He yanked the cloak over his head then and raced over to kneel beside the stricken Potions Master. Please God, please. Don't let me be too late. He clasped the ring in his opposite hand and whispered, "Aufero!" The ring slid off his finger.

Then Harry grabbed Snape's hand and slid the ring back on the rightful owner's finger, whispering, "Inicio!" The ring shrank to fit Severus's finger and it began to glow a soft gold, as it absorbed the magical poison into itself.

Severus groaned, but Harry could tell that his agony was not as acute, and the ring was neutralizing the green venom. "Severus? I'm so sorry . . .!"

The dark eyes focused on his voice, and then the Potions master spoke, in a voice softer than a whisper, "Don't . . .waste time . . .son . . .Get the Stone . . ."

A moment later, the dark eyes went blank and Severus passed out.

"I will," Harry vowed fervently. "I promise you that."

He turned to see where Quirrell was and found the deceiver in front of the mirror, arguing stridently, "There must be a way to retrieve the Stone through the mirror. It is the key, else why would Dumbledore have moved it here? But how? I did not risk all only to be thwarted now by a feeble old man and his traitorous Potions Master!"

Harry threw off the cloak, the time for hiding was past. He leveled his wand at Quirrell and shouted, "Turn and face me, you bloody bastard!"

Quirrell did not so much as twitch. "Hush, boy! I must figure out the secret. I see myself holding the Stone . . .but where is it. . .?"

"Somewhere you'll never find it, you miserable two-faced son-of-a-bitch!" Harry spat, moving over and confronting Quirrell.

"Tsk. Tsk. Such language! Of course, you never learned better, without any parents, now did you?" purred the Defense Master, his eyes burning with an odd crimson fire. "A pity you didn't join them ten years ago on that Halloween night, isn't it? An oversight I plan to remedy, boy. As soon as I figure out how to get the damn Stone from the mirror! Perhaps one must break it?"

Harry knew he had to buy time, time for Severus to heal, time for Dumbledore to return. So he growled, "Can't figure it out, can you? Guess you're too dumb and Severus was right after all. The only thing you know how to do is murder kids. It was you who tried to kill me, right?"

Quirrell turned to face him. "Why, yes. Only you seem to have more lives than a cat, Potter. It was I who pushed you down the stairs the night I discovered you alone near the Charms classroom. It should have worked too, and you would have died from an unfortunate accident. Instead that meddling black bugger Snape found you and you were saved. Then I tried again, at the Quidditch match, but again Snape interfered, with his blasted countercurse. The arsenic-laced frog should have finished you, though, I even got your little friend to put it inside your trunk, the dimwitted idiot, but again Snape recognized the symptoms and thwarted me."

"Looks like Snape's a better wizard than you'll ever be, huh?" Harry taunted, desperate to keep the other's attention away from the mirror.

Quirrell spat. "Snape is pond slime, all he knows is potions and a few measly countercharms. I know true power, the power of blood and souls, of the shadow that shall blot out the light and cover all the world in endless darkness."

"What power is that? Seems like you can't even manage to off one first-year without screwing it up."

Quirrell thinks the Stone's in the mirror, but he doesn't know how to get it out. What do I want more than anything at the moment? To find the Stone and protect it. So if I look into the mirror, maybe it will show me where it's hidden. But how can I do that without Quirrell knowing?

He edged about the purple-robed wizard, trying to look into the mirror.

"Oh, I shall kill you soon, Potter. Never doubt it. But first, you shall help me."

"The only place I'll help you to is hell, Quirrell!" Harry cried defiantly.

The other chuckled. "Do you hear him, Master? He is disobedient and defiant. But we shall break him of that nasty habit, shan't we? Oh, yes. But first . . .the Stone. How can I get it? Master, help me . . ."

To Harry's horror, a deep voice replied. "Use the boy, fool! He can get it . . .!"

"Of course. Why didn't I see that? Come here, Potter!" Quirrell made a beckoning motion and Harry found himself moving forward, unable to help himself.

Quirrell put both hands on his shoulders and Harry fought to keep still, though the man's touch made him shiver in revulsion. "Now. Look in the mirror and tell me what you see."

I have to lie. I'll look, but I'll lie about what I see, that's all. There was an odd smell coming from the teacher's turban, like something rotting and moldy. Harry wrinkled his nose, closed his eyes, then opened them and gazed once more into the mirror.

Show me what I need to know, he pleaded silently.

The mirror glowed a brilliant blue, then its glass surface went opaque and filled with mist. I am the Mirror of your Dreams and I shall show you what you most desire.

Yes. Please do.

He saw himself then, looking rather pale and frightened, but then the reflection smiled at him and reached a hand into the pocket of his robe and pulled out a blood-red stone. It winked and put the Stone back into the pocket-and as it did so-Harry felt something heavy inside his real pocket.

Somehow, some way, he'd gotten the true Sorcerer's Stone.

"Well, boy? What do you see?" Quirrell snapped, shaking him slightly.

Harry screwed up all of his courage and said innocently, "I see myself shaking hands with Dumbledore and winning the House Cup for Gryffindor."

Quirrell cursed furiously.

"Out of my way, you useless thing!" he shoved Harry hard, knocking him to his knees.

Harry scrambled up, feeling the Stone bump against his leg. He had to get out of here.

"He lies, fool! Can you not tell?"

"Potter, come back here!" Quirrell ordered and again Harry found himself unable to disobey.

"Let me speak with him, face to face . . ." the raspy cold voice ordered.

"No, Master! You have not the strength . . .!"

"No? You dare question me?"

Quirrell screamed. "Ahhh! Forgive me, Master! Forgive me!"

"Do what I say, worm!"

Harry was frozen. All he could do was watch as Quirrell slowly unwound his blue turban, which he was never seen without. What was going on? Quirrell was practically bald in places. But he slowly turned until Harry was staring at the back of his head.

Harry felt his gorge rise. He would have vomited, but he couldn't open his mouth. He wanted to scream, but somewhere along the way he had lost his voice. Where the back of Quirrell's head should have been, there was a face, a face that was at once the most terrible and evil face he had ever seen. It was chalk white with burning slit pupiled eyes and a slit for a nose, like a viper's.

"Harry Potter . . .we meet again."

Harry tried to take a step backward, but he couldn't move.

"See what you made me . . .by your refusal to die . . .wicked brat! I am but a shadow of myself . . .forced to share this weak vessel, kept alive only by regular infusions of unicorn blood. But once I have the Stone and can create the Elixir of Life, I shall be immortal. And then the world will know me once again and tremble at the mere sound of my name! Now . . .why don't you be smart and save yourself a great deal of pain and give me the Stone in your pocket."

Harry gasped. Voldemort knew. Somehow, he knew. Harry sucked in a breath.

"Shove it up your arse, Voldy."

The face snarled, becoming even uglier. "You pathetic fool! Give me the Stone, and I'll make your death quick . . .Why die for a piece of rock? I killed your parents, you know. They were brave . . .but also stupid. They died on their knees, begging for mercy!" Voldemort laughed then, a high shrill sound that sounded like bones grating.


"How touching . . .I admire your courage, Potter . . .but it will not save you . . .I killed your father first, but your mother I was going to spare, save she refused to give you to me, and she begged me to spare you on her knees . . .poor pretty Lily. . .And so I killed her for her defiance . . .As I shall kill YOU! Give me the Stone, Potter! NOW!"

Harry backed away, suddenly able to move. "NEVER!"

"Seize him!" Voldemort screamed.

Harry turned and ran towards the flame shrouded door, praying the potion he'd swallowed was still active, otherwise he'd burn to a crisp. But even that was better than letting Voldemort get the Stone.

Quirrell gave chase, tackling Harry about the waist and knocking him to the floor.

"Give me it, you little bugger!" he began to bash Harry's head against the floor.

Harry reached up and tried to yank Quirrell's hand away, and felt his scar explode in pain. He felt as if his head were about to implode. He howled.

Then Quirrell screamed too and stopped banging him against the ground.

"What are you doing, maggot? Seize him and take the bloody Stone!"

"Master . . .I cannot . . .he burns . . .burns . . .see my hands . . .look!"

Quirrell's hands were raw and blistered, as if he'd stuck them into a fire.

"Kill him, imbecile! NOW!"

Quirrell raised his hand, ready to cast the Killing Curse, but Harry reached up and touched his face.

Quirrell's face began to smoke and blister.

He wailed shrilly in unspeakable agony.


Suddenly Harry understood. For some reason, Quirrell couldn't touch him without suffering unbearable pain. He needed to keep hold of the professor, touching him skin to skin, to prevent him from casting a deadly spell.

He grasped Quirrell by the wrist and hung on, feeling his scar split apart, his hands felt like ice, though he could see Quirrell's wrist withering and blackening beneath his hand.

And Quirrell's screaming echoed in his head.

Hold on. Just hold on. For one minute longer. Just one more. For Severus. For Ron. For Hermione. For my Mum and Dad. 

Harry gritted his teeth. He could feel his power being pulled from him, as Voldemort fought to get free, but Harry had a death grip on Quirrell and would not release him.

Spots swam before him and his vision blurred, but still he hung on grimly, defiant, brave, and indomitable to the end.

All at once his vision dimmed and he found himself walking down a misty tunnel into a realm of golden light.

He looked up and saw two people he knew, though he could barely remember their faces.

"Hello, Harry."

They smiled at him.

He blinked. "Mum? Dad?"

"Yes, that's right." James answered.

"Where am I? Am I dead?"

"You are inbetween worlds, son." Lily replied. "Alive yet not. On the stairway to heaven."


Chapter End Notes:

Phew! That was very intense to write! What did you think? Hope I didn't disappoint!

Next: In the stairway to heaven, truths are revealed and a choice must be made

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