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Chapter posted Aug. 12, 2007
As luck would have it, Harry discovered a slim volume entitled "Great Discoveries in Alchemy" after only a few minutes of searching the library shelves. He took it down to check the publication date, then flipped to the index and scanned the list of chapters. Partway down, right where anyone could see it, was the title: "The Philosopher's Stone: Nicolas Flamel's Greatest Achievement?" He flipped to the chapter to check it, and grinned as he saw that the author had included a brief biography of the man.
That should satisfy Hermione and Ron. And since it was still fairly early in the afternoon-- he probably ought to look up a few books to satisfy his professors, as well, before he went back up to the dorm. Establishing a history of recreational text reading would save him a lot of trouble later on, should he ever get caught casting a spell he really oughtn't to know how to perform. And he knew he would; he'd been the one who'd thoughtlessly said Voldemort's name out loud when he knew it had been put under Taboo, after all.
His sudden bookishness would probably seem strange to his friends, but neither knew him as well in the here and now as they would in the future; this Ron had known him only a few months, and Hermione really only since Halloween. He could probably pass off the change as a decision to try and live up to the memory of his parents, now he'd seen them for the first time via the Mirror of Erised. It wouldn't even really be all that much of a lie.
Of his parents' specialties-- Lily's gifts for Potions and Charms, and James' talent for Transfiguration-- the only one Harry had ever seemed naturally gifted at was Charms, and even then only when he really cared about the Charm in question. He'd always been just above average in the other two subjects, and given everything else going on had never really felt like putting in the amount of work it would take to earn steady O's in them. He'd been much more concerned with his other natural talent-- Defence. This time, though, it seemed a good idea to make the effort. Completely aside from the question of Snape, good marks covered a multitude of sins. At least in that, the Marauders' school careers were worth taking example from.
He wandered the Potions stacks a bit more, pulling down a few likely titles on common interactions and ingredient preparation and things, then carried the lot over to Madam Pince. She gave him a baleful look and a warning not to go brewing unsupervised, followed by a mutter that might have contained the name "Weasley"; he affected not to notice, but made a note to ask the twins later just what that had been about. They might be a decent resource, too, come to think; he'd never really asked them how they went about creating new Wheezes, but Potions were obviously a big part of it.
He packed the books into his bag, then headed up to the seventh floor. The staircases had been shifting about more than usual-- celebrating the season like everyone else, probably, while they didn't have to worry about so many feet using them-- and he ended up several corridors over from the entrance to Gryffindor Tower. He blinked when he noticed the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy a short distance ahead, and abruptly paused to mess about with his bag as cover while he thought hard about whether or not he dared stop and open up the Room of Requirement.
The problem with not stopping was that when he mentioned the Room to Ron and Hermione-- and of course he would, it was the perfect place to do independent study and plan pranks and such, much better than Moaning Myrtle's bathroom-- they'd ask how he'd found out about it in the first place. He could always lie, but basing a lie on thin air was much more dangerous than basing it on a partial truth. Life was going to be hard enough the next few years without tangling his brain up in a web of what he'd told to whom, and the more lies he told the more likely it was he'd get caught out.
The problem with stopping now to provide an excuse, however, was that if any of the Professors, especially Dumbledore, were hanging about invisibly to keep an eye on him, or thought to ask the paintings and ghosts what he'd been up to, it might seem odd if he just walked up to it as though he knew what he was doing. That might be a bit paranoid of him, but he'd really better begin as he meant to go on. No, this was going to require a bit of Slytherin sneakiness and finesse. He'd managed to break into Gringotts and the Ministry once apiece, after all, though granted he'd had help and nothing had gone perfectly to plan; still, he was sure he could think of something.
A moment later, he had a tentative plan in mind, and decided to give it a go. He pulled something out of the bottom of his bag-- an inkwell, the first small thing that came to hand-- and held it up, making a show out of being relieved, as though he'd been afraid he'd left it behind in the library. Then he filled the bag back up, making sure to place the box he kept his quills in atop everything else. Finally, he continued along the hallway, casually sticking one hand into his trouser pocket to grasp his wand
He ambled along slowly, as though he hadn't a care in the world, until he had nearly reached the bit of wall opposite the tapestry. Then he gripped his wand tighter and directed a silent Wingardium Leviosa at the box-end that stuck out of the top of his bag. He'd never had a chance to fully master silent casting, and the most his eleven-year-old magic could manage was a soft nudge rather than the usual full lifting effect; still, it was enough, and the box slipped from his bag to clatter on the stones.
Harry walked a few paces more, looking around as though searching out the source of the sound, all the while furiously thinking of the way the Room had looked when it had been Dumbledore's Army Headquarters. Then he glanced over his shoulder, frowned, and walked the few paces back past where the door to the Room would open. He bent to pick up the box, still murmuring his request to the room in his head, and put it back in his bag before starting off toward the Gryffindor Tower again.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the door begin to materialize; he stopped and turned to gape at it as though in surprise or dismay. It wasn't difficult to fake the emotion; he was dismayed at the sight of it, remembering Neville sheltering the other rebellious students inside and Crabbe's animated fire consuming centuries of hidden artefacts. Not to mention the Horcrux brooding over the whole. He was going to have to leave the diadem here for now-- the Room was a more secure hiding place than any he could devise on short notice-- but maybe after Hermione came back for spring term he could bring her to have a look over the discarded books. There had to be thousands of them in there; she'd be in heaven.
Harry swallowed, then opened the door for a quick look round, and sighed at the familiar scenery. The sight of it brought back more memories; it made him want to rub the back of his hand where Umbridge's quill had left its mark. Only-- it hadn't yet, had it? He glanced down in surprise, spreading his fingers wide as he took in the absence of the familiar scars. No more fine lines reading "I must not tell lies"-- and if things went as he intended them to, there never would be, either. He laughed, caught in a strange mix of elation and relief, then stepped back out of the room and hurried off toward the tower. As he glanced behind him, he saw the door melting back into the wall-- and across from it, Barnabas peering out of his tapestry, watching Harry go.
He'd better get used to that sight, Harry thought giddily; he'd be seeing a lot more of Harry, and his friends too, if Harry had his way.
He slowed down as he reached the Fat Lady, and murmured the password; her portrait swung wide, and he stepped through into the common room, where Ron was handily beating Percy at chess and the twins were huddled over a study table, muttering to each other as they scribbled on the same piece of parchment. Planning something, most like.
Ron ordered his only remaining knight forward, then looked up. "Find anything, then?" he asked, grinning at Harry.
"I did, actually," Harry replied, grinning back as he dropped his bag next to a chair near the fire.
Across from Ron, Percy frowned as his chess pieces gave him advice. He didn't appear to like whatever it was they were saying; he shook his head, then ordered one to move.
"You never did," Ron gasped, surprised. "After all the time Hermione spent in there?"
"Ron--" Percy said, disapprovingly.
"Oh--" Ron turned back to the board, assessed it at a glance, then leaned over to give a bishop directions. It slid along a diagonal, then turned menacingly toward Percy's king. "Checkmate, then," he said, and turned back to Harry. "Go on. What did you find?"
Percy shook his head as his king knelt, dismayed, and took off his crown. "That's it for me," he said, and began gathering up the pieces. "I've studying to do, anyway."
Ron ignored him as he got up to leave, watching as Harry rummaged through his bag for the alchemy book.
"I found him in here," Harry said excitedly, in a low voice, turning the thick pages to the spot he'd marked with the chocolate frog card. "You remember this? You gave it to me on the train," he said, holding the card out to Ron. "I had it in my bag, and it fell out when I was digging for quills."
Ron stared at the book for a moment longer, curiously, then took the card and turned it over, reading again the words on the back. "Greatest wizard-- Grindlewald-- dragon's blood-- oh! 'And his work on alchemy with his partner, Nicolas Flamel.' Blimey; I knew he sounded familiar!"
"Right, right," Harry said. "So I looked for anything on discoveries in alchemy-- and listen to this!" He turned the book so Ron could see it, too, and read the introductory portion of the chapter aloud.
"The most popular field of alchemy is, of course, concerned with making the Philosopher's Stone, a legendary substance with astonishing powers. The Stone will transform any metal into pure gold. It also produces the Elixir of Life, which will make the drinker immortal. There have been many reports of the Philosopher's Stone over the centuries, but the only Stone currently in existence belongs to Mr. Nicolas Flamel. Mr. Flamel and his wife, Perenelle, are well into their seventh centuries as of the publication of this book."
"No wonder Snape's after it," Ron said, awed. "A stone that makes gold and stops you from ever dying. Who wouldn't want it?"
"I'm not so sure it's Snape, actually," Harry demurred. "But someone definitely is. Why else move it out of Gringotts? Of course Dumbledore would hide it for him if they're friends."
Ron gave him an incredulous look at his defence of Snape. "Who else could it be?"
Harry sighed. "Ron-- I know it looks bad. But he's a professor, and we're first years--"
"But he jinxed your broom!" Ron hissed.
"What if it was someone else, and he was doing a counter-jinx? Somebody had to be, or I'd have fallen off my broom for sure. Maybe Hermione distracted both of them! The more I think about it, the more it bothers me. I'm sure there's something we're missing."
Ron shook his head in disgust, but thankfully dropped the subject. "Anyway," he said, ruefully, "it's no wonder we couldn't find Flamel in that 'Study of Recent Developments of Wizardry'. If he's nearly seven hundred years old, then he's not exactly recent, is he? Hermione will go spare when we tell her."
"I know!" Harry laughed. "It was right under our noses the entire time."
Ron shook his head, then threw a look over at Fred and George, who were still obliviously muttering to each other on the other side of the Common Room. "So what next, then?" he asked, quietly.
"About the Stone? I'm not sure we should be doing anything," Harry said. "If Dumbledore's guarding it, I'm sure he's got more heavy protections on it than just Fluffy." He shrugged. "Maybe Hermione will have an idea."
Ron shrugged. "Yeah, probably." He glanced back toward the chessboard, where his pieces were still moving slowly back to starting positions, giving each other congratulatory pats on the back and making rude gestures toward the empty half of the board where Percy had taken his away. "You want to play?"
Harry thought about the Room of Requirement again, eager to share it, then reluctantly put the idea away. He'd already solved the Flamel issue in Hermione's place; it wouldn't be fair to show the Room to Ron first, too. He'd show them together, after term started.
"All right," he said. "Just let me put these away and fetch my set."
He paused as he passed the fireplace, aware of the crinkle of parchment in his trouser pocket, and pulled his list out for another quick look. Sirius, Horcruxes, Snape, Stone; he'd best not be leaving that around for just anyone to find, or the jig would be up before he'd even properly got started fixing things. He crumpled it tight and tossed it on the coals, then watched it burst into flame. Wasn't like burning it would make him forget.
"What was that?" Ron asked, curiously.
"Oh, nothing important," Harry said. "Just useless notes. I'll be right back down."
The rest of Christmas holidays went by much the same. Harry would play chess or Gobstones or Exploding Snap with Ron and his brothers for part of the day, or sit around toasting bits of things over the fire, or explore some of the disused corridors (though never on the seventh or third floors). The only thing really missing from the holiday experience, Harry was sure, was the wind in his hair and a broomstick under him-- but it wouldn't be the same alone, and Ron wasn't allowed yet.
In the afternoons, however, he'd sneak off with his potions text, "One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi", and the supplementary reading he'd taken out. Snape's Advanced Potions book had been full of notations on what to do instead of or in addition to the text's instructions; Harry wasn't that good yet, and mightn't ever be, but the scribbles in the margins way of preparing seemed like a good one. He started at the beginning of the class text with the potions he was supposed to have already done, like the boil-curing potion he vaguely remembered had backfired on Neville, and wrote down all the significant things he could find on ingredients and process in the other texts.
It was slow going, but after a few days Harry could already see that it would make a big difference. If he could do this for each potion before they had to make it, he'd already know which stages were the touchiest, requiring exact timing and number of stirs, and which ingredients and mixtures were a little more forgiving. It would help him to know when to really pay attention-- and when the Slytherins were likeliest to interfere. He didn't doubt Malfoy already knew half of it, else how did he always know to throw something into Gryffindor cauldrons at the exact moment to put things hideously wrong? And the more he researched, the more he already knew each time he started notating a new potion.
One of the supplementary texts even covered in depth the magical effects different kinds of preparation could have on ingredients. It had never made sense to him why crushing versus slicing or finely chopped versus diced with different kinds of knives or pestles or what have you could have such different results-- it never made that much difference when he was cooking at the Dursleys'. He'd learned to do it by rote, but never really cared about the why. Making potions really wasn't as much like cooking as he'd always thought, though; there was so much magic involved in the process, even without wands. It was no wonder he'd always struggled with it.
Muggle-raised, he reminded himself. He'd done his best, he'd just never known which things were the most important to pay attention to amid the chaos going on around him, and Dumbledore's hands-off way of preparing him for his fate hadn't helped him at all. Really all the extra seven years had given Harry were a few advanced spells, some important facts related to the war, and maybe enough basic knowledge to bring him up even with the wizard-raised.
The wizard-raised who cared about such things, anyway; there was no accounting for Ron, Harry thought, smiling fondly to himself as he ate breakfast the morning of the last day of the holidays. Hermione would be arriving that afternoon; tomorrow, he'd be back in classes. He was actually beginning to look forward to it.
And then a familiar, white-feathered form swooped down through the Great Hall.
Lupin had written back. Harry swallowed, and rescued the letter as Hedwig dropped it onto his plate.
© 2007 Jedi Buttercup.