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Stunted Flight

March 20, 1992, 9:45 AM, Hogwarts Grounds

I set my shovel down by the empty wheelbarrow and stared at my handiwork. “Finished with plenty of time to spare.”

“Y’know, Adam.” Hagrid spoke up from his position by the fire. “I could jus’ add more to yer workload, if you feel this isn’t challenging enough?”

I snorted. “Of course you could. Maybe I should start slacking off, instead. That’d give me a lighter workload, maybe.”

“You? Slack off?” Hagrid bellowed out a laugh, spilling some of the stew out on the fire and causing it to give a mighty hiss. “Tha’ll be the day.”

I chuckled along with him, taking a seat by the fire and relaxing in its warmth.

If only you knew how lax I had been in my old life. I took in the scent of the food and turned my eyes upwards to the beautiful blue sky above, sighing in contentment.

Absol joined me, as I knew she would.

I shed my cloak and set it by the fire, already feeling the heat coming off of her in waves.

“Yeh sure you want to do that?” Hagrid stopped what he was doing to ask. “Spring’s almost here, but it still is pretty cold out ‘ere, you know.”

“Between the fire and the furnace with wings behind me?” I scoffed. “Yes. I’m sure. I’ll start sweating, and that’s even worse.

“Fair enough.” Hagrid agreed and gestured at his food as well, resuming his stirring. “This’ll help keep ya warm, just in case. And—”

I felt Absol poke the top of my head with her beak, sending a needle of pain into my brain. “Ow!”

“—Watch out.” Hagrid said, shaking his head. “Yeh really should show a little more respect for your companion, Adam.”

“Oh, come on.” I turned to glare, but stopped as I saw that Absol looked annoyed. “It was a compliment.”

“You might see it that way.” Hagrid raised a finger. “But she may not. Magical Creatures don’t much enjoy being insulted, Adam.”

I sighed and turned to my winged companion. “I’m sorry, Absol.”

She shifted a little closer to snuggle up to me, but made no other gesture to show that she acknowledged it. “I suppose that’s the best I can hope for in this case.”

“Oh, yes.” Hagrid shook his head with amusement and began to shift the coals away from the cooking pot.

“Just about done.” He said and leaned back. “We’ll leave it a few minutes ter cool off a bit. Let this be a lesson for you, Adam; never, ever, eat yer food too early. You’ll burn your mouth, and let me tell you, it is not pleasant.”

“Yeah.” I winced at the very thought. “I’ve learned that one the hard way.”

“Shame.” He said. “But then you do learn things quickly, don’t yeh? Say, you wouldn’t mind helping me with… Erm…”

I stopped staring into the stew and threw the man a sidelong glance.

“What?” I asked, turning to face the large man. There was a strange look in his eyes, like he wasn’t sure what he was doing and he couldn’t get a read on me.

Is he still comparing me to Tom? I wondered. Or is it something else?

“Nevermind tha’.” Hagrid brushed it off, raising his voice in the process. “You’ve come pretty far in your studies, you know.”

“Yeah.” I acknowledged his change in subject with a shrug. “I guess I have. I just read the books and practiced.”

’Jus’ practiced’, he says. Don’t be humble now, Adam.” Hagrid laughed. “Moving up a year was already impressive, but I’ve seen yeh use spells from years higher than even tha’! Summonin’, Banishin’, Scourin’… Yeh’re far beyond a Second Year.”

“Yes.” I said, finding no reason to refute his claim. “I’ve already started on the theoretical and practical work for Third Year, too.”

Hagrid shifted in place; I could tell that there was a question playing at his lips, but he would not voice it.

“You’re asking why I didn’t keep moving up in years, if I can already perform many spells from those upper years.” I guessed.

Hagrid blinked at my conclusion, and then smiled.

“Yer a very direct boy, Adam. Did you know tha’?”

Only when I want to be. I thought, eyes darkening with roiling, negative emotion. “Yeah. It’s gotten me in lots of trouble in the past.”

“Aye, it can most certainly do tha’.” Hagrid agreed, running a meaty hand through his bushy beard. “Still, yeh should always be honest with yourself and others, regardless of what it brings.”

I looked away, remembering a line I once wrote in an old journal from my original world.

“A faithless promise and a vain commitment can only lead to ruin.” I said, feeling the words tingling in my soul; the very act of uttering them shook me, for some reason. “It is something I read in a book, once. It’s supposed to signify the downfalls of dishonesty and a lax attitude.”

Hagrid took a few moments to absorb the words as well as the implication behind them. “Aye, I can see that. A good saying to keep close to yer heart, Adam. It’ll keep yeh on the righ’ path.”

The right path. I stifled the urge to scoff. Just what even is that, anyway?

“Maybe.” I said, shifting my eyes to the burning coals, and then to the still-bubbling stew. “I think it’s ready.”

Hagrid handed me two bowls and gestured at the pot without another word. I poured him some, and then some for myself.

A few minutes later, I set my bowl down, my hunger sated.

“As delicious as always, Hagrid.”

“Thank yeh, Adam.” Hagrid brushed it off. He was really bad at taking compliments. “Anyone could do it with enough practice. You should try it, sometime.”

“Actually, Hagrid, I’ve been wondering.” I said, shifting in my position to take the stiffness I felt away. “D’you think the house elves will let me practice my cooking in the kitchens?”

“Huh.” Hagrid said, well into his fourth bowl. “I don’t rightly know. Yeh should ask them, Adam.”

“Fair enough.” I said, eyes brightening. “There’s so much I could try to make— like pizza. Haven’t had that in ages.”

“Pizza?” He said, getting a blank look in his eyes.

“Oh, come on.” I said, brows raising in surprise. “You’ve never tried it?”

I supposed it shouldn’t have come as a shock. I knew, in my mind, that wizards and witches were an insular bunch, but this was pizza, for crying out loud.

“Don’t think so.” Hagrid replied, setting his own bowl down. “What’s it like?”

“All right.” I said and prepared myself for the explanation. “So, the way to do it is…”

oooo

3:55 PM, Defense Against The Dark Arts Classroom…

“And th-that’s why a simple Knockback J-jinx will suffice against an Imp, in m-most cases.” Professor Quirrell said. “N-now, will anyone tell me what an Imp’s diet consists of? Anyone…?”

How is it that, the one time I want time to go by quickly, it moves at a snail’s pace? I thought, feeling the flood of irritation almost break through the dam. I took a breath to settle my nerves.

I didn’t know what all of the effects of my bonding with Alef Ard was, but I did know that my emotions were so much closer to the surface, now. I had them under control, for the most part, but there were times when they were almost too much to handle.

And it’s not like I’ve been bottling things up, or anything. I thought, turning my head to see Chang answering the man’s question.

“I believe they eat insects, Professor.” Cho said, her eyes landing on me for a moment before moving back to the teacher.

“That is c-correct, Miss Chang.” Quirrell smiled a brittle smile. “Three points t-to Ravenclaw.”

I shifted some of my attention back to Professor Quirrell and resumed taking notes. The other part was focused on my emotional issue. My connection with the Spirit of Hogwarts was one that I didn’t fully understand.

My best explanation would be that, much like my senses, my emotional state was equally enhanced by the process of bonding with it— him. I thought.

It made sense, after a fashion.

Alef Ard was born of the confluence of a frankly stupendous number of life and thought streams, themselves created by all the living creatures which dwell within his domain. I thought. The Headmasters, the students, the ghosts, the house elves and whatever else lives— or has ever lived— within the boundaries of his influence.

Knowing this was good. It was a most welcome relief to know that there was nothing wrong with my own emotional state— beyond the obvious, anyway.

This turmoil was, for once, not one of my own making.

Still, it was a new problem to deal with, all the same.

Cut off one head and two shall take its place, eh? I thought, giving a minute shake of the head. Amusement warred with irritation and claimed victory, washing over my body like a soothing, spring stream. I suppose I should be thankful. If I solve every last problem, then I’d have nothing left to do, wouldn’t I?

Professor Quirrell checked his pocket watch and saw that his time was almost up. “Ah, I b-believe we can stop here for t-t-today, class. No h-homework for this week.”

Everyone’s face brightened at that, and they began to pack their things. I moved to stow my supplies as well when I saw the man heading towards me.

“Mr. Clarke.” He said; the very notion of speaking to me made the man look even more nervous than before. “A w-word after class?”

I was so tempted to deny it, but we both knew it wasn’t a question.

What does he want now? I thought in annoyance, but plastered a pleasant expression onto my face. “Of course, sir.”

Quirrell moved back to his desk, pretending to be afraid of the students skirting around him.

“Bad luck, that.” Hobson said, still trying to pack his stuff together. “What do you think he wants?”

I shrugged. “No idea.”

“Did you do anything, maybe?” My fellow Second Year wondered.

“No.” I continued to put my own things back. “I’ll probably get another lecture for not paying enough attention or something.”

Hobson gave a wince and a chuckle as he shouldered his pack.

“I don’t envy you a bit, Clarke.” He said and waved before following the rest of the pack.

You don’t know how right you are. I waved back, watching him go.

It took a little more time, but the two of us were the only ones remaining. A silent wave of the wand, and Quirrell’s classroom door locked itself shut.

I moved closer to the man’s desk, watching him rifle through a few bits of paper before setting them in a drawer and turning to me.

“Have you been enjoying your new classes, Mr. Clarke?” He said.

“I suppose so.” I said. “But I would hardly call them new, anymore.”

“Ah, of course. It has been a while, after all.” Quirrell gave a little mirthless chuckle. “I’ve heard that you’ve already gone through your entire Second Year curriculum. Is it true?”

I hadn’t kept it a secret, per se, and I knew that the teachers were likely to be bragging about my talents, but the way the man said it felt ominous— like he had real confirmation, somehow.

Still, I didn’t give him a direct answer. It was possible that he was fishing for information.

“I’ve been working through things pretty quickly, I would say. What’s this about, sir?”

Quirrell gave no outward reaction, but I knew from the shift in the air that I’d probably annoyed him with that one— either him or the freak of nature growing from the back of his head.

Still, I kept my mind fixed and did not make eye contact. That it had been this long and he hadn’t caught on to my secret knowledge of his true allegiances was a miracle, to say the least.

At least, that was my assumption. It wouldn’t make sense, otherwise: he was either aware of my knowing of his… relation to Voldemort and let me live; or, he wasn’t and he was simply unable to wrest the information from my mind, for some reason.

Considering that Occlumency was essentially some souped-up version of active emotional control, then maybe the reason was that I was just good at it.

Though my emotions had been closer to the surface, of late, I could still manage them with ease. Even if I couldn’t, I knew I could focus my thoughts on one of the two things that Voldemort despised above all: the void.

After all, it had been my home for eons— or was it seconds?

Same thing, in that world. I thought. Even now, I can still barely fathom what it was that I saw on the other side.

The atmosphere lightened as Quirrell moved to stand by his desk, running his fingers over the smooth, dark surface.

“Can’t a teacher celebrate a job well done with his student?” Quirrell made grand gestures as he continued to speak. “Quite the mean feat. Rather impressive, actually.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“With that said, are you planning to take your Second Year exams early?” The man asked.

“I am not.” I said.

“Oh?” He said, tapping his index over the top of his desk. “Why is that?”

“It just seems like a waste of time.”

Quirrell tilted his head, as if he hadn’t expected such an answer.

“Explain.” He said with a pointed look.

The order grated on my nerves, but I answered anyway. “Well, getting them to scramble the examiners together must cost a fair bit of money and time.”

I moved back to one of the desks and leaned on it, realizing this wasn’t going to be a short chat.

“The second thing is.” I resumed my explanation. “I want to be sure that I’m ready for the exams. While my practicals are likely to be very good, I feel like my theoretical knowledge could use more work.”

Quirrell broke his streak of silence. “I suppose that is understandable. By the time you are ready, it would have already been late April, perhaps even May.”

“Exactly, professor.” I gave him a nod. “And then they’d have to schedule the exams, meaning that I have to wait even longer; and then I’d have to study the entire Third Year curriculum in a matter of weeks before the end of year exams.”

“I understand.” He said, raising his hand in a half-placating gesture. “I suppose that doesn’t preclude the possibility of you beginning your Third Year curriculum on your own time.”

I watched the corner of his lip quirk.

As if I hadn’t started that already. “Yes, sir.”

“I see, I see…” He trailed off for a few moments.

I pretended to find the window interesting as I grasped the wand in my pocket.

“I also suppose…” Quirrell said, catching my attention. “That you are trying to, shall we say, lay low after a certain something happened, perhaps?”

Before I even managed to answer, I was forced to duck under a flash of red. I pressed against the table and used it to twist myself around to the right, avoiding a silver curse by a hair’s breadth.

I had the distinct displeasure to see it go through six of the desks and drill into the stone floor before I had to dive to the left, away from another spell.

“You’ve gotten faster.” Quirrell complimented, as if he hadn’t just tried to murder me three times in quick succession.

I got up and pointed my wand at him without another word, my fight or flight instincts telling me to fight.

There was no way out of this situation save through the man. Had he finally figured something of my true nature out?

“Oh?” He said, surprised by my open challenge. “Very well. Let us see what you’ve truly been learning, child.”

Fuck, this is stupid. I thought, glancing over at the door for a single instant before fixing my gaze on him. I don’t know what he wants, but if he’s trying to kill me…

Alef Ard brushed up with me to share his great excitement, causing my body to react in kind.

My perception of my surroundings shifted a tad, as if everything around had gotten a little slower.

I held my wand in what I hoped to be an adequate stance. Buzz in the direction you want me to dodge.

“If you will not start—”

Fumos!” I incanted and filled the room with smoke, wasting no time. With a single wave of my wand, I sent three of the desks flying towards the man.

With another wave, another three. The room filled with the noise of wood breaking, metal snapping and scraping along the stone floor.

Alef Ard buzzed to the right and I dashed that way, a massive snake missing my neck by an inch.

I grunted and cut its head off with the Severing Charm, watching it revert to a pair of desks.

The smoke was blown out of the window by a strong wind. It revealed Quirrell, looking largely unruffled by the exchange.

He hadn’t even moved from his spot. “You didn’t think that showing would be enough, did you?”

I tensed up at the sight, anger boiling up to the surface, but I focused myself, honing it to bolster my determination, instead.

I saw the silver piercing curse coming out of Quirrell’s wand and immersed myself in the feeling of absolute strength and stoutness. “Protego.”

A wall of bright silver rose at once, and I cringed as I felt the curse begin to pierce through my defenses.

“Your shield is powerful, indeed; but it is only a matter of time, boy!” Quirrell said with a laugh, holding his free hand over his wand and maintaining the flow of his magic. “Will you yield?”

I could have given up.

It would have been the smart choice.

I didn’t; I knew what would happen to those who didn’t impress Voldemort. They were disposed of.

But that wasn’t the real reason.

Be honest with yourself. I heard Hagrid’s voice in my mind.

Fine. I thought, seeing the cracks start to form. Soon, the spell would go through and I’d be a sitting duck to whatever spell he had in store for me next. I want to win! I want to beat his fucking face in!

Filled with new resolve, I pressed my hand against the shield and concentrated.

Solid, fluid and gaseous. I grunted and began to weave the magic inside of the spell. Existing in all forms, but also as one. Everything and nothing. Day and night.

“Defense…” The Shield began to twist and compact itself into a small, yellowish-silver buckler.

The piercing curse was stopped flat, and Quirrell canceled his spell to gaze upon my new creation.

But I didn’t stop there. Bits of the buckler began to split off and converge to form two long shafts which ended with pointed tips, already twisting in place like a drill and coated with the Severing Charm.

A very small part of me marveled at the ease with which I was using this spell, but it was easily pushed aside.

“And offense!” I sent the Spear Shards flying towards him. Quirrell twisted out of the way of one and pitted his own Shield Charm against another.

He held it back for a few seconds before diving to the floor, the first spear twisting in mid-flight and trying to impale him from behind.

His Shield crumbled into nothing, and I was about to move in for the kill when Alef Ard buzzed with frantic urgency at the back of my head.

I turned and saw that I was face to face with an army of snakes, coiled and ready to snap at me before I even had the chance to think.

“Your strength has increased beyond my wildest theories, Mr. Clarke.” Professor Quirrell got back to his feet, looking a little winded and ruffled. “But you are still a few years too early to duel with the likes of experienced wizards, still.”

I turned back to the man, my eyes passing over the sheer devastation we’d wrought on our surroundings with disinterest. No, my focus was all on the enemy before me.

I glared at him.

“Come now, the fight is over.” Quirrell said, undeterred by my expression.

“You tried to kill me.”

“So I did.”

“Why?” My buckler and floating spears began to flicker with my agitation, but I stabilized the spell through concentration alone.

“I wanted to see if I was right— and besides, would you like me to coddle you like all of the other professors seem to?” Quirrell smiled his horrible smile and waved his wand. I turned to see that all of the snakes had disappeared.

Another wave, and the desks came back to their proper places, repaired and all.

“Now, if you will cancel your spell?”

I felt the excitement and adrenaline beginning to dwindle and realized that I couldn’t have kept this up for much longer, anyway.

I let go of the spell, watching my yellowish-silver creations wink out of existence.

“Very good.” Quirrell smiled, unaffected by this entire situation, and gestured towards himself. “Come.”

I kept my breaths long winded, resisting the urge to pant or show any weakness as I made my way back to the man.

I’ve been training all this time, and he’s still so far ahead… even this wasn’t enough?

He had taken my resolve and still came out on top. What was his Master capable of?

It was a humbling thought, to say the least.

Alef Ard buzzed in agreement.

Another wave of the man’s wand, and his tea set flew over, setting itself in front of him.

He took a cup and began to fill it, sending me a look. “Tea? What am I saying— you always refuse.”

This is so surreal. I thought, keeping my mouth shut. My wand was still in my right hand, ready to resume the battle at any moment.

Do relax, Mr. Clarke.” Quirrell almost looked amused. “I have already gotten the measure of you.”

He reached beyond his tea set and pulled a newspaper from the top of the small pile of homework beside it.

Without a word, he lobbed it to me. I caught it by instinct, frowning as I stared at the familiar headline.

“Horror at Diagon Alley.” I read the headline with a flat tone. “Unknown dark magic kills Auror.”

“I had my doubts, at first.” Quirrell said, taking a sip from his cup as my heart gradually stopped its loud thundering in my chest. “Dark Magic, they called it.”

“Then…”

“The Aurors came to consult me.”

I closed my eyes and counted to three. I had never considered the possibility that they would even contact the man. He was known as a joke in the school.

I put the paper back on the table, understanding what this meeting had been about.

The fight had been a test and a trap, and I’d played into his hands. 

“Truly, it was a mighty display of skill.” Quirrell said. “I have no doubt that you could defeat any other student in this school— even a few of the Aurors, if they are not prepared for your inventive style.”

But it wasn’t enough.

“This proves nothing.” I gestured at the paper and the room around us. “Just that I have studied magic harder than others. I’ve been in Hogwarts the entire time.”

Quirrell smirked, as if I had passed another test. “Very good, Mr. Clarke. You are growing more and more perceptive with every day.”

He took another sip before talking again. “However, say I decided to contact the Department of Magical Law Enforcement with information on a boy with access to a thestral and a deep knowledge of the Shield Charm…”

I narrowed my gaze as the man continued to speak. “You want to secure my allegiance through blackmail.”

“Perhaps… I would prefer to refer to it as a teacher shielding his prized pupil from the harshness of the world. In return, I may simply require your assistance, every now and again.” Professor Quirrell said with a chuckle. “Those Aurors will not care that you are a child if you’ve killed one of their own.”

He was right. Cop killers were always treated with extreme prejudice.

“What is it that you want, then?”

“For now, nothing.” Quirrell said. “I will contact you when it is time, and I expect you to come at once. Is that clear?”

“…Crystal.”

A second later, there was a knock on the door.

Quirrell blinked and checked his pocket watch. “Oh, my; how the time flies. I have an appointment with one of my students, now.”

I could take a hint.

“Very well. I’ll take my leave.” I said, Summoning my backpack and catching it with my left hand.

“Ah, don’t be so glum, Mr. Clarke!” Quirrell sent me another horrible smile, as he unlocked the door with his wand. “The future is bright— yes, very bright, indeed. Come in!”

I moved away from the man, watching as the door opened to reveal a girl from my House. I didn’t know her name, but recognized her as one of the Sixth Years.

“Ah, Ophelia.” Quirrell said. “You’re early. Come. Mr. Clarke, I’ll see you in class next week.”

“Sir.” I forced the words out and brushed past the girl, closing the door behind me.

I’ll make him wish he killed me.

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