January 25, 1992, 4:30 PM, Library
“Harry?” Hermione’s voice pulled the boy before her back to reality.
“Um— yes?” Harry Potter took his bleary eyes off of the large book in front of him, blinking at her from the other side of the table. “I’m sorry, Hermione. I got a little lost in thought there.”
“Are you all right?” Hermione nodded with an annoyed exhale. “What’s eating you?”
“Um…” He said, avoiding her now curious gaze. “Nothing, really. I’m fine.”
Hermione rolled her eyes at the answer, not at all convinced by it. She opened her mouth to speak again but Ron beat her to it.
“Please, you’re going to give me a headache.” The redhead said, rubbing his forehead with exaggerated irritation. “Can’t you see he doesn’t want to talk about it?”
Harry watched the annoyance spread further over Hermione’s face.
Even after Ron had apologized, the two of them were never able to settle their differences.
I suppose they’re like oil and water. Harry decided, feeling both disappointed and amused. They’ll never really mix.
It would help if his two friends were a little less… bull-headed— the only trait they seemed to share, from the looks of it. Still, their friction was friendlier than it had ever been, so Harry was happy about that.
“Well, Ronald.” Hermione’s voice rose as her face tinted red with annoyance. “I guess you’ll—”
“Hey, guys.” Came Tony’s voice as he approached the group, with Clarke lagging behind. “You should keep it down, you know.”
Hermione, still looking displeased, closed her mouth and took a deep breath, realizing that she was overreacting. “Sorry, Anthony.”
“It’s all good.” He waved it off, not looking too worried. “You weren’t quite loud enough to attract Pince’s attention, but you got pret-ty close. Also, please just call me Tony.”
And then, the boy smiled. “We’re friends, right?”
Hermione beamed, the sudden cheer making everyone smile in reciprocation. Well, everyone but Clarke; he didn’t even look like he was paying attention. His black eyes met Harry’s own for a moment and it didn’t even seem like he noticed Harry was there. His black, neck-length hair was untidy— a far cry from his usual appearance.
“Thank you, An—” Hermione stopped herself. “Tony. Thank you, Tony.”
“You’re welcome.” Tony’s smile widened slightly before he turned towards his Ravenclaw friend. “Adam, are you sure you don’t want to research with us?”
“Yes.” The boy said, his posture stiff and his tone curt. “I’m sure. Have fun.”
“I—” Tony watched as his friend turned and left without another word. “… Um… Right, then.”
Harry turned his head to the left, glimpsing the Grey Lady a few aisles down staring in Clarke’s direction, a curious expression on her usually haughty face.
What’s that about? He thought, confused. The ghosts of Hogwarts never made any particular sense to Harry, but this seemed strange, even to him. It was almost like she was watching Adam.
“What’s his problem? It’s like he couldn’t wait to leave!” Ron cut right to the chase. The boy never seemed to understand the need for subtlety; it was a trait Harry both liked and hated about his friend.
On one hand, it was nice to have him ask the questions that no one else had the guts to ask— including himself.
On the other hand, Ron’s total lack of tact ended up hurting the people around him. It reminded Harry far too much of his unpleasant cousin, Dudley Dursley.
He felt himself smiling with dark amusement. I wonder if they ever managed to fix Dudley’s tail?
The smile didn’t last very long as he recalled Adam’s words.
‘You know what the worst thing in the world is, Potter?’ Clarke had told him nearly three months ago, on Halloween. ‘A bully. Is that what you want to become?’
Harry knew that feeling this way was wrong. He shouldn’t have taken pleasure in another person’s suffering, but it was Dudley, for crying out loud.
This was the boy who had tormented him all his life. Surely it was okay, then? Didn’t he deserve any justice?
Is it justice, or is it revenge? A part of him argued. Harry had no answer to that.
He was dragged away from his thoughts when Tony turned back to them and gave a nervous laugh. “I— erm… I actually have no idea. He’s been like that for a while now.”
“Nearly two weeks.” Hermione offered, her eyes narrowed with calculation.
“Actually, yes.” Tony blinked and took a seat at the head of the table, placing his book bag on the floor. “You could tell?”
“It wasn’t exactly hard to miss. He hasn’t been looking too well.” Hermione said, getting that look in her eyes. “Maybe we should ask around… are you two fighting, maybe?”
Harry suppressed the shudder that ran through him. He knew that look.
Harry had seen it on her face when she attempted to pry into the reasons behind him not talking about his family.
He understood that the girl was coming from a good place, but it had not been a pleasant few days for him.
By some miracle, he had stopped her line of questioning; Harry knew that, if she’d kept going, he would have said something he would surely regret later.
It’s none of her business, anyway. His mind supplied, trying to soothe the imaginary heartache he felt over possibly losing one of his only friends. She should know not to pry. She should respect my boundaries just like anyone else’s!
“Fighting?” Tony said, scoffing at the very notion. “We’re best friends! Besides, I’d be able to tell if there was a problem between us. He’s just been off… that’s all.”
Hermione pursed her lips in thought. “Oh. Well, maybe he’s fighting with someone else?”
“I have no idea.” Tony said, pausing as he seemed to consider sharing some information with them. “Well, there was that one time with Boot. But that was ages ago.“
“Terry Boot?” Hermione asked as Tony nodded. “I thought the two were friends.”
“Ah, well…” Tony said as he started to lean back in his chair. “They had a falling out because… well, because of you, actually, Hermione.”
Harry and Ron leaned forward in interest, their research forgotten in favor of some juicy drama. They needed a break, anyway.
“Because of me?” Hermione’s eyes widened. “What do you mean?”
“Yeah.” Tony nodded, raised a hand and explained further. “Basically, what happened was: Boot thought that Adam shouldn’t be talking to people outside of Ravenclaw. Adam disagreed; I believe he said he enjoyed hanging out with you.”
Hermione didn’t answer for a moment, trying and failing to get her smile under control.
“Then what?” Ron joined in the questioning, eager to know more.
“I’m not sure what exactly happened after that.” Tony said, raising his hands in a shrug. “I just know that Terry tried to get revenge and somehow got Malfoy and a few other Slytherins involved.”
Now it was Harry’s turn for his eyebrows to go up. He felt the weight in his stomach grow as he truly understood what being targeted by multiple people felt like.
We really are alike, huh? Harry thought, before shaking his head. No. Clarke has it worse, I think. He has no family, no inheritance, no contacts with this world. All alone with no one to turn to…
Harry couldn’t imagine such an existence. Even with his admittedly terrible home life, at least there was a sort of stability to it.
Clarke didn’t even have that.
“What I do know is that whatever it is they tried failed.” Tony said, smiling. “Adam wasn’t even bothered by any of it— I remember it like it was just yesterday. Adam just said ‘hello’, looked at Boot and smiled like nothing was wrong. It really got under the boy’s skin.”
Everyone at the table shared a low chuckle, mindful of the evil library vulture hovering around the premises, waiting to punish any rule breaker to run afoul of her.
“You think that this could be happening again?” Hermione asked, concern growing in her eyes. “Maybe Boot wants revenge?”
“It’s possible, but I doubt it.” Tony said, sighing and rubbing his eyes. “I think Terry’s let it go. Plus, considering Adam’s obvious skill with magic, I doubt anyone wants a piece of him. He’s getting his exams done early. Have you ever heard of anyone doing that before?”
“I did a bit of research on that, actually.” Hermione said, her eyes unfocusing as she recalled the information.
Harry took a sharp breath, counting his blessings when Hermione missed seeing Ron mouthing ‘a bit’ with the most incredulous face he could muster.
When she’d first heard of Clarke’s exams, she’d been furious.
“I believe Professor Dumbledore had a few early exams, and a boy named Tom…” She bit her lip. “I forgot the last name. I’ll have to look again.”
“Crazy, isn’t it?” Tony said. “I knew he liked to study ahead, but this is ridiculous, even for him!”
Harry gave an absent nod. He had trouble understanding Adam’s sheer drive. He was always off doing his own research, making his own plans. It’s like he didn’t know how to relax.
Harry was starting to understand, though. I suppose living in an orphanage doesn’t give you much of a sense of security when it comes to your future. Every move Adam’s made has been to ensure his future well being. It’s quite ambitious and cunning of him.
Harry recalled the Sorting Hat’s words to him on his first night here.
Path to greatness, huh? Harry mused, nodding to himself. I may have rejected Slytherin House, but I suppose ambition itself isn’t really evil, huh? Especially when it’s the only thing you have to hold on to. It’s only sensible.
“Still…” Hermione still didn’t seem convinced.
Harry made his decision. He took a breath and started to speak. “Well, whatever it is, he probably just wants space, I think. I’m sure having all of this extra work to do is weighing on his mind.”
Hermione looked displeased, like she wanted to argue further.
“You reckon?” Ron said, before nodding to himself in realization. “Yeah, that’s probably it, Harry. I know sometimes, I just want to be away from everyone.”
“My dad’s the same way.” Tony said, before his face adopted a thoughtful look. “Actually, Adam reminds me a lot of my dad. Always a step ahead and very calm, no matter what.”
Harry nodded, remembering a certain night during the Hols involving a large, magic mirror.
Harry had mistakenly thought the boy was callous and uncaring, but the dark look Adam had given him, then…
It was like Harry was staring down a depthless chasm of anger.
How can Adam be in control when he’s like that? He thought, scratching the back of his head. That level of anger, I don’t think I could handle it.
Maybe that was it?
Harry’s eyes widened slightly. Was Clarke keeping his distance while he tried to get ahold of himself?
It would make sense. Harry thought before shaking his head in self-reproach. And here I said that Hermione was the one forcing herself into people’s lives… I am no better.
Whatever Adam was dealing with, Harry knew that it would be done soon.
I’ve my own mystery to solve here, anyway. He looked down at the book with a sense of dread. Nicholas Flamel…
“Let’s keep going.”
Adam Clarke, same time
I kept walking, feeling Tony’s gaze on me the entire time until I finally exited the Library. The hallways blurred together into an amalgamation of dull sights and sounds, enveloping my body in a suffocating grip.
I needed to be outside. The walls felt like they were closing in again.
Not long after, I felt the freezing wind blast against my face and welcomed it with a sigh of relief. Finally; some fresh air.
I moved onto the grounds without aim or purpose, letting my feet take me wherever they pleased.
I felt the crunch of the snow beneath my boots and smiled a little. Maybe, if I closed my eyes, I could almost pretend I was somewhere else.
I snorted and continued to move forward, my smile dead in its cradle.
The past few weeks had been nothing short of miserable. The atmosphere of the Castle was growing more hostile with every passing day.
You’d think a castle which has stood for a thousand years would learn to be patient. I thought, sending a glare at the massive stone structure behind me. I’m not a miracle worker!
I huffed and took stock of my position; somewhere in the thestrals’ territory, it looked like.
I guess this is as good a place as any to stop. I thought as I sat down in the snow without a care for my clothes.
I tensed as the sensations of cold began creeping up my body, but I ignored them, forcing myself to relax instead.
Soon enough, I managed it, staring at the sky and listening to the wind blowing above.
I needed space— just enough space to think. This was the first time in the past week that I was able to get away from everyone around me.
It hadn’t taken long for them to notice.
They weren’t stupid, after all.
Everyone could tell that there was something up with me.
Luckily, my friends didn’t push the issue, and none of my enemies were stupid enough to try anything.
Now that everyone was aware of my upcoming tests, I doubted Draco and his ilk would bother me.
A shame, really— I could use a punching bag right about now.
I stared up at the sky for a long moment, losing myself in the endless blues, whites and grays above.
That was until a head poked into the edge of my vision. It was a thestral, eyeing me with curiosity.
Not just any thestral. I thought, tilting my head to get a better look. It’s the one that’s always drawn to me.
“Hey, girl.” I said as the winged beast settled beside me. Her body heat radiated over to me, making me sigh in appreciation.
I hadn’t realized how cold I’d gotten.
Old or new body, looks like I still have the same bad habits. I thought and addressed my companion. “Found me, huh?”
The thestral trilled in the affirmative as I sat up. She wrapped a leathery wing around me, making sure to keep my head out.
I reached a hand forward and stroked her silken mane, getting a pleasant rumble for my trouble.
I smiled, unable to stay upset any longer. “You just want lots of pets, huh?”
Another trill was my answer.
“As you wish.”
Minutes later, I stopped and leaned into the thestral, sighing in contentment.
I needed that, I reckoned as I felt myself relax more than I had in a long time. Any more wallowing and I might have actually started hating myself.
I lost track of the time, content to simply watch the world go by for a while.
“What are my options?” I eventually spoke into the open air, resuming the petting. “Strong blood is either a phoenix, a thunderbird or an adult dragon.”
The thestral rumbled.
“Yeah, I know. All stupidly ridiculous options.” I said, laughing slightly. “I’d get my ass beat five ways to Sunday if I tried to take on a dragon, one-on-one. That leaves me with the thunderbird, which is halfway across the planet, and… Dumbledore’s phoenix, Fawkes.”
“It’s a rigged game.” I said, sighing. “And the damned Castle is getting to be more of a nuisance with every passing day. I thought I could ignore it and just pretend nothing ever happened— that’s probably my own fault, to be honest. I made a deal, and I suppose I should honor it. What’s my word worth, otherwise?”
The thestral nudged my head with hers.
I stared into her blank, white eyes for a moment, before looking away. What was she trying to tell me?
“You think I was being stupid, too?” I guessed.
She chirped in the affirmative.
I shook my head in amusement. “Yeah. I guess I had that coming. All right, then. I have to figure out what my options are.”
“There ya are, Adam.” Hagrid’s booming voice came from a distance, interrupting my thoughts.
I blinked. “Hagrid? What are you doing here?”
The massive man produced a large, bloody sack of meat. “Feeding time. Herd’ll be comin’ for dinner, sooner or later.”
My companion’s head perked up at the smell, but she stayed in place. She seemed to be enjoying the cuddles a bit too much.
“Blimey, Adam.” Hagrid said as he emptied the majority of the sack in a nearby trough. “Seeing tha’ never ceases ter surprise me. You’ve a way with thestrals.”
I smiled and gave my friend some more pets. “Just this one, I think. I’m not sure why she likes me— I’ve never even had a pet before.”
Here, Hagrid’s face turned a little sad as he approached. He emptied the remainder of the sack beside my companion— an armful of dead rabbits. She moved her head away from me and began to tear into her meal.
“Well, she’s quite taken with yeh.” Hagrid said slowly. “You want her?”
I stiffened in shock at the offer, not having expected it— but then again, why shouldn’t I have?
“You…” I said, eyes widening. “You’re serious?”
Of course he was serious; this was Rubeus ‘I named a massive Cerberus Fluffy‘ Hagrid. Why wouldn’t he offer me something which could end my life with a kick or two?
“Aye.” Hagrid said, nodding.
“I, erm…” I said, trying to get my thoughts in order. “I don’t know…”
“Codswallop.” Hagrid said, gesturing at the two of us. “I’ve watched yeh with her, now and again. You two have a special bond, anyone can see it.”
“I…” I said, getting irritated at him pushing this on me. “I have no money— and I’m underage. How am I supposed to afford buying her? Let alone feeding and taking care of her.”
Hagrid waved it off. “She can stay with me until you can take care of her, yerself. As for buyin’ her, how’s about a job, then?”
“…” I stared up at the older man, not having expected that.
“How about it?” He pressed, smiling slightly. “It’s hard, dirty work, but you’ll be able to pay her off that way.”
And learn a metric ton of creature factoids from someone good enough to be considered for a professorship in the subject. I thought, the idea appealing to me a little more.
It was an abrupt offer, though.
He is readily offering me the chance to have a rare creature as my pet. My paranoia began to creep through the surprise. To what end?
Oh give me a break. Part of me thought back. This is Hagrid we’re talking about. When did we start viewing the kindness of others with suspicion?
When said others report to people like Dumbledore.
It was a weak point to make, but my fear of the old man seemed to strengthen it enough that it couldn’t be so readily ignored.
Funny how that worked, sometimes.
The thestral paused from her feeding to give me an annoyed nudge, as if telling me that I was taking too long to say yes.
This impatient little…
Hagrid laughed at the sight and held out his hand. “Yeh see? Even she wants you to accept it.”
I smiled slightly and extricated myself from her winged embrace. I got to my feet, brushing off what little snow remained on my clothes.
“Are you sure this won’t be an issue?” I asked just to be safe. “I know that the thestrals drag the carriages to Hogwarts. Won’t you be down one?”
Hagrid shook his head and spoke. “She’s too young for that sort of thing. It’ll be fine.”
I took a good look at her and realized I was totally unable to tell how old she was.
Maybe it’s got to do with the void inside of her? That was what had drawn us together, in the first place.
A baseless assumption. I thought. Maybe it’s just her species’ biology at play.
“All right then, Hagrid.” I said, taking the man’s outstretched hand. “I’ll take your offer.”
“That’s the spirit.” Hagrid took my hand and subjected me to a short earthquake. “What’ll yeh name her?”
I blinked, turning my gaze to my new companion, who was staring right back.
“Thestrals are misunderstood creatures, seen as doom bringers…” I mused, thinking of another creature in another universe. “I’ve got it.”
I smiled. “Your name will be Absol. How’s that, girl?”
She trilled in approval, giving me a nudge.
“Absol it is.” I said, smiling down at her before turning to Hagrid. “When do I start?”
Hours later, Ravenclaw Dorms…
“Night, Adam.” Tony said as we stood at my bedroom door.
“See you tomorrow, Tony.” I said, pausing for a moment. “And… sorry. For being a little weird these past few weeks.”
Tony shook his head with a smile, grasping my shoulder. “No need to be sorry. I know you’re probably overwhelmed with taking your exams early, and all. It’s okay.”
I swallowed and nodded. “Thank you.”
“What are friends for?” He said, giving a loud yawn as he went for his own room. “My brain’s all mush. See you tomorrow.”
“Heh. Later.” I watched the door behind him close and entered my room, doing the same.
After a quick, hot shower, I let myself fall into bed, bouncing twice before stabilizing.
“What a day.” I said as I stared up at the ceiling, ignoring the stiffness I felt and spreading my arms wide.
That’s going to hurt in the morning. I thought, smiling despite the unpleasantness of the sensation. Figured the big man would take it easy on me on my ‘first day’.
I’d ended up spending the rest of the afternoon shoveling snow.
It was sweaty, painful, tiresome and everything I needed it to be. I feel so much better now. I really needed that.
With the Castle acting like a particularly unpleasant in-law, I had been losing hold of myself.
The shoveling helped. Not only was it a convenient method for me to de-stress, but it also helped me to focus on something other than my problems.
It’s more than that. I thought. My mind is clearer than it’s been in a month. Ever since that time with the stupid mirror, I’ve not been the same.
That accursed horror’s magic hold on me was gone— that much was true— but the psychological damage it had left…
Seeing my original appearance as well as my nephew after such a long time had reopened some pretty deep wounds. It had taken those long-buried feelings and unearthed them without mercy.
I was already half-insane before all of this tumult. I smirked up at the ceiling for a moment. What am I now?
I shook my head.
“One problem at a time, Ze—” I said and stopped myself. It wouldn’t do to use an old name of mine.
My name is Clarke now. I thought. Adam Clarke. Just because I’ve seen my true self and hints of my old life doesn’t mean anything has changed. I am no longer Zero.
“Adam Clarke.” I said, nodding. “A simple name for a simple man— well, it’ll be some time before I become a man, again.”
I took a deep breath and considered the problem looming over my head.
“Strong blood.” I said. “Taken from phoenixes, thunderbirds, or adult dragons.”
That ruled out Norberta; though, to be honest, I wouldn’t have been able to extract much blood from a creature that size, anyway.
At least, not without killing it. I thought. “Where does that leave me, then? A trip to the States?”
I barked out a laugh, the sound carrying out of the slightly-ajar window and getting lost in the endless snowfall.
I shook my head. Seeking out a thunderbird was out of the question.
Even if I knew how to Apparate— which I still haven’t gotten around to learning— I would still need to find a thunderbird, take it down, extract its blood safely and get the Hell out of there before any MACUSA wizards showed their faces.
Unfeasible. I thought. Just as ridiculous as sneaking into the Headmaster’s office and attacking his phoenix without getting caught.
I shook my head. In the heat of the moment, I had actually considered that to be a good idea. I was such a moron.
No. I thought. There was only ever one option: dragon’s blood.
The substance wasn’t exactly common by the standard definition of the word; but compared to phoenixes and thunderbirds, it was.
A half-remembered passage from The Half-Blood Prince told me that it wouldn’t come cheap, either. Still… if Slughorn carried the substance with him, there was a good chance that I’d find some in Snape’s Potions stores.
A good spot to check, all things considered.
“If not, well…” I said, a dark glint entering my eyes as I slowly welcomed the embrace of sleep. “I’ll figure something else out.”
I always did.