Something of a Riddle
The words seemed to echo inside Harry’s head, sparking resonances that asquickly died away, broken patterns trying to complete themselves and failing.
Tom Riddle is a
Tom Riddle was the
Professor Quirrell briefly looked expectant, but then the expression was gone.“And though I must credit your deduction, Mr. Potter - or Riddle, as the casemay be - it is a little more complicated than that.”
“I,” Harry croaked, “what do you mean?”
The Defence Professor sighed, and his shoulders dropped, but the gun and thewand remained perfectly steady, the eyes sharp and icy. “I had rather hoped,Mr. Potter, that that would now be clear to you. No matter, we have time.” Hislips curled into a customary small smile. “If it puts you at ease, suffice itto say that you are only mostly Voldemort. As for me… well. Something of ariddle, Mr. Potter.”
A note of hope soared in Harry’s breast, buoyed still further by the fact thatthe Professor was upright and verbose, before his inner Slytherin shot it outof the sky in its anti-wishful-thinking instinct. Even if the DefenceProfessor wasn’t evil it was still in his best interests to stay on guard.
Harry opened his mouth to say something - he wasn’t sure what. ProfessorQuirrell… didn’t gesture with the gun, but it suddenly somehow seemed farmore prominent.
“Now. I obviously do not want to kill you, Mr. Potter, so please relax to theextent that it is reasonable to do so when a perfect Occlumens is pointing agun at you and assuring you that he means no harm.”
Harry tensed even further, and that earned him the ghost of a grin.
“I must apologise for threatening you, Mr. Potter, but you do have astaggering anti-talent for meddling.” The Defence Professor’s voice becameclipped. “When I tell you to do so, you are going to remove your Time-Turner,which you will seize by the chain. You will then remove your pouch andemergency portkeys, and hand everything to me. We are both consideringloopholes in that, so allow me to say that I have raised anti-Portkey wards,and if I do suspect that you are doing anything untoward I shall be forced toshoot you in the arm. I do not wish to harm you, but you have tourniquets inyour pouch and are a good enough Occlumens to ignore the pain. Begin.”
Harry swallowed and obeyed.
Harry’s time machine disappeared into the flowing professorial robes, and thespares stored in his pouch floated up and deposited themselves in pockets andaround the Professor’s neck. Professor Quirrell pointed his wand at the pouchand muttered something vaguely Latinate, then handed it back to Harry. The gunvanished as though it had never been.
The Defence Professor smiled. “Now, Mr. Potter, today we are going to followin the footsteps of every child in Gryffindor and a handful of the staff, anddelve into a hideously dangerous maze of traps set by the greatest wizardalive. Doesn’t that sound like fun?”
Some people are so likeable it’s hard to hate them properly, said Draco’simagined voice in Harry’s mind.
_But he implied he’s not Voldemort - if we can get the Stone ProfessorQuirrell might not die - _
Waves of relief were washing through Harry, so powerful that he felt likelaughing. The idea that he was wrong, that Quirrell was not the Dark Lord, andthat he might not have to lose a friend again…
At that thought, Harry recalled watching Hermione Granger as her heart failedfor lack of blood, as magic fled her broken shell and carried her mind withit.
He remembered Lily Potter’s last stand, how she’d died with her wand in herhand, how Voldemort had stood over the corpse of a hero and laughed.
He remembered the story of the man who called for his country to unite, andthe skins nailed to the wall.
He remembered the statistics, thousands dead by Voldemort’s hand alone - thatis, he thought about Hermione, and tried to multiply that feeling by athousand.
And then he locked cold green eyes on the entity before him. ProfessorQuirrell was possibly Voldemort in some way, and that meant he couldn’t affordto be happy yet.
All right. Back to being sane now.
Hermione’s voice in his head was telling him not to trust Quirrell… Voldemort…Quirrellmort? Harry ignored the bizarre urge to laugh again. It was justnervousness and relief, and he didn’t need that. Hermione was supported byhalf of Hufflepuff, the other half of which was standing up for Harry’s friendand mentor. Ravenclaw was trying to remember where it had heard “something ofa riddle” before. Harry set all of that aside. How can I get the truth fromsomeone who plays “one level higher than you”?
“Mr. Potter, in all seriousness, I am indeed dying. The unicorn will sustainme only long enough for this. The Philosopher’s Stone is located here, and ithas power beyond what, I suspect, Dumbledore knows. Dumbledore may be able totwist himself into opposing immortality, but if he knew the healing it trulycould do, he would have seized it from Flamel long ago. As you must haveguessed, I need your help, Mr. Potter. I realise that it is… impolite tothreaten one’s friends with firearms, but I hope you’ll understand, given thatmy life is at stake.”
Harry cleared his throat and clicked a stronger, calmer, sombre aspect intoplace. “If Lord Voldemort has a reputation for telling the truth, Professor, Ihave not heard it.”
“Which is why it is fortunate that you are not speaking to Lord Voldemort, Mr.Potter. Not quite, at any rate.”
That’s exactly what the Dark Lord Voldemort WOULD say, hissed Hufflepuff andSlytherin.
Harry shut the thought down, and considered how to ask why he should believethe Professor without offending him.
“Ssnakess can’t lie,” hissed Professor Quirrell.
“Two pluss two equalss four.” Harry had tried to say “three”. How does thiswork… _Harry mustered the strongest Occlumency barrier he could. “_Greenssmellss like-” Harry couldn’t make any further Parseltongue pass his lips.“Interesting.” How does Parseltongue determine the truth? Could I guessInterdicted lore by trying different statements until one of them worked, oris it just things I think are true? If that’s the case, could a False MemoryCharm beat it?
“Honesstly do not hold ill will towardss you. Am not truly Dark Lord inmeaningful ssensse. No particular tasste for ssensseless murderss, thoughadmit that value placcced on mosst livess iss not commenssurate with that ofmossst moralisstss. Sseek Sstone to ssave own life, iss devicce of greathealing power.”
The drowning sense of horror had drained away, and the overwhelming relief wasreplaced by growing pressure.
He needed more time, he couldn’t make a decision so quickly, couldn’t justchange his whole viewpoint again in a few seconds…
Harry ignored his brain.
Voldemort or not, the Defence Professor was not a good man. He never had been,Harry had always known that. He could cast the Killing Curse at will, wouldprobably not lose much sleep over murdering anyone who seriously annoyed him…
But… it was idealism, sheer foolish idealism, but… he was also Harry’s friend.
You didn’t just give up on friends even when they were this badly wrong, notwhile you had a chance of saving them.
You certainly didn’t let them go off and pose a risk to other people.
You didn’t allow them to die through your own inaction, either.
And it wasn’t as though he had much of a choice.
“All right, Professor. Let’s go and get that Stone.”
“Professor?” asked Harry as they came to a halt directly before the polishedoaken door. “What exactly does the Stone do?”
Harry had mastered his breathing, now, and he saw the Defence Professorclearly. The man’s cheeks were sunken and his limbs thin and his skin grey -the sickness hadn’t all been bluff… unless Quirrell was an exceptional actorand a wizard, which he was. Of course, he could just want the Stone for…
… other reasons…
“An excellent question, Mr. Potter, and one I found myself asking. Consider,if you will, a witch or a wizard with a heart blacker far than the DarkLord’s, selfish and jealous of their ancient device, a key not only toimmortality but also to enormous healing power, such that they withhold itfrom all. Consider also that Dumbledore, master and servant of a Phoenix,holds this person as a close personal friend.”
“Flamel is a perfect Occlumens who convinced Dumbledore that he needed to keepthe Stone away from people?”
“Of course. And clearly, one such as he would not tell the truth to thegreatest wizard in the world, but he might enjoy leaving hints. So, Mr.Potter, bearing in mind that Flamel creates specifically gold, true gold, andlives six hundred years, and the world still does not run on happy stories,and this device is truly unique and of ancient power, what does thePhilosopher’s Stone do?”
“It makes other magic permanent,” replied Harry almost automatically. It mighthave just been a guess, or it might have been some half-remembered speculationfrom one of the few texts on the Stone, or maybe it was the fact that gold didnot tarnish or fade like lesser metals. It felt like a certain guess, alongthe lines of the truth about Dementors or the secret of the Killing Curse.Harry was beginning to suspect that there was some subtle secondary effect ofthe Interdict, lest magic ever be truly lost…
“Quite so. The Philosopher’s Stone will render a Transfigured item the truesubstance, and grant permanence to Charms and rituals. This is is a powerbeyond almost any other magic. There are some very few spells and items thatare truly enduring, others such as the castle Hogwarts that are sustained by aconstant well of magic, and many that are fleeting, but the Philosopher’sStone imparts true endurance to any magic. Naturally, this will save my life,and I will gladly assist you in using the Stone to resurrect the late MissGranger. Sstone truly impartss permanenccce, sshall usse it to raissse girl-child-friend.”
Harry’s heart did not stop, because that would be an absolutely ridiculousevolutionary adaptation, but it seemed a very accurate metaphor.
Harry started to smile. The Defence Professor was not the Dark Lord, he mightactually really be able to save Hermione… if Harry had been holding a wand atthat moment, he thought, he might have burned away all the Dementors ofAzkaban from where he stood.
“I assume you Transfigured Miss Granger’s corpse into the ring on your finger?The diamond would be the more obvious option to check, and its magic wouldmask that of the ring.”
Harry was struggling to stay properly pessimistic. “As a certain someone wouldsay, Professor, not paranoid enough. I hoped people would assume that, andwhen they tested it and failed it would provide a second layer of cover. ITransfigured her into as big a diamond toe-ring as I could, to minimiseTransfiguration damage, and just hid her under my pillow when Dumbledoresummoned me.”
As it happened, Dumbledore had never checked the ring. It seemed likely thathe had simply sensed that it was wholly mundane. Harry’s recently-unlockedTime-Turner had allowed him to hide Hermione’s corpse before his bed wasinspected.
“Cunning indeed. Now, Mr. Potter, rest assured that we have time. Ourdiscovery here would raise quite the hue and cry, and since your Quidditchgame went uninterrupted it seems likely it shall not come to pass. Still, itdoes not do to tarry in any case.” Professor Quirrell gestured at the door.
Harry took a deep breath and readied himself, conscious as ever of the hardweight on his left foot.
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