Playing Chess, Part One
The oaken door swung open, and -
Harry didn’t bother to stop himself from screaming as he threw himselfbackwards and away from the triplicate sets of glinting teeth. He landed, nothard enough to hurt a wizard, and drew his wand and roared “Stupefy!Stupefy!”
The first stunbolt dazed the creature slightly, but before the second hit homea chunk of Hogwarts’ stone wrenched itself free of the floor and flew into thepath of the spell. The levitation visibly left it just before the bolt hit,and then it melded back into the floor.
“Not bad as a reaction, Mr. Potter,” said Professor Quirrell’s somehow-audiblevoice over the creature’s many-voiced roar, “but consider that Dumbledoredesigned this chamber as a game for eleven-year-olds.” A genuine-lookingsmile. “Before he ever saw an army of them. This creature, which our intrepidgroundskeeper informs me is named Fluffy, is Charmed to spit students outwithout harming them. Now, how do you suggest we deal with this mostterrifying of creatures?”
“Ah,” Harry said as he tried to slow his heartbeat down, “if, um, Fluffy islike Cerberus in Greek mythology, because that phrase is not ridiculous atall, then we could sing to it?”
Professor Quirrell was giving him a look.
The Killing Curse is unblockable, unstoppable, and works every single time oneverything with a brain.
“Um. We might trigger alarms by going in all wands blazing?”
“That was a flimsy excuse, but very well.”
A flick of the Defence Professor’s wand, a sound like a hundred songs playedbackwards in the space of a second, and Fluffy collapsed in a snoring heap.
“As for alarms, Mr. Potter,” said Professor Quirrell, “the race betweenmagical defence and offence is a decisive win for offence, which is why moderncursebreakers can pierce the tombs of ancient wizards, and so I confess myselfimpressed that Dumbledore’s wards took me many months to untangle.” Hegestured Harry forwards. “After you.”
Harry entered the chamber before his brain caught up with him, and he turnedto behold a more-evil-than-usual smirk. Harry swallowed, trying not to imaginewhat his parents would say.
The room was high and dim, lit only by small, high windows set into recessedalcoves. The stone was grey and coarse, cemented together roughly, more like aruined Muggle fortress than the rest of the castle Hogwarts. “Lumos,” Harrymuttered, focussing the light into a narrow beam like a torch, and began toinspect the featureless alcoves.
“What are you doing, Mr. Potter?”
“Searching the room. There could be some sort of inscription, or a key we’llneed later, or a hidden passageway, or-”
Professor Quirrell massaged his temples briefly. “As it happens, your masteryof Muggle role-playing games might serve you well if you ever feel the urge toenter the Tomb of Amon-Set, but I remind you once again that Dumbledore builtthis game, this false puzzle, for first-years.”
Harry skirted the drooling Cerberus and eased open the worn trapdoor, whichdisappointingly failed to creak eerily.
The pit dropped far below, he couldn’t tell how far but it looked a long waybelow ground level, insofar as that meant anything in Hogwarts. He thought hecaught a glimpse of something wriggling at the very bottom.
“Broomstick” said Harry to his pouch, and he climbed on and gestured ProfessorQuirrell towards the back seat.
Professor Quirrell floated gently into the air.
Harry noticed his confusion. “I thought wizards couldn’t levitate themselves?”
“Quite so. It is said to be like lifting oneself up by one’s own bootstraps.And indeed, one of the Dark Lord’s most feared feats was to fly like smoke onthe wind, unsupported but for his own wizardry. How did he and I do this, boy?Answer as quickly as you can.”
I’m sorry, are we really still buying that he isn’t Voldemort? askedSlytherin.
He swore he wasn’t, in Parseltongue, spoke Ravenclaw, although admittedlyit still probably isn’t a good idea to trust him. So what do we know that hasthe power to fly?
“Um… you cast broomstick enchantments… no, you had someone else castbroomstick enchantments on your underwear, then Obliviated them.”
“Cloth would not hold the magic. Broomstick enchantments must be cast on along, narrow, rigid shape.”
Perhaps Harry had been spending too much time around the older Ravenclaws,because he had to fight down a snicker at that. “How long does it have to be?Could you just strap short broomsticks to your arms?”
“Indeed, I did at first. And yet…” Professor Quirrell rolled up his sleeve toreveal a bare, wasted arm.
Harry raised an eyebrow. “You have broomstick enchantments on your bones?”
“And in thirty seconds of creativity, Mr. Potter, you have solved what hasbeen called one of the greatest challenges of modern wizardry.” A shake of thehead. “Even after much study of the Muggle arts of psychology and some curiousLegilimency, I have yet to discover just what is wrong with ordinary people,that they do not seek to optimise what they see. If only the lore of thelegendary Felix Felicis were not lost to the ages… but I digress.”
Professor Quirrell flew neatly down into the pit, and Harry followed.
Carefully avoiding a patch of what Harry recognised as Devil’s Snare, theycame to another stone chamber. The air was filled with a metallic rustling,and hundreds of multicoloured birdlike keys fluttered about the ceiling. Thelight from the enchanted windows, unbroken stained glass panes that stretchedfrom floor to ceiling, was rosy and soft for all that they were underground,and the winged keys scattered rainbow spots over the smooth bright stone.
“Excuse me, but this just violates every possible rule of security. If youthink you’ve secured a door with a lock, you keep the key safe and give itonly to authorised entrants, you don’t give the key wings and leave abroomstick propped against the wall. I know this place was made for first-years, but did that really not occur to anyone who came through here?”
“Perhaps you ought to give the Legion further lessons, General Chaos.”
“Hmph. So how are we going to go through this one?”
“I assume you never tried out for Ravenclaw Seeker, Mr. Potter- it really israther disconcerting to be glared at like that by an eleven-year-old. Well, asyou insist.”
The Professor drew his wand and touched it to his breast. With a drop of bloodclinging to the end of his wand, he traced in the air a flaming rune, alljagged edges and malevolence, looking disturbingly wrong. Harry took a stepback.
“Az-reth, az-reth, az-reth.”
Twisting flames poured out from the rune, redder than blood and haloed inyellow-white and shot through with further black than midnight. The fireburned too brightly for its wine-dark shade of red, glared like the settingsun just as it touches the horizon, not quite unbearable to look at. The fireformed the shapes of dragons and lions and snakes, and they began to multiplyand expand to fill the room. The heat blurred Harry’s vision and crisped hishair. Sweat dripped from his forehead, but an icy chill ran up his spine. Hisdark side, or just plain instinct, was urging him to stay well away from thecursed fire.
Harry’s Inner Ravenclaw suggested that the reason it looked so wrong wassimple: in everyday experience, hot objects didn’t usually glow that brightlyin that shade of red due to the way black-body radiation behaved.
That explanation offered little comfort.
When Professor Quirrell locked eyes upon the Fiendfyre, it turned in on itselfand shrank, taking the shape of a foul black-burning phoenix.
And something told Harry with burning certainty that if that balefire phoenixmet Fawkes, the true phoenix would die and never be reborn.
The door burst into flames even before the false phoenix reached it; with asingle sweep of its molten wings, the door vanished in a white flash, and thered-rimed doorway dripped stone. Professor Quirrell drifted sedately after theflames, the stone freezing in place as he passed.
Harry tried to turn to his dark side, which prompted a sudden thought. Onlymostly Voldemort… His dark side, clearly, was the remaining influence of LordVoldemort on his mind, thinking habits and feelings somehow leftover fromimprinted memories that shouldn’t have still existed.
Harry probably ought to have been more worried about turning out to be somehowpartly the Dark Lord, but frankly that sounded a lot like something the heroagonised over for years, before finally realising that it was his choices thatmade him who he really was and that he obviously wasn’t as evil as Voldemort.
Now that he knew what his dark side was, Harry thought he should be able tocall on the icy calmness without falling into the less desirable parts of thepattern.
An ever-so-slightly cold Harry stepped over the threshold.
The vast chamber was torchlit this time. A few steps in front of Harry starteda huge chessboard of black and white marble squares, each two metres or moreon each side, stretching from wall to distant wall. Chess pieces almost thesize of Hagrid stood on the board, intricately carven of granite, looking forall the world like well-made statues.
The room was high enough for the ceiling to be far out of reach of thestatues.
Harry was about to suggest that the obvious solution was to simply fly overthe board when he noticed that some of the pieces carried bows.
Professor Quirrell glanced at the board, and the black king and queen turnedand stepped aside.
“Well,” spoke Professor Quirrell, “since we still have four and a half hoursuntil you leave the Quidditch game, it seems that we can afford to play. I amsure you are positively bursting with questions, and have done an admirablejob keeping quiet. Take the king’s place, and I shall take the queen’s. Let usplay, and I shall answer your questions if you have them.”
< Prev Next >