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The Search Begins

December 27, 1991, 7:30 PM, Library

There’s nothing useful here. I thought, slumped over the chair in the Library.

Still, I continued to stare at the words on the page, willing them to at least be what I was looking for. Of course, desire didn’t simply conjure up knowledge out of nowhere, and so I was left staring at the stupid book.

With a sigh of deep frustration, I finally set it down on the table.

I’ve been at this for days, trying to figure out whatever the Hell the school was on about. I took a deep, calming breath to center myself. Just what did it mean by ‘strong blood’, anyway?

I’d looked through tome after tome in the hopes of solving this mystery, but honestly, who was I kidding?

The damn castle must be messing with me. I thought. What else could explain this wild goose chase?

Looking down at the stack of books I’d already skimmed, I scoffed. There was nothing specifically on the blood of other creatures in any of these, unless it was part of a Potions textbook. When I had found mentions of blood, the term ‘strong’ was not used anywhere.

Except for Re’em blood. I scratched my forearm. Supposedly that gives people a burst of immense strength— enough to rival giants or trolls— for a limited time.

But I doubted that was what the castle wanted. Re’ems were native to North America and East Asia; Hogwarts School was possessed of a sapience of sorts, so it didn’t make sense that it would request such a ridiculous tribute from what it knew to be a fledgling magic user.

And yet, it somehow thought I was able to give it what it requires.

Well, whatever it is, I won’t find the answers in the pre-approved sections.

It made sense, after a fashion. I leaned back in my chair. I doubt Dumbledore or any of the previous Headmasters of this school would have allowed the knowledge of blood sacrifice to be so easily learned. Still, I had to look through these just to be sure.

It would be silly if I’d ended up risking getting caught out of bounds when I could have found the solution with no danger to myself, after all. I was not going to half-ass things, this time. I’d already done that, and now the school was demanding tribute like it was some kind of blood sponge.

Perhaps it wants the blood of a strong wizard? I mused, trying and failing to resist the urge to bite my nails. The longer I let this continue, the angrier the school will be, I think.

I stared at the bookshelves around me. The Library had a fairly good index, but its repository of books was obviously limited by the teachers, so as to avoid abuse.

My gaze drifted towards the direction of the Restricted Section. “Strong Blood, huh.”

Of course, this hadn’t been the first time I’d thought of entering the Restricted Section.

I’d simply held back because I knew I hadn’t been ready for that level of information.

Magic was a wondrous and beautiful thing, but it could also be cruel and torturous if it wished to be.

My dealings with the void were proof enough of that.

It was enlightening, in a sense; the energy was alive in a way that I could not truly describe. Magic functioned by a rule-set that the Wizarding World had only barely scratched the surface of.

They all seem confident that their knowledge is absolute. I thought, images of the house-elves going through my head. And yet, they cannot touch the sheer kinetic power of the elves. Goblin silver is an absolute mystery to them— impossibly sharp and able to absorb the properties of whatever it comes in contact with. What else do they not know?

I pushed off of the table and moved to return the books to their proper place, my body working on autopilot as I began to plan my next move.

I’ll have to come back when it’s late. I thought as I stowed the final book back where I found it. I’ll have to be careful in the Restricted Section. The books, there—

I stopped my train of thought as I shouldered my pack. I would have to avoid any screaming books, or ones that would try to eat me.

I smiled slightly at the thought. This world truly was strange, and its denizens just as odd and insane.

I mean, books that attack you! I remembered the old gimmick— the Monster Book of Monsters, I believed it was called. The damn thing tried to bite your fingers off unless you stroked its spine.

The smile fell off my face as I made my exit, passing by the Library’s threshold and absently feeling the tingle on my skin.

In there, I would likely be facing things which were just as volatile or violent— or worse. The Restricted Section was a known repository of Dark Magic, after all.

Go in, get what you need, get out. I thought, my resolve setting in as I headed towards the Ravenclaw Dorms to meet with Tony.

That way, I’d have a rock hard alibi— chess games long into the night— assuming that anyone suspected me of wrongdoing, in the first place.

And so it was, my plan to raid the Restricted Section had begun.

oooo

Ravenclaw Dorms, Hours later, Past Midnight…

I stared up at the ceiling, unable to sleep due to the excitement and restlessness washing over my body.

“It should be late enough, now.” I said from under the sheets and reached for the ebony wand at my bedside.

Tempus.” I incanted, watching as the orange mist curled out of the wand, coalescing before me to show the time.

1:20 AM

I nodded. That was surely enough. If I waited any longer, I would have been wasting time.

I pushed the covers off and began to dress, deciding to go with my school robes.

Truthfully, I probably should have worn something else, but the robes had a massive surface area, which would serve to reinforce the Disillusionment Charm— however little.

They would also keep me warm enough. It was late December, after all.

Not to mention that I have no real way of getting new, usable clothes. If only I’d been reincarnated into a family of considerable wealth— I’d have something more than a collection of low-quality school robes and used orphanage castoffs.

I would have to look into that at some point, but for now, I had to focus on my objective.

If all went well, no one would even question my absence, come the morning.

My grasp over the Disillusionment Charm is still, thankfully, a secret. I thought as I put my shoes on and stared at myself in the mirror. With a nod, I tapped my wand against the top of my head and called the spell forth.

“Praetexo.”

Like a cool breeze, I felt my magic swirling around me, taking in the essence of the air around us and merging with it.

It settled over my form, almost seamlessly fading me out of view. It’s impressive, every time I do it.

I sighed in contentment, the sensations of outer cold and inner heat rejuvenating me.

Off we go.

Thanks to the Christmas holidays, exiting the Dorms was beyond simple, since no one was here to call me out. Usually, there were a few Fifth, Sixth or Seventh Years staying up late, likely studying.

I smiled, remembering the first few times I’d snuck out. I’d been so afraid of getting caught, but even the rudimentary Disillusionment had been enough, what with the others too busy with their books or their… partners.

Still, it wasn’t all sunshine and— Hmm, wouldn’t it be more apt to say moonlight, here?— rainbows. There had been a few close calls with Filch’s cat; that damn creature somehow knew exactly where to go. It knew right where to find me.

Luckily, cats were small animals and were more easily deterred by what they perceived to be threats.

I rather doubted Mrs. Norris was keen on the prospect of getting jinxed.

Even while under Disillusionment, she had been able to detect my mischievous intent. Watching her flee had been amusing, but it had also been an interesting lesson, all things considered.

While animals weren’t generally magically inclined, their senses seemed attuned to the magic around them; like an extra sense, warning them of danger.

It makes sense. I thought, nodding as I reached the Grand Staircase. Avoiding danger is just as good as deterring or facing it— sometimes better.

Carefully, I stepped onto the stairway leading to the Fourth Floor and made my way down. Once I reached the other side, I turned to stare at the steps.

The castle does know I’m here. I thought. It isn’t giving me any trouble on the staircase. Come to think of it, it hadn’t given me trouble earlier, when I was going back to the Ravenclaw Tower.

Was it just a coincidence, or was it a sign that I was doing the right thing? There was no real way to tell.

If only I could use something like Path to Victory… I mused as I stepped through the great hallways of the castle, with nothing but the silver light of the full moon to illuminate my surroundings. I would know every step to take, every move to make, every eventuality to cover and every word to say to achieve my set goals.

Wouldn’t that have been convenient? I stifled the derisive scoff. Things were never that easy for me.

Never have been. Never will be.

The closest thing to Path to Victory here was Divination, and that particular field of magic was a joke— an easy grade for the underachiever. The only time it ever came into play was when it concerned grand prophecies which plunged entire societies in wars and destroyed the families within.

Why was there never a prophecy about it raining the next week? Perhaps a prophecy concerning someone’s test results?

To be fair, the only prophecy I knew of which applied to this world was the one revolving around Potter and Voldemort.

All of the others were neatly kept within the Hall of Prophecy of the Department of Mysteries, under protective enchantments meant to cause maximal brain damage to those trying to access them— unless the person was the prophecy’s recipient, of course.

For a moment, I wondered if there was a prophecy concerning me, but I shook the thought away.

Even if there was, that chamber was far away from me and out of my reach for quite some time— quite possibly for good.

I was not keen on becoming the focus of an Unspeakable’s attention.

Those particular wizards and witches were a secretive bunch and were neck deep in strange and obscure magic.

Now, normally, I’d be salivating at the thought of such knowledge, but the risk of joining them was too high.

Pursuing magic is not without risks, Clarke. Part of me argued. Should you not divulge the truth of your nature so you may be allowed to explore the concepts more easily? You’re but one man. How much can you truly accomplish? Imagine if you joined a team of like minded individuals ready to help you pursue every goal you had.

Except they won’t help me— at least, not without strings attached. No. I thought harshly. Not at the cost of my freedom. I will never compromise on this.

What good was information if I was not allowed to use it in any way, shape or form?

What was the point of reaching the pinnacle of magic if I was not able to enjoy the fruits of my labor?

Before too long, I found myself standing at the entrance of the Library once again. The door was already open, which was a little disconcerting.

I ignored the feeling of trepidation and slowly approached from the door’s left side before peeking inside.

No sign of activity. Very odd. I thought, taking a few steps forward and feeling the tingle of the threshold wash over my skin as I moved past it.

Could it be that Potter is here tonight? Maybe that’s it. He must have entered the Restricted Section already. I thought; it was around that time, after all. It doesn’t matter, anyway. Let him have his own adventure while I have mine.

I ventured further into the Library, keeping my steps slow and measured.

Shrouded in darkness with a faint hint of silver light filtering through the windows, my surroundings were almost incomparable with how they were in the daytime.

My eyes still not having fully adjusted to the lower light of the Library, I kept my left hand out in front of me, pressing it against the shelves to help me move forward.

I’d have cast the Wand-Lighting Charm to help me navigate, but that spell brought a great risk of detection.

I imagined that, if I were to be caught in the Restricted Section, I would not get much leniency from the staff.

Considering the previous history of a certain talented orphan in this school, my trespassing could be argued as grounds for expulsion— or at the very least, an insane amount of scrutiny.

Potter, on the other hand, would likely get a slap on the wrist— if that. I thought with no heat. He is the central figure of the prophecy and the main character, besides. I doubt that Dumbledore would allow anyone to snap Potter’s wand. While he couldn’t quite do it for Hagrid back when he’d been framed, I’m sure Potter’s notoriety and importance would supersede whatever the relevant legalities are.

It was as simple as that.

Slowly— almost agonizingly so— I moved deeper into the Library, in the direction of the Restricted Section.

My hand accidentally brushed past a book which hadn’t been returned properly, causing it to drop.

With a feeling of impending doom, I watched as the book slammed into the stone floor with the loudest slap I’d ever heard in both of my lives.

Fuck! I thought, the sudden panic forcing me to move forward at a brisk pace. You have to move. Can’t let them catch you, Clarke.

Once I was a fair distance away from my previous spot, I looked back.

Nothing. It was all clear.

Relieved, I leant against the nearest bookshelf as I attempted to stabilize my heart rate through slow, steady breaths. False alarm. Thank God or whatever is watching over me from up there.

A few moments later, I was confident in continuing again. Watch for errant books, this time, Clarke. Can’t screw this up.

I moved further in, weaving past shelves upon shelves until I was standing before the entrance to the Restricted Section.

The gate had already been opened. That meant that Potter was indeed here— Filch and his cat are not far behind, then? I need to make haste.

I settled my nerves with a deep breath and a tensing of the muscles, before moving past the Restricted Section’s entrance.

No tingle, this time. They didn’t ward it?

Beyond stupid. Why is the security so lax? I thought. Maybe most of the terrible books have already been removed or dealt with?

It wasn’t a good thought, but I shrugged it off— they wouldn’t restrict the section if there wasn’t something here that I could make use of.

And so, my search officially began. I skipped over the books on Charms and Transfiguration and checked another book case, gradually heading further in.

I did my best to keep track of my path, lest I find myself lost.

It was a tall order, I was beginning to learn; darkness crept in from all sides, the already weak moonlight not nearly enough to penetrate the gradually increasing atmosphere of gloom.

This place is something else. I thought with no small amount of trepidation. Was it designed this way, or did Hogwarts Castle simply evolve its environment to do this?

I let out a shuddering breath and did my best to rein in my own fear. This darkness— it almost reminded me of the void.

But where the void is serene and infinite, this darkness feels crude and savage.

Perhaps I was letting my nerves get the better of me. How the Hell did Potter go through this place without a care in the world?

Surely he didn’t think that his cloak made him invincible, right— the memory of him falling off of a chair flashed in my mind’s eye.

Oh. Right. The clumsy kid does think that. Damn children, I swear. I realized, feeling a little better about the situation. Perhaps I need to channel his childlike bravery and go forth, as well.

My nerves now re-settled, I continued my trek, only taking the minimal amount of time necessary to study the shelves around me. So far, nothing particularly useful to my endeavors.

Advanced magic, to be sure— OWL to NEWT level, if I had to guess. Things meant for the specialized education of students. I supposed I was still in the ‘safe’ part of the Restricted Section.

Whatever passes as ‘safe’, here. My lips curled in a slight, mocking smile.

It was an amusing thought, but it didn’t improve my mood much.

I needed to go deeper into this place. This brought a new problem.

“There’s little to no light. I can’t see shit.” I mouthed, throwing a look at where I thought the entrance was as I held my wand aloft, whispering. “Wouldn’t hurt, now. Lumos.

Focusing my desire and intent, I made the light strong enough to light up the spines of the various books in my immediate vicinity, but weak enough that it wouldn’t draw too much attention to me.

With the light, I was able to see the titles of the books again, but still, I couldn’t find anything particularly useful.

Curses, curses, more curses. Charms that replace— oh, it’s just more curses. I stifled the sigh of annoyance and moved on to the next bookcase.

This seems more promising.

This one was full of Potions books. Those were probably my best bet, all things considered.

From said case, I picked out three different titles, nestled in various spots:

A Compendium of Blood Draughts by Theodus Walker

Cauldrons of Blood: A Collection of Strength

Samson’s Sanguine Serums

These look promising. I grabbed the closest one and opened it slowly— ready to drop it and bolt at the first sign of trouble.

Nothing happened. I checked the others and was relieved to see that they all seemed safe to touch and open.

I’d have to learn some diagnostic spells, just to make sure there were no hidden traps.

With gentle, slow and almost noiseless movements, I placed my wand on the shelf, took the three books and stowed them into my backpack.

That was when the sound of an agonized shriek filled the Library, echoing off of the walls.

That sound… That was a few very close. What the hell?

A second later, I heard the sound of a lamp breaking.

For fuck’s sake, it’s Potter! I thought, snatching my lit wand off of the shelf and casting my next spell.

“Nox!” The light at the tip winked out of existence, submerging me in the complete darkness of the Restricted Section.

Before I was even given a second to acclimate to the lower light, I began to move, hearing the faint noise of feet scuffing against the stone floor nearby.

Was it Filch, or was it Potter?

As the sound grew stronger, I turned from it and increased my pace, only to stop.

Filch was right in front of me, lantern in hand. He glared, yellow teeth bared in an almost-snarl as he raised his lamp up high, the light banishing away the worst of the Restricted Section’s darkness.

“Out of bounds, are we?” Filch smiled, an unpleasant thing to witness from such a joyless old man.

My blood ran cold at the words— can he see me?

The caretaker moved to the right, looking around the shelves as his lamplight cast a great shadow on the ground. “Show yourself.”

Thank fucking God. He can’t see me. I moved to the side, only to feel a presence shove hard against me from behind, knocking me down with a thud.

I ignored the flare of pain and focused on the caretaker, who was now heading this way.

“Got you, now.”

A few more steps and I was done for. From my position on the floor, I pointed my wand at the bookshelf behind the man and whispered. “Accio!”

The books flew into Filch, knocking him forward with a grunt of surprise and pain— but I was already in motion, scrambling up to my feet and rushing past him, not even trying to hide the noise I was making.

The presence had stopped for a moment, ahead of me, before it resumed its quick stride.

Think later. Run now.

The presence— Potter— took a left, and so I took a right. I felt more confident in my own chances.

Potter’s barely got any situational awareness when not concerning Quidditch, anyway.

My wand held at my side, I continued moving further away from the scene, ready to strike at whoever got in my way. It seemed I’d made the correct turn, judging by the increase of light, and soon, the Library’s exit was in view.

No hesitation— I ran for it and made my way to the Grand Staircase.

The stairs were, again, thankfully merciful, and I found myself on the Fifth Floor.

Still, I did not stop. Distance didn’t mean I was necessarily scot-free.

The teachers and caretakers knew the secret passageways of the Castle better than anyone save, probably, the Marauders.

However, as the seconds turned into minutes, I began to calm down despite it all.

The threat of capture had greatly lessened by this point, and was getting lower with every second. Feeling slightly drained, I moved to the side and sat on the cold floor to rest, uncaring of the chill I felt as I leaned my back into the wall.

That was close. I thought, my wand still drawn. I brought my knees closer to my chest and just continued to sit there, motionless against the wall.

For the next few minutes, I kept a watchful eye on my surroundings, but there was nothing but the sound of weak snores coming from a nearby portrait.

With a short breath, I got back to my feet, dusting my backside off. I threw a glance in the direction of the dormitories, but decided not to head back, just yet.

Storing the books which I essentially just stole in my room was— obviously— a terrible idea.

The Room of Requirement was likely out, as well. The castle may have entered a truce with me, but I doubted it would allow me to use its room until I fixed its little void problem.

I wouldn’t push my luck, anyway. I thought and began to make my way to my temporary base of operations— the unused classroom near the Ravenclaw Tower which I’ve been using on and off ever since the incident.

I went inside, closing the door behind me and locking it for good measure.

With a flick of my wand, I let the flow of magic around me dissipate, bringing me back into view.

I set the backpack on a nearby desk, staring at it while my mind went through something entirely different.

Potter— I was able to detect him, somehow. I thought, sitting down in front of the desk and running my hand through my hair as I leaned my head back. Sure, he bumped into me, but I felt it; some kind of familiar presence.

It didn’t take long for me to connect the dots.

“There are a certain few wizards who have come into contact with… ancient and powerful artifacts, which allows them to, provided they have the requisite knowledge, detect the existence of other such artifacts.” Dumbledore had told Snape the other day.

The conclusion was obvious: this power to detect the Deathly Hallows— I had it, too.

Dumbledore… I thought, eyes narrowing at the implications. How did he get the ability? Was it from touching a Hallow?

I shook my head. It couldn’t have been. Potter had the Cloak in all of the books, and never once did he demonstrate possessing an awareness of the other Hallows.

No, it had to have been achieved through study and that could only mean one thing.

“He knows about the void.” I breathed, the realization both shocking and disconcerting. “The old man, he’s learned to interact with the void, just like I did.”

I’d known the man wasn’t without his faults and foibles, but I’d attributed such things to the foolishness of youth.

But to delve into the void like this— just what has he done?

This is rich, coming from you, Clarke. Part of me sneered. You hypocrite; what have you been doing, this whole time?

It’s different for me. I argued back, heat suffusing into my being and banishing the chill away. I died, and then I came back. Was I supposed to ignore it? Should I bury my head in the sand and pretend that there’s nothing wrong, or that someone—something — with power greater than death itself, just plucked me out of the void and dropped me off here?

There was no answer.

How could there have been?

“I’m losing my mind, aren’t I?” I said, shaking my head and turning my gaze to the closed backpack in front of me.

Whatever you are, hiding beyond the void. I thought as I stowed the books into the small, hidden space in a nearby corner, disillusioning them for good measure. I’m rising to the pinnacle of magic, and when I’m done…

“I’m coming for you.”

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