The Forbidden Corridor
Disclaimer: No three-headed dogs or Potions Professors were harmed in the making of this chapter. Bits of description and dialogue in this chapter are from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, which, of course, is not mine. Neither is the Addams Family. Neither is Star Wars. The Marauders' hand code is based on the similar code from whydoyouneedtoknow's Dangerverse, and a couple of other stories I can't remember right now.
Harry was just helping himself to a baked potato when Professor Quirrell came sprinting into the Great Hall, his turban askew and terror on his face. Everyone stared as he reached Professor Dumbledore’s chair, slumped against the table, and gasped, "Troll — in the dungeons — thought you ought to know."
He sank to the floor in a dead faint, as panic broke out in the Hall.
The Hall exploded into pandemonium. It was obvious to Harry, as he sat calmly at the end of the Slytherin table with Pugsley and Wednesday, that the Hogwarts students had never heard of a "fire drill." Many younger students, and even some older ones, jumped up from their seats and started to dash about as if afraid the troll would find them. The teachers weren’t much better. Professor Sprout was all a-flutter, and Professor Snape slipped away from the Head Table into the shadows at the end of the Hall. Finally, several purple fireworks exploded from the end of Professor Dumbledore's wand and brought silence. Harry’s eyes narrowed as Snape quietly exited through a side door at the moment Dumbledore drew everyone’s attention.
"Prefects," Dumbledore ordered, "lead your Houses back to the dormitories immediately! Teachers, come with me!"
In the disarray while the various prefects gathered their scattered House members together, Harry caught Wednesday and Pugsley’s attention. He shook his head quickly and gestured to them.
In order to understand Thing, the children had learned to read the hand alphabet and Morse code. Using Morse and the hand alphabet themselves was a natural extension of that. From the hand alphabet, they had progressed to full sign language, which Thing couldn’t emulate due to the lack of a second hand or a body. When they had begun the Indian game, they had started making up their own signal codes. When Remus had joined the Family, he had taught them the Marauders’ private hand code as well. By now, they could hold a nuanced conversation, shifting effortlessly between modes, in complete silence and perfect security — nobody else could understand a thing they were â€˜saying’.
"Down," Harry said. "Wait until everyone’s gone." All three children slid under the table, hidden from sight by the festive tablecloths and the mist. "Watch Quirrell," Harry signalled, and Wednesday wormed up to the end of the table next to him.
Pugsley reached out to tug at the hem of Hermione’s robe as she passed them. She looked down at him, and he signalled to her to get under the table with them. She looked uncertainly at the chaotic mob of first years around the Prefects, then bit her lip and slipped under the table with the other three.
"What are weâ€”?"
"Sh!" whispered Pugsley softly, breathing the words barely audibly into her ear. "Harry’s spotted something. Wait and see."
In a short time, the various groups of students were being hustled out of the Great Hall by the prefects, and the teachers followed Dumbledore, who strode in a determined fashion to the front doors of the Great Hall and out to the main staircase that led down to the dungeons.
That left the four students crouched in the mist — and the fallen form of Professor Quirrell.
"Why did they just leave him?" whispered Hermione to Pugsley.
"Sh!" he whispered again.
"He’s faking," signed Harry. "I saw him flinch when someone stepped on him. I want to know what he’s up to."
In a few moments, Quirrell stirred and sat up. He looked around the room quickly, then rose and hurried out through a side door.
"Quick," whispered Harry. "I don’t want to lose him!"
The four children scrambled out from under the table, and the three Americans rapidly slipped their shoes off, stuffing them in the capacious pockets of their robes. Harry looked at Hermione.
"You’re all going to get in trouble!" she whispered urgently. "You’re supposed to be going to your Common Room."
"Hermione," said Harry, "our Common Room is down where the troll is. It’s not safe. You don’t have to come if you don’t want to. You’ll be safe here."
Hermione hesitated only a second before slipping her shoes off as well and scooping them up. "All right, but if we get in trouble, I’ll …"
"Tell them it’s all my fault," said Harry with a smile. "Now come on!"
Quirrell had a bit of a lead on them by now, but the mist had left moisture on his shoes and cloak, and Harry tracked him by the damp marks on the stone floors. He wasn’t heading toward the dungeons, but to a side flight of stairs that was rarely used. They tiptoed up the stairs and peered around the corner into the corridor, ducking back hastily as a black shadow emerged from a doorway and swept off after Quirrell.
"It’s Snape! He’s following Quirrell, too!" said Wednesday.
"Now what do we do?" asked Hermione, peering anxiously over Pugsley’s shoulder.
"Now we follow him instead!"
Darting from doorway to doorway and peeking around corners, they followed Snape who followed Quirrell. Harry found himself wondering if anyone was following them.
Snape and Quirrell took several shortcuts, and for several nerve-wracking minutes Snape waited in an alcove while waiting for Quirrell to ascend one of the flights of stairs that stretched across the great gallery that extended from the roof of the castle to the floor at least twelve storeys beneath. Only when Quirrell had reached the other side and disappeared down a side corridor did Snape hurry up the stairs himself.
The four students waited anxiously until Snape was out of sight, and dashed for the stairs themselves. The stairs, however, had remained in place for some time already, and moved on their own indefinable schedule when they were about half-way up. The four students clung to the railing while the top end of the staircase moved from the short side of the gallery to a balcony on the long side. As soon as the top end locked into place, the bottom end parted company with the lower landing and swung around until its end butted up against a blank wall.
"Now what?" asked Pugsley. "Up, or trust that there’s a secret door down there?"
"Up," said Hermione, who had a death grip on the banister. "We’re closer to the top than the bottom, and at least we’ll be on the same floor as them. Besides, I really don’t like heights."
"Sounds like a plan. Let’s move," said Harry. The quartet climbed to the top of the staircase and found themselves in a portrait gallery. They bore to the right to try to find a corridor that would intercept Snape and Quirrell, and soon found themselves in known territory: the Charms corridor.
They tiptoed past the classroom, Professor Flitwick’s office which adjoined it, and the spare rooms full of random objects to practice charming. They’d almost made it out of the corridor when there was a sudden shout from behind them and they were pelted with an assortment of rubber balls, stuffed animals and marbles. "HA! STUDENTS OUT OF BED! STUDENTS IN THE CHARMS CORRIDOR!"
"Great," grumbled Harry. "We can’t deal with him now. Run!" He led the way at a full run. The last thing they needed was for Peeves to attract attention from either of the teachers they were trying to follow. He made a sharp right at the first cross corridor, and slammed into a closed door. He tried the handle, but it was locked. He looked back in time to see Peeves careening on down the main corridor. Apparently the poltergeist had missed seeing them turn, but he’d be back before they could get away.
Harry pulled his wand and tapped the lock sharply. "Abierto!" he snapped, and the lock clicked open.
The four children piled through the door and stopped abruptly. The door slammed shut behind them and the lock clicked shut again.
"Oh, shit," breathed Pugsley.
It was, indeed, an â€˜oh shit’ sort of a moment, thought Harry. They weren't in a room. They were in a corridor. The forbidden corridor. And now they knew why it was forbidden. They were looking straight into the eyes of a monstrous dog, a dog that filled the whole space between ceiling and floor. It had three heads. Three pairs of rolling, mad eyes; three noses, twitching and quivering; three drooling mouths, saliva hanging in slippery ropes from yellowish fangs. The only reason it wasn’t immediately threatening them was because the left-most head had a firm grip on Professor Snape’s leg and was shaking him like a rag doll. Snape himself seemed to be unconscious. Just out of range of the dog’s right-most head stood Professor Quirrell. He whirled to bring his wand to bear on the four students. So much for not attracting attention.
"Well, isn’t this interesting?" said Quirrell in a cold, hard voice that betrayed no trace of his customary stammer. "More company. I think you’re quite enough for the night." He flicked his wand at the door. "Colloportus!" It emitted a squelching sound as it was sealed shut. Quirrell looked at them consideringly. "I suppose it’s too much to assume you four found this room by coincidence, tonight of all nights. Severus must have let you follow him, the fool."
"We were actually following you," said Harry, almost unwillingly coming to Snape’s defence. "So who’s the fool then?"
Quirrell sneered. "We’ll see who’s the fool when I’ve achieved my Master’s goal. I was going to use Snape to face the traps in Dumbledore’s gauntlet, but it will be easier to use you instead. My Master may have a use for Severus later, but I doubt he’ll have much use for any of you. The Mudblood will serve admirably to distract the beast."
Hermione gasped and pressed herself flat against the door as if trying to squeeze out through the wood.
Quirrell ignored her and continued, "As for you boys, I’ll use Miss Addams’ continued well-being to keep you in line. Do my bidding, and she may survive." He raised his hand and made a grasping and yanking motion, and Wednesday was dragged across the flagged floor towards him, her arms pinned to her side by some invisible force.
"Oh, no you don’t!" said Harry, lunging after her.
Quirrell grasped Wednesday’s robe at the shoulder, and Harry grabbed the professor’s wrist to pull his hand away from her. At once, needle-sharp pain seared across Harry’s head from his scar. Harry gritted his teeth to prevent a scream from breaking free — the pain was unexpected and he hadn’t had a chance to set himself to accept it — and tightened his grip on Quirrell.
Quirrell, however, was unable to hold back his own cry of pain; he released Wednesday, who, still bound and off balance, fell to the floor. Pulling his hand out of Harry’s grip, he staggered backward, cradling his hand against his chest. There were red, blistered marks across the back of his wrist showing clearly where Harry’s fingers had gripped.
The pain in Harry’s head lessened, and he moved to stand between Wednesday and Quirrell, assuming a duelling stance. With his free hand, he made a quick series of gestures to Pugsley.
Quirrell laughed. "You dare, Potter? You have no idea who you’re facing!"
"An incompetent Defence teacher, looks like," said Harry.
"Incompetent? Why, you little—"
"Face it, Professor, I haven’t seen you defend against so much as a dust bunny in two months, and the upper years say the same. You can’t even bear my touch. Whereas I destroyed a Dark Lord when I was less than two years old. So which of us is outmatched, hm?" Behind him, Harry heard noises, but he didn’t turn around. He knew it was just Pugsley, pulling Wednesday to safety while Quirrell was focusing on him. "Or maybe he was just a piss-poor excuse for a Dark Lord…"
"Enough!" A high-pitched voice interrupted him. It sounded like it was coming from behind Quirrell, but Harry could see no one there. "You’ve the nerve of a Gryffindor … boy …without the good sense to be frightened when you should be."
"I haven’t seen anything to be frightened of," scoffed Harry, sidling slowly to his right.
"Then perhaps I should show you," said the voice.
"Master, no!" said Quirrell. "You are not strong enough!"
"I have strength enough … for this."
As if compelled against his will, Quirrell slowly reached up with his injured hand and unwrapped his turban. The length of purple cloth fell to the floor in a puddle at his feet, and he turned slowly in place.
Where there should have been a back to Quirrell's head, there was a face, a warped, distorted face. It was chalk white with glaring red eyes and slits for nostrils, like a snake. "Harry Potter..." it whispered.
Harry took another step to his right, and Quirrell turned so the face stayed facing toward him. "Voldemort," Harry breathed.
"So you know me," replied the face. "After ten years, you still remember me."
"I saw you in a dream once," said Harry.
"See what I have become?" the face said. "Mere shadow and vapour … I have form only when I can share another's body … But there have always been those willing to let me into their hearts and minds … such as my faithful Quirrell…"
The young teacher’s body shuddered.
"Soon I shall return to my proper form," the face continued. "And with a body of my own … I shall rally my followers … we shall defeat our opposition … the Mudbloods shall fall beneath our feet …" The face’s red eyes seemed to brighten as they looked down at Harry. "You’re going to be a powerful wizard someday, Potter ... I can feel it. Join me, and there is nothing that could stop us. Join me …"
"And we can rule the galaxy as father and son?" asked Harry. "Sorry, I’ve heard that line before, and I know how it ends up. Besides, I’m not really into evil."
"Evil? There is no good and evil … there is only power, and those too weak to seek it. Your parents were weak … They died begging me for mercy …"
"Liar!" Harry snapped. "They wouldn’t have begged you for anything!"
"How touching, your faith in your parents … Your father did put up a courageous fight, that’s true … and your mother needn’t have died at all … but they did die. And so will you, and your little cousins … unless you swear fealty to me."
"Then … die!" snarled Voldemort.
Quirrell started to spin to bring his wand to bear on Harry again, when a spell flashed and his legs became like rubber and twisted together, unable to support his weight. With a cry, he crashed to the floor, landing face-first.
Harry flung himself onto Quirrell’s back. "Nobody’s dying today," he said. "Except maybe you." He took his wand between his teeth and pressed his hands to the moist white skin of Voldemort’s face.
The double howl emitted by Quirrell and Voldemort was quite satisfying, perhaps even worth the blazing pain in his forehead. Quirrell thrashed, trying to throw Harry off. He shifted his weight to straddle Quirrell’s back and keep him pinned, sliding his hands down to get a firm hold around his neck. Pugsley landed on Quirrell’s legs, and Hermione kicked Quirrell’s wand out of his hand, sending it skittering across the floor.
Harry closed his eyes, gritted his teeth and forced himself to concentrate on Voldemort, think of Quidditch, think of Wednesday … anything but the pain … Voldemort and Quirrell screamed even louder as Quirrell’s skin began to blister and char, and then crumbled away into charcoal beneath Harry’s hands. Harry felt Quirrell stop moving underneath him, but the pain still burned through his head and he could still hear that hideous howling.
Someone was tugging at Harry’s robes, and he opened his eyes cautiously to find Hermione trying to pull him away from Quirrell. The professor’s body was crumbling away to ash, and a hideous plume of grey vapour issued from the place where Voldemort’s face had been. The vapour coalesced until it looked like a smoky comet with vaguely human features at the head end, circling around them.
"You cannot win, Potter!" it whispered. "I shall take another host … Quirrell was a weakling … I need a stronger host … one who cannot deny me …"
The smoke swooped down towards the unconscious Snape.
Taking his wand properly in hand, Harry lunged at the Potions Master as well, laying one hand against his face and pointing his wand at the vaporous spirit. "Not again, Voldemort! I can drive you out of him, too! Go back to wherever you’ve been hiding. Separatur a plasmate tuo!" he cried, jabbing his wand at Voldemort. A shower of gold sparks shot out the end of it
The miasmal entity uttered a whispery cry of pain as some of the sparks passed through it. It turned, swooped down the length of the corridor, and vanished through a transom window.
Harry allowed himself to relax, sitting on the floor next to Snape. "What do you know? It worked!"
"What was that spell?" Hermione said, bouncing up and down. "You have to teach me that!"
"It’s part of an old exorcism rite I found when we were studying Latin. I thought it just sounded cool, but maybe there is something to it after all. It certainly sounded like it hurt him." He got slowly to his feet, feeling very tired. "Thanks for that jinx, Pugs. It was at exactly the right time."
"That wasn’t me," said Pugsley. "That was Hermione. I was still trying to get Wednesday unbound."
"See, I told you we’d need her," said Wednesday, who was still lying on the floor with her arms pinned to her sides. "Now get me out of this!"
Harry flicked his wand at her. "Finite incantatem."
"I already tried … hey, it worked!" said Pugsley as Wednesday was released from the binding spell. "How come it worked for you?"
"The Force is with me," Harry said wearily. "Hermione, what’s wrong?"
The young Ravenclaw was horror-stricken, her clenched fists pressed to her mouth as realization hit. "I … I jinxed a teacher! They’ll expel me for that!"
"I just disintegrated the same teacher," said Harry, wryly. "I don’t think they’ll be worried about you jinxing him." He looked around. "Snape’s still out cold. He never saw us. And I doubt that dog is going to tell anyone what happened either."
The three-headed dog, in fact, was cowering at the far end of the corridor.
"Let’s clean this mess up and get back to our Common Rooms. If we don’t leave any evidence, nobody will be able to figure out what happened."
"What about the troll?" asked Hermione.
Harry pointed at the pile of ash. "He’s the one who said it was in the school. What do you want to bet he made it all up?"
Working quickly, the four students bundled up the ash in Quirrell’s clothing and wiped up the remaining traces with his turban. His wand went into the bundle as well.
While cleaning up, they realized the giant dog had been sitting on a heavy trap door set into the floor. "He must have been guarding that," said Pugsley. "Wonder what’s down there?"
"Something he wanted," said Harry. "Whatever it is, it should probably stay there for the time being. I don’t think he’s going to make another try for it any time soon."
"But shouldn’t we find out?" asked Hermione, her reservations at being out after curfew and jinxing a professor forgotten in the face of a puzzle. "It could be important!"
"No," said Harry firmly. "He said there were more traps and things down there. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m wiped. Look, I’ll put an alarm charm on the trapdoor," he said, casting it rapidly. "If anyone tries to open it, we’ll know and can figure out what to do then. For now, I just want to get out of here."
Harry and Wednesday together managed to calm the giant dog and led it back to their end of the corridor. Harry pointed at the trapdoor. "Sit!" he commanded. The dog sat on it. "Stay! Good dog. I’ll bring you a steak or something when I can, all right?"
"Woof!" said the dog’s middle head.
Quirrell’s sealing spell was still in effect on the door, but like the binding, it was easy for Harry to break it. He didn’t like the implications of that, but decided to think about it later. Just before he closed the door, he stuck his wand through the crack and cast an Ennervate on Professor Snape. As the man stirred slightly, Harry let the door close silently and they tiptoed away.
"There’s one thing about all this that I don’t understand," said Harry as they descended the stairs, having finally found a flight that looked like they were going the right way.
"Just one?" said Wednesday. "I’ve got lots. Like, why did your touch burn Quirrell? Why could you undo his spells when no one else could? What’s down that trapdoor? What’s your question?"
"That must have been the corridor Dumbledore warned us about at the Sorting Feast, right?"
"So what was it doing on the fourth floor? I’ve been all over the third floor and couldn’t find anything!"
"That was the third floor," said Hermione.
"No it wasn’t. It’s the fourth! The Great Hall’s on the first, that big portrait gallery’s on the second, the …"
"Harry, that’s not how we count the floors here," Hermione interrupted. "The Great Hall’s on the ground floor, the portrait gallery is on the first, the Defence classroom is on the second …"
"You mean all this time I’ve been looking on the wrong floor?!"
Hermione nodded, biting her lip to avoid laughing at him.
"I will never understand this country. Never."
They dropped Hermione off in the Great Hall, hid the bundle of Professor Quirrell’s remains in an unused dungeon, and then tried to sneak back into their Common Room. Everybody else had gone to bed, except for the fifth-year prefect, Titus Artibee, who was waiting for them and gave them a thorough dressing down. Prefects couldn’t take points, but he was going to assign a detention with Professor Snape until Harry pointed out that Titus would likely get a worse one for letting them get away from him in the first place. He might even have his prefect status revoked. On reflection, Titus agreed that his lecture was punishment enough, as long as they promised not to do it again. Harry swore that next time a troll was loose in the school they would go straight to the Common Room, and that settled that.
The next morning, the news was all over the Great Hall that three Gryffindors, Seamus Finnegan, Dean Thomas, and Ron Weasley, had gone after the troll and cornered it in the boys’ bathroom, where Weasley had knocked it out while it was attacking Finnegan. The points they received for defeating the troll were almost, but not quite, negated by the points taken for the damage done to the bathroom and for not going to their Common Room in the first place. As long as they were in the positive, the Gryffindors didn’t seem to care, and there was much celebrating going on.
Harry wandered over to the Gryffindor table.
"Hey, Nev. Here comes Potter again. How come he keeps coming over here, anyway?" said Weasley. "Slytherins should stay over on their own side."
"Usually I come to talk to Neville, but this time I came over to congratulate you," said Harry. "But if you don’t want me to …"
"No, I, wait, what?" said Weasley.
"Ah, Gryffindor eloquence," said Harry. "Good thing you didn’t have to talk the troll to death. What did you do to it, anyway?"
Thus encouraged, Weasley launched into a description (somewhat exaggerated, Harry suspected) of the epic battle in the boys’ room, ending with his levitating the troll’s club up near the troll’s head, where it exploded, knocking the beast out. In his enthusiasm, he demonstrated by levitating a cream pitcher. Neville foresaw the inevitable result and ducked under the table at just the right moment before the pitcher exploded, showering Weasley, Finnegan and Thomas with cream.
"Sounds like a great fight," said Harry. "You need to work on that charm a little, though. You don’t want things exploding unless you intend them to."
"Yeah, you’re right about that," said Weasley, as napkins were passed down the table so the three could mop themselves up. "But it was wicked, anyway. Bet you wish you’d been there, huh?"
"No, I’d just have gotten in your way," said Harry. "Sounds like you had it all handled. But if I need a good man in a fight, I know who to call." He slapped Weasley in a comradely way on the shoulder, and the red-headed boy beamed. "Good going, Weasley."
"It’s Ron," the other boy said, impulsively sticking out his hand.
"Harry," said Harry, shaking it. "See you in Potions later?"
"Yeah. See you then," said Ron. Harry waved at Neville, who had resumed his seat now that there was not likely to be any more exploding crockery, and left, trying to listen to what was going on at the Gryffindor table as long as he was in earshot.
"Ron … did I just see you shaking hands with a Slytherin?" asked Finnegan. "I thought I’d never see it."
"Hey," said Ron. "It’s Potter, okay? The Boy-Who-Lived. They can’t all be bad."
Harry returned to his seat by Wednesday, smiling. Weasley was the most outspokenly anti-Slytherin of this year’s Gryffindors, and if Harry could win him over … it was a start, anyway.
More importantly, his circuit of the room told him that nobody had noticed yet that Professor Quirrell was missing. Everyone was more concerned with the troll and the upcoming Quidditch game and the first-ever Hogwarts Parents Weekend.
With luck, they might just get away with it.
As you may have noticed from the index page for this story, chapters have been getting longer and longer. They've also been posted farther apart as they take longer to write. The chapter I've been working on kept getting longer with no end in sight as I added scenes. I realized that the first part of it stood on its own, and it's posted here as Chapter 14. I have decided to go back to the practice of posting shorter chapters, which hopefully will result in more frequent postings and a gain in momentum. Thank you for your patience.