A few hours earlier, in the morning…
Professor Quirinus Quirrell
Quirinus woke up feeling content again for the third time in a row.
He hadn’t had such good sleep in over a year. With a zest he seldom possessed, he set about his morning routine.
He showered, got dressed, and then he made some tea before taking a seat.
Lifting his cup, Quirrell took a whiff of the billowing steam, enjoying the light, grassy scent before setting it back down to cool off slightly.
He closed his eyes, almost seeing the creature latched onto the back of his head, and cast the image away with great difficulty.
He let out a shaky breath, taking hold of the cup again, this time with trembling hands.
Quirinus took another whiff of the liquid, relaxing as the smell, once again, summoned up memories of a better time in his life.
Ever since he’d been humbled and waylaid by the spirit of the Dark Lord, it had been so hard to maintain a hold of himself.
Day by day, he had felt his body continue to degrade, with his mind slipping away from his control, beaten down and gradually subsumed by the great presence attached to him.
He would look at his reflection in the mirror and see nothing but a dead man glaring back with malevolent, red eyes.
The sight never failed to make him shiver.
At least, until recently. Quirrell thought, taking a sip, his eyes turning thoughtful. Quite intriguing, the turns life takes us in, aren’t they?
He stared down at his tea, swirling the liquid for a few times before taking another sip.
His thoughts turned to the boy he’d taken under his wing.
“Adam Clarke.” Quirinus whispered, feeling the mass in the back of his head twitching.
The boy was the textbook definition of a diamond in the rough.
He’d never expected anything special from the lad, and Clarke had seemed like an above average Ravenclaw student, at first; studious and possessed of a modest amount of skill— likely gained from said studious nature.
However, Quirrell soon saw that this image was just a show. A veil to hide his true self, and it was a convincing one, too.
Clarke had played the part of the barely sociable bookworm well, hiding amongst his peers and falling beneath anyone’s notice. What the boy hadn’t realized was that playing an act such as this took a toll on a person.
Quirrell understood this; he’d been playing everyone the fool his entire life. Very few people had managed to glean past his nervous, timid exterior, to see the passionate, driven soul beneath.
Even when I was young, almost nobody noticed. Professor Quirrel frowned, taking another sip of his tea as he reminisced. Ravenclaw was supposed to be the House of Knowledge. It was where I had hoped to find like minded wizards and witches who were as interested as I was in magic.
Those had been the hopes of a child, he later learned. His peers had been a disappointment to him, shunning him at every turn— and for what? Because I was a little quieter, a little more timid than the other children?
Quirinus shook his head. It won’t do any good to dwell on the pain— only a hindrance. Besides, I’ve reached heights greater than any of those dullards could ever dream of.
Yes; Quirrell indeed understood Clarke’s path even better than the boy did, himself.
He’d seen the signs of friction between Adam and his classmates, specifically the boy, Boot. It seemed as if history was repeating right before his eyes; another child’s future would be compromised before it had the chance to be actualized.
But then, Clarke did something to surprise him; he thwarted his enemy and adapted without help from anyone.
He took the betrayal head on, and did not lose himself in the negative emotions. Instead, he put all of his focus into his studies.
Witnessing Adam’s resilience and determination to succeed had triggered something in Quirrell’s disused heart.
He saw a glimpse of the boy he had once been, and the Dark Lord’s influence had waned, for Quirrell had dared to let hope back into his heart.
Of course, the Dark Lord did not take Quirrell’s interest in the child well.
Your purpose is to bring me the Stone, not frolic with a child. The spirit had told him, in between its days of slumber.
The Dark Lord’s opinion changed, however, when Quirinus had tested the boy’s aptitude during his sham of a detention.
Staggering potential. The Dark Lord had spoken after Clarke had gone, that evening. He could be very useful to our cause.
Quirinus did not understand his master’s reasoning, for Clarke was a Mudblood.
Though he, himself, did not believe in the virtues of pureblood doctrine, Quirrell knew that Adam would never have been accepted into the new age his master wished to usher in.
Still, it was not his place to question, he thought as he continued to spend time with this boy. I barely even need to teach him. He conducts the research on his own, and would only accept the barest of hints from me.
Quirrell smiled with a certain amusement. And though he did not say it outright, Clarke always questioned my ideas, testing their limits, as well as the limits of my own patience, sometimes.
He supposed it was inevitable; after all, one could not chart the limits of magic without asking questions. And sometimes you must ask uncomfortable ones to proceed.
As a Professor, it was his duty to create a nurturing environment most conducive to his student’s progress.
That was why he’d applied for a teaching position, in the first place. He’d wanted to prevent another situation like his own from happening.
In a way, Quirrell had wanted to return the favor that Professor McGonagall had given him, so long ago.
He smiled at the thought of his colleague, feeling a surge of pride at even being able to refer to her as such.
Quirrell took another sip, remembering the first time his old Professor had insisted he call her by her first name.
And what a strange day it was. He shook his head and was about to take another sip before the fire in front of him intensified with a roar for a few seconds before going back to normal. Glancing at it, he watched as a woman’s face materialized in the coals.
It was a testament to his acting skill that he was able to affect a nervous look upon his face before he even realized there was someone there.
“Professor Quirrell?” The voice in the fire asked.
Quirrell nodded, a jerky movement that made his neck hurt. He hated doing that.
“Y-yes.” He stuttered out, setting the cup down with trembling hands. “To whom am I s-speaking?”
“This is Auror Hope O’Conner.” She said, her voice fast and low pitched. “We were hoping to have a word.”
Quirrell tensed, though his reaction could not be seen through his robes. He got up and approached the fire, looking as if it would leap out at him and scare him to death.
“Of course.” He said with a shaky breath. “How c-can I help you, Auror H-Hope?”
She stared at him for a moment, as if judging his worth, before answering. “There’s been an incident at Diagon Alley, involving a Dark spell we’ve never encountered before.”
A gleam of interest entered his eyes, but it was gone before she could notice it. “I s-see.”
“Yes.” She nodded. “The boss thought we’d ask you, of course, since you are the Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts, and could have specific knowledge relating to this spell.”
Quirrell gave a jerky nod once again, swallowing with the nervousness one would have right before their execution. “Of c-course. What did the spell d-do?”
He stifled the flare of anger at O’Conner’s now disdainful look. One day, they will all acknowledge my power. But I must be patient. My prey must remain unsuspecting.
“It was the Shield Charm.” She said, and Quirrell showed her his first genuine reaction. He blinked in surprise.
“The Shield Charm?” He said.
“Yes.” Hope said slowly, as if he were a fool. “One of our Aurors had a run in with a Dark wizard. His midsection was cut open— he died before he even made it to Saint Mungo’s, in fact. No mending spell could work on him, because we found traces of the Shield Charm in his wounds.”
Quirrell turned away from the fire, pretending as if the very news had frightened him, but his hidden expression was one of calculation. “That’s d-d-dreadful!”
“Maybe this was a waste of time.” Someone muttered in the background.
Hope turned her head away slightly, a dangerous look in her eye. “Not another word from you— not after your cockup.”
So they messed something up, eh? Quirrell thought. That they were here meant that they could not conceive of any other way to track this wizard or witch. The likeliest explanation was that they’d ruined their own crime scene.
There was a bit of tense silence before she spoke up again. “Would you happen to know anything about such a spell, Professor Quirrell?”
Quirrell hid his disdain well, swiveling to the woman in false alarm. “I b-believe so, Auror O’Conner.”
“You do?” Surprise was evident on her face, and her demeanor changed entirely. “Please, any information could help us find the killer.”
Quirrell gave another jerky nod as he almost tiptoed his way back to the fireplace. “I d-do not believe I can g-give you specifics, but Defensive M-Magic has always been a specialty of m-mine.”
Hope nodded, impatient for answers now.
“It has always b-been a theory of mine.” Quirinus started explaining. “That the barrier essence of the Shield Charm could be used in other s-spells.”
“You mean…” The Auror said, dipping her head as she considered the information. “A spell weaved into another spell?”
“Y-yes.” Quirrell said. “Though it-it would be f-foolish to try learning such m-magic. The c-consequences alone could be c-catastrophic.”
“Meaning?” Alarm dripped into the woman’s voice.
Quirinus shook his head. “It would t-take a wizard or witch of c-considerable skill and kn-knowledge to even make the attempt. T-to succeed…”
Hope nodded. “That is the general conclusion that we’ve reached as well.”
“You mis-misunderstand the g-gravity of this.” Quirrell said, his tone rising with a little more force. “One of the l-last recorded uses of a Dark, m-modified Shield Ch-Charm was by the D-D—” He stopped himself, as if afraid to speak the name. “… The Dark Lord, Grindelwald.”
A commotion erupted behind the Auror, and he saw her head turn away, disappearing from the flames for a moment before coming back.
“Your help has been appreciated, Professor Quirrell.” Auror O’Conner said, nodding with a bit more respect than she had displayed, before. “Thank you.”
“Of c-course.” He said, affecting a nervous grin, but she’d already terminated the Floo Call.
The expression fell off of his face in an instant. He shook his head in disgust at himself and at the incompetence of the Aurors. It was a wonder they’d survived his master’s initial onslaught.
“Interesting.” The voice from the back of his head spoke.
“Indeed.” Said the Professor quietly, taking his seat once again and sipping at the now-tepid tea. “The ability to modify any Charm is prodigious enough, but to use the Shield Charm in this way… There can only be one who’s responsible.”
“Clarke…” Voldemort said the name as if it were an appetizing meal. “Just what is this child’s game, I wonder?”
Quirrell felt the barest hints of concern enter his mind and shook them off like fleas.
Clarke was playing dangerous games, true, but they were his games to play. “It should not affect us, Master. He is discovering his own path in this world.”
“Indeed.” Voldemort replied. “But see to it that his pursuits do not interfere with ours.”
Quirrell nodded and got up to start his day. “Of course, Master.”
Chamber of Knowledge and Life, Present Time…
I stared at the floating woman before me. What she’d just said… It reminded me of something.
“The World Drifter.” I said, swallowing a lump in my throat. I’ve used that exact same term before— when writing a story.
I didn’t want to think about the implications.
The Grey Lady only nodded, her eyes roving over my form with unblinking intensity.
I stifled a shiver and pressed on, letting my annoyance wash away the wonder and trepidation I felt while standing here. “What do you mean by those words? Helena.”
Helena’s eyes widened with shock, and her mouth parted for a few moments before she turned angry.
Just as she was about to speak, I felt a wave of what I could only describe as a soothing series of tingles pass through me and the dead woman.
I turned to look at the crystal, watching as it shifted its color to a light blue.
None of this made any sense. There was never a mention of a crystal or a Chamber of Life and Knowledge in the books, nor in any of the five trillion spin-offs, video games, plays, and whatnot.
Just what was going on here? Was I never in canon, in the first place?
I gave a minute shake of the head. I suppose, as a series of books for kids, Rowling would never have gone into much detail. But, as an existing, fully-fledged world, it’s a completely different matter…
There would need to be something that made Hogwarts Castle so special. That made a lot more sense.
Besides. The sly voice interjected. What does it matter if it’s canon or not? Your mere existence here has already shifted things. There’s no longer any point to playing the prediction game.
As if to prove the voice’s point, Helena began to speak. “I have not heard my own name spoken in fifty years. Though, I should not be surprised that you know it, World Drifter.”
I took a breath and turned to face her again. “You keep calling me that.”
“Indeed.” Helena said, circling me. “You appear as a boy, but I can see your true self.”
“My true self?” I repeated with a swallow, unnerved by her words. “What do you mean?”
The look in her eyes turned strange as she stopped in front of me. “You are not among the…”
She searched my eyes, and I found that I could not tear them away from hers. “But you are. How?”
“You’re not making any sense, Helena.” I said, a muted niggle of irritation intermingling with curiosity. “Can you explain? In complete sentences, please.”
My use of her name snapped her out of whatever trance she was in. She frowned. “I can feel it. I can feel echoes of the other side clinging to this walking corpse you inhabit— and yet, you are also full of the spark of life. How have you done this?”
I swallowed at the way she referred to my body. A walking corpse. That’s just great.
“They called my birth a miracle.” I murmured, voice rising back to normal as I paced back and forth. “This body… it was never meant to be alive. Was it?”
“It was not, World Drifter. I can smell the stench of death on you.” Helena kept pace with me, her clear voice echoing in the Chamber. “And yet, you are alive. What I would do for another chance at that…”
“I have a name, you know.” I said, stopping and getting in her face. “I’d prefer if you used it, Helena.”
Helena floated back, eyeing me with an intense, cold sort of interest. “Adam Clarke is not your true name, and it seems only fair that you reveal yours, since you already know mine.”
I scoffed, impressed with her feisty and tenacious nature. The nerve of this one!
I found myself smiling. What a damn shame. If she were alive and I was a bit older…
“Very well.” I said with a nod. “You can call me… Zero.”
“Your true name was a number?” She said, tilting her head in confusion. Helena sent me a pitying look. “Your parents were most unkind to you. I offer sympathies.”
That got a laugh out of me, and I felt the stresses of the past hour fade for a short time.
“Zero isn’t my original, given name.” I said, laughing again. “Now, that name most certainly should stay in the past— where it belongs. But I can accept being referred to as Zero, if you are still unwilling to call me by my new name.”
It was a name I’d chosen for myself in my darkest hour, when the knife in my hand whispered sweet nothings to me in a vain attempt to soothe my tormented psyche. I shook off the ancient thoughts. Never rewind, always forward.
“Zero.” She rolled the name in her mouth. “Well met, Zero.”
I stared at her for a long moment, weighing the sincerity of her words.
“Likewise, Helena Ravenclaw.” I said, turning back to the crystal. “You called this place the Chamber of Life and Knowledge?”
“Yes.” Helena said. “The true heart of the Castle.”
I scrutinized the room, noting how the energy emanating from the crystal moved out in pulses— like a literal heart, beating as it pumps blood to all of its body’s extremities.
“Why is it here?” I said, before shaking my head. “Let me rephrase: does it have a purpose?”
“A purpose?” Helena repeated, offended at the word. “Life needs no purpose— it is an end in and of itself, Zero.”
I frowned, the strangeness of her using my name still not sitting well with me— I hadn’t been called that in so very long.
Turnabout’s fair play, I guess. I thought.
“That’s not what I meant… I’m asking who created this place, and why? More than that, how have you come to know of it?”
Helena continued to stare at me, even as she considered my questions.
“No one has.” Helena revealed. “This chamber was not created by wizard kind or any living creature— at least, not directly.”
Not directly. The words echoed in my mind. The conclusion came to me after a second’s deliberation. “It came into being on its own?”
I got a nod in return.
“I see…” I took a step and did my best to wrap my head around it all. “The Room of Requirement led us here, which means it’s linked to this place, somehow. It’s the only way to get here, correct?”
“Yes.” There was a glimmer of interest in her dark eyes. “Go on.”
“The Room functions by discerning its users’ many desires and wants…” I stopped, gaping for a second as the realization came. “Wait. Desire, that’s the key. Borne of the desires, feelings, thoughts and just a dash of soul— this place is a genius loci!”
The words hung in the air.
“Impressive.” Helena smiled at me.
“So I’m right?” I asked, feeling shocked despite the logic checking out.
It makes perfect sense. I thought, looking down as I processed the information. In fact, it would’ve been impossible not to have one appear, considering the school has been steeped in the desires and souls of young, developing students for the better part of a thousand years.
“Yes, you are.” Helena brought me back to reality.
“And you’re here because…” I thought. “The chamber cannot speak for itself aside from its limited vocabulary. You’re an emissary, of sorts.”
Her smile widened. “Your newest moniker suits you, Zero.”
I grimaced at the mention of it, my excitement hamstrung in an instant.
“The Rising Star.” I said, shaking my head. “I’m not interested in pointless titles or trophies.”
“Indeed?” Helena pressed, intrigued by my answer. “Do you not seek to be acknowledged by your peers? You are clearly blessed with talent, and a drive for success.”
“Recognition is overrated, Helena.” I said, waving her words away. “The more you try to seek it, the more miserable and hollow you end up feeling.”
“I see…” Helena said, and it almost seemed like she was going to fly away, from the look on her face.
It’s a sore topic for her. I thought. Considering how she became a ghost, I suppose I can’t really blame her for it.
“A genius loci.” I said, circling back to the previous topic. “I can’t believe there’s one here. I didn’t think those could even exist on this plane.“
That seemed to bring the woman back in, I was glad to see. “It’s only logical: magic is alive and even sentient, in a way.”
“True, but I’d never heard about anything like this from… before I came here.” I said, turning to gaze upon the crystal. “I suppose the genius loci has named itself the Chamber of Life and Knowledge?”
The crystal hummed in a low, ponderous tone.
“Yes.” Helena translated for it. “But it has said that the name has never felt right.”
I snorted with a shake of my head.
“Not surprising.” I said, addressing the crystal. “That’s not a name; that’s a description. You need a name.”
The crystal bobbed left and right, pulsating with enthusiasm.
Helena floated to my side and smiled. “It is asking you to give it one.”
“You want me to name you?” I said, incredulous. “This is no small request. Are you sure you want me to do it? I’m the one who caused you trouble, in the first place.”
The crystal bounced in midair, like it was nodding in the affirmative.
“It says it’s sure.”
“Yeah.” I gave her a wry grin. “I could tell… I need to sit to think about this.”
The stone beneath my feet rippled like water: I leapt to the side, expecting danger but relaxing when I saw that it was just a chair with a high back, made of the same black material as the room.
“Thank you.” I said and took my seat, staring at the ‘veins’ of the room.
I began to murmur names to myself, slowly leaning forward. “Heart Reach, no… too obvious. Blackheart… ridiculous. Heart of Hogwarts— Helena, how about Heart of Hogwarts?”
“I don’t like it.” She said bluntly. “It must be a name to symbolize the entity’s greatness. Heart of Hogwarts is just another description.”
The crystal pulsed with agreement.
“Right…” I said and thought about it some more. This place represented the life of the school, and considered itself a spirit of knowledge. “… How about ‘Alef Ard’? A thousand worlds to encompass the breadth of your knowledge.”
The crystal sent a strong pulse of power through its veins, connecting with my body for the barest of instants and conveying a sense of gratitude and acceptance.
“Alef Ard, it is.” I said, smiling as the magic retreated, leaving me tired and panting..
The crystal bounced around with excitement, like a child who’d received a lifetime supply of chocolate.
What a day. I thought, leaning against the chair on my right side and letting out a long, tired exhale.
Helena glided to my side, watching the crystal’s reaction with me as I slowly got my breath under control.
“What’s it like— being alive again, I mean?” She asked out of the blue.
I turned to look up at her, repressing the urge to gulp as I saw something unknown smoldering in her dark eyes.
Halls of Hogwarts, same time…
She’d lost him.
Hermione stifled a huff. He’s really good at hiding when he doesn’t want to be found.
She wasn’t even sure how he’d done it, but Adam had somehow managed to evade her notice with ease.
Had he detected her presence?
Hermione bit her lip as she turned a corner, still searching for the boy.
She stopped to stare at a peculiar portrait of a man attempting to teach a group of trolls how to dance, before shaking her head and resuming her search.
I’ve checked the sixth floor. She thought. He wasn’t there, and from the looks of it, he isn’t here, either.
Still, she continued to search… and found no sign of the boy.
This time, in the privacy of an empty classroom, she let her annoyance out with a loud groan.
“Just what is he doing?” Hermione took a deep breath and sat on a nearby desk. “He always just disappears.”
For a moment, she considered the possibility that he was Apparating, but shook her head.
No one can Apparate or Disapparate on Hogwarts Grounds! Her mind thundered with surety. He must be doing something else. Perhaps he knows of a few secret passageways. Or…
She stopped as she considered her next thought. He must have learned a spell to turn himself invisible. He’s always studying far ahead, after all.
It made sense to her. Much as it rankled her to admit, Adam Clarke was light-years ahead of her when it came to learning magic.
It was surprising, in a way.
When she’d first learned of the Wizarding World, she had been afraid of being so far behind her peers.
The other children had an eleven year head start on her, and so Hermione had hit the books with a passion her parents had not seen in years, ever since she’d set her eyes on their library.
She smiled, both in fond remembrance and a touch of amusement at the reality.
She needn’t have been afraid.
Magic is amazing. She thought, swinging her dangling legs under the table. But students are the same everywhere— not even magic can change that.
The sad truth was that people simply didn’t care to study. Most treated academics as a painful chore, even if it was magic. She supposed that those who have lived in this society did not feel the wonder that she did with every spell she was able to cast.
Hermione, however, did not take it for granted; her scores spoke for themselves— and so did Adam’s.
The Rising Star of Hogwarts. She thought, frowning as she felt a surge of jealousy, mixed in with pride and some guilt.
She knew it was wrong to feel about her friend this way, but she just couldn’t help it.
Hermione was used to being the smart one, the one people turned to for answers.
But then Clarke came. A prodigy, they called him, with talent rivaling the great wizards and witches of the age.
She remembered the day she met the boy, wincing.
And how can I not? Hermione flushed with shame at the memory. I bungled that first impression. It’s a wonder he didn’t hate me, from that day forward.
In fact, he didn’t seem to hold it against her at all, the next time they met.
Her flush deepened. That hadn’t been a good day, either— a terrible few weeks, really.
As she had feared, her classmates ended up disliking her, just like in primary school.
But Adam had approached her and offered his companionship for no reason other than to make friends with someone who shared your interests.
Hermione sniffed and wiped her eyes. Now was not the time for tears.
Prodigy, rising star— none of it mattered to her. The important part was that her friend was hurting and that she wanted to help.
Now, if only she could find him. Hermione huffed and gave up for now.
She would likely see him in the Great Hall later.
He’s going to have to come out of hiding to eat eventually.