April 1, 1992, 2:30 PM, Room of Requirement
Coming up with a solution to my Shield Charm problem was getting to be a little bit more difficult than I had anticipated.
“Obice!” I incanted, channeling my intent and desire to materialize a thick plaque as strong and unyielding as titanium.
Instead, my wand belched out the thinnest looking sheet of energy that I had ever seen.
This doesn’t even look like it can stop a weak summer breeze, let alone any destructive spells or curses.
No sooner than I thought this, the barrier dissipated, pierced through by Helena’s hand.
I stared at her in disbelief. That feeling when a ghost can rip through your barrier.
“Obice.” She said, an amused look upon her face. “That is Latin for ‘barrier’, is it not?”
I nodded, ignoring the urge to gape at her. “You shouldn’t even be able to touch anything. How did you break through the spell?”
Helena sent me a smile; I would have described it as disturbing. “I have been feeling more… substantial, as of late.”
Oh, dear. I thought, looking away from the woman’s smoldering gaze. She isn’t thinking what I think she is, is she? Nope. Nope. Fuck no.
“Right…” I said, keeping my voice low and slow as I tried to avoid the subject. “That’s… Interesting. Anyway!”
I stowed my wand and went to my desk, doing my best to ignore the woman’s huff of frustration. I took my pen in hand and began to write, stopping for a moment as I realized nothing was happening.
I ‘tsk’ed and checked the ink. “Dry. Looks like I need to refill.”
A large pot of ink appeared beside the pages.
“Oh.” I said, smiling and drawing my wand. “Thanks, Alef.”
Alef Ard buzzed with great satisfaction. A few seconds later, I stowed my wand once more and began to write.
Fifth spell attempt with Obice has led to abject failure. It seems the more I stray from the concept of defense, the more it seems to fail. And so, I find myself at an impasse. I wrote. The conjured construct couldn’t even withstand Helena’s touch. Though she has been enhanced by the life-based energy of Alef Ard, she is still, at her core, a ghost. Immaterial, insubstantial and without any true power when concerning the realm of the living. That she was able to pierce through it with a light touch was not something I deemed even possible.
I stopped and considered the problem. My goal was to modify and improve upon the Shield Charm so that I could have my very own multi-aspect spell.
You know, you could just— The sly voice did not get far.
Shut up, you. I thought back. I’m in problem solving mode and you need to zip it.
It did not answer. Good.
I spun the pen in with deliberate slowness as I continued to ponder this problem. “So far I’ve used five different latin incantations— all as functional synonyms to the word ‘Protect’.”
I went back to my duel with Professor Quirrel, wishing I had a full view of the fight. “Can you make a pensieve, Alef?”
There was a moment’s silence before Helena relayed the spirit’s words. “He says he can, but that it’s easier to just take you back to a past moment in your mind.”
I blinked. “Sure, that works. It’ll save me the effort and trouble of figuring out how to extract my own thought streams. Is there anything I need to do?”
“Just close your eyes.” Helena said. “Alef Ard will take it from there.”
Seems simple enough. I thought and closed my eyes. I only had to wait for a single moment before I felt a slight tug on my mind. I let myself be pulled along, wondering if this sensation was anything like what it felt to use a Portkey.
One by one, my senses escaped me, and I felt myself panicking at the jarring loss. This almost felt like being in the void, again.
I stayed this way for a few seconds longer before my surroundings burst with light. I watched as the glow of the explosion lessened, revealing long, wiggling and writhing strands of pure, white light.
Is that you, Alef? I wanted to say, but realized that I had no mouth in this strange plane. A moment later, I felt myself drop onto the pitch black floor and realized that I had a body again.
“Thanks.” I said. “It was getting a little eerie not having access to my five senses.”
The strands wiggled in a way that suggested that Alef Ard was amused with me.
“Yeah, yeah, laugh it up.” I said, smiling a little. “I’ll get my revenge. Just you wait and see.”
The strands whipped away from me in mock dismissal, before coming back and circling me with affection.
“Heh, that tickles.” I said, feeling the genius loci’s light touch before focusing my will. “Come, Let’s go see my old memory of the fight with Quirrell.”
In an instant, the empty world shifted and shimmered, the massive stretches of black turning into the familiar background of the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom.
This is an insane level of detail. I thought, staring at my surroundings.
My past self stood before Professor Quirrell, moments before the man had launched his initial salvo of spells.
Even after all I had seen, after everything I had been able to accomplish in the few months I’ve been attending Hogwarts, I still found myself amazed by just what the magic of this world could accomplish. “Is this all taken from my own mind, or are you filling in the blanks?”
One of the strands approached me, tapping my hand once to signify that it was the first answer.
“This is incredible.” I said, walking a circle around myself and Quirrell.
I stopped behind the Professor, staring at his turban. “I wonder… Can you show me what’s under there?”
I knew what was under the strips of garlic infused cloth, of course, but my curiosity overrode my need to improve my spells— at least for the time being.
The turban disappeared, revealing Voldemort’s ugly visage growing out of the back of Quirrell’s head. Its sightless red eyes were open, glaring with such malevolent purpose that it took me aback.
It looks a lot more frightening than it did in the movies. I thought. Do they share the same brain? How the hell does this work? How does Quirrell even manage to function in this state? No wonder he needed to constantly feed on unicorn’s blood by the end of the year, if this is the thing growing in the back of his head.
I stared at Voldemort’s demonic face for a few seconds longer before nodding to myself. Hagrid’s words of staying true to my path rang in the pseudo-world we stood in.
“I may not know what my path truly is.” I said as I moved back to a good vantage position so I could watch the fight properly. “But I know I’m not going to make this moron’s mistakes. Just look at him…”
Part of me felt bad for Quirrell for having to deal with this crap. He was just a guy who wanted people to acknowledge him, and it just so happened that one of the few people who would give him even a sliver of attention was a megalomaniac.
It was crazy how these things played out, sometimes.
Still, I didn’t pity him enough to pull my punches. If I had, I probably would have died, that night— or at the very least, would have my mind subsumed.
I took a breath and forced myself to focus on the matter at hand. “One thing at a time. Alef, let’s start.”
The lightshow began, and I watched myself get schooled by the man who seemed to be treating this fight like a walk in the park rather than the honest attempt at murder that it was.
“Can you slow the passage of time in this memory down by around half? Maybe a quarter.” I murmured. “I want to be able to analyze the events as they occur.”
I watched as Quirrell went in slowmotion and nodded with gratitude. “Thank you, Alef.”
I’m not sure if he’s not taking me seriously or if this is just his dueling style. I thought as I kept my eye on the man, noting the surprise on his face. Probably the first answer, then.
And why wouldn’t he have been surprised? Watching my past self dodge his moves at around the same instant he made them looked nothing short of marvelous.
It was incredible; I hadn’t even realized that I could seem so imposing.
As impressive as that showing was, I focused on the reason why I was here. I watched as my past self threw a shield up to stop Quirrell’s piercing curse.
I watched as it began to fall, and I watched as my past self put it back together and evolved it into something more.
“Offense and defense, huh?” I repeated the words of past-Clarke. “Maybe it really is that simple?”
I pondered the concept as I watched the remainder of the battle, as well as the conversation that followed with a distracted gaze. Soon after, I found myself in the Room of Requirement, once again.
“It makes sense.” I said aloud.
“Oh, you’re back.” Helena said, gliding over to me again. “What makes sense? I’m afraid I missed your little mental adventure.”
“The way you said that makes me out to be some kind of basket case.” I said, scoffing in amusement. “Who knows, maybe I’m actually hallucinating this entire universe up, and in reality, I’m just laying sideways in a white, padded room in a mental asylum. Just hooked up to a battery of drugs that keep me drooling on the floor twenty-four-seven.”
Helena stared at me for a moment, as if she couldn’t figure me out.
“That is certainly… imaginative.” She ended up saying, in the end. Her eyes glittered with a morbid curiosity. “I would be interested to see one of these mental asylums of yours, Zero.”
“You really don’t want to.” I said, wincing. “You really, really don’t want to. Awful places to be.”
“You speak as if you’ve been to one.” Helena said, her tone leading.
“No.” I shook my head. “I haven’t. But I’ve read enough witness accounts to know to be extremely wary of them.”
Just as I turned away to try and figure out an adequate word to use as an incantation, Helena spoke again.
“You would likely fit right in, Zero.”
I stopped and turned back to her. “Was that a joke?”
Helena only smirked in response.
“You are something else.” I said, impressed. “Didn’t think you had it in you.”
“You’ll come to learn that I am full of surprises, Zero.” Helena said, sending me another smoldering look.
Easy, now. I thought, taking a deep breath. I’m still not sure whether to be flattered or creeped out that she’s showing this sort of interest in me.
I shook my head again. “I need to stop getting distracted and figure out a proper word to use to imply that I’m attacking and defending.”
“A counter strike, then?” Helena suggested. “You would be defending yourself and attacking at the same time.”
I nodded, liking where she was going with this. “A counter move, yes, yes… A riposte; parrying your opponent’s move and attacking in the same series of motions.”
“Riposte, eh?” Helena said, raising an insubstantial hand to graze her chin. “How about… Odgovor?”
I blinked. “Odgovor?”
“Um…” I racked my brain trying to figure out what it meant, but drew a blank. “Does it mean anything? It sounds Russian.”
“It’s Croatian for the word ‘riposte’.” Helena said, smiling at my incredulous look. “I’ve been a ghost for centuries, Zero. I’ve looked through a book, or two.”
I opened and closed my mouth, trying to work out the logistics of how a ghost would go about learning Croatian from books that they could not physically interact with.
“Wait.” I said. “Looked through a book, have you?”
Helena smiled again, floating closer to me. “You’re smart. This is why I like you, you know.”
I got up from the chair, in part to avoid her ethereal, cold touch, and in part because I was intrigued by this new word and was ready to test it out. “Odgovor. It sounds aggressive— nasty even, but also stalwart and unyielding.”
“I think I can definitely work with this.” I said, sending the ancient woman a grateful nod. “Thank you, Helena.”
“You are most welcome, Zero.” She said. “Let us see if this will work.”
I repeated the word over and over in my head, tying it together with the understanding of what I desired my spell would be: a constant, simultaneous instance of offense and defense.
“Neither fully a sword, nor a shield.” I spoke, closing my eyes as I brought my wand to bear. “But stronger than both.”
Feeling everything click into place, I opened my eyes and mimed the movement of a riposte. “Odgovor!”
I felt the rush of power flow into the wand, bursting forth and circling me for a few moments before taking a form I had not expected.
“What the…” I turned and stared at the floating chains of faded, light gray. “That… was not what I expected to conjure up.”
“Intriguing.” Helena said, moving to float beside me. “This is very intriguing. You consider chains to be an effective weapon?”
I said nothing for a moment, too caught up in my examination to notice what she’d said. It was when I felt her cold touch against my cheek that I finally came back to reality.
“Woah!” I said and jumped, watching as the chain swung downwards without any input from me, going right through her and crashing into the stone floor, sending bits and pieces of stone flying everywhere. “Don’t scare me like that.”
“You weren’t listening, Adam.” She glared.
I took a calming breath and reined my chain back in with a good deal of effort. “What were you saying?”
“I asked you if you considered chains to be effective in combat.”
A few old memories came to the forefront of my mind. “If I were handling them myself, then probably not.”
I twisted my wand in a spiral, watching as the chain followed my movement, shooting forward to wrap around my workbench. “But, if I’m controlling them with my mind…”
“I see what you mean.” Helena said. “But such concentration is bound to wear on you.”
I pulled the chain back and let it swirl around me, once again. Upon much closer inspection, I noticed that the construct had become a little more insubstantial.
“You might be right.” I said, trying to twist and turn the spell around with my willpower alone. It winked out of existence within half of a minute. “Scratch that, you’re definitely right.”
“A truly interesting spell.” Helena said. “A shame it was so short lived.”
“Agreed.” I said, taking a deep breath. “But I know exactly what it is I must do to master it.”
“Practice, I would assume.” Helena said.
I nodded before speaking again. “Yes, but that goes without saying. This will take a little more than just practice.”
“Alef.” I called out to the spirit of knowledge. “Can you fill this room with chains moving in both simple and complicated patterns? Just remember to either suppress the noise or create them out of something that isn’t metal. I just need to see them.”
A happy buzz later, and the Room did just that. I watched as my surroundings and the very air around me twisted and writhed until it morphed into a veritable sea of chains.
Some slithered and coiled through the air like snakes. Others twirled in spirals impossible for any living creature to maintain for longer than five seconds.
I felt a nudge from underneath my feet and smiled before taking a seat on the comfortable chair that Alef had made for me. “Thank you, my friend.”
“Now what?” Helena whispered behind my left ear.
“Now.” I said, still mesmerized and amazed by the intricate show that Alef Ard was putting on for me— no human could hope to compare with his sheer latent mental ability. “Now I just watch until I can burn this into memory.”
If Alef Ard somehow ever managed to learn how to leave the boundaries of his domain, I doubted that anyone in this world stood much of a chance, should he have decided he didn’t like them.
It was both a frightening and exhilarating thought.
The chains continued to wriggle and writhe, regardless of my thoughts.
Some time later, in the halls of Hogwarts…
I rubbed the bridge of my nose as I made my way to the Library.
I’m going to be running a little late, it seems. I thought, quickening my steps and stifling the urge to curse. I shouldn’t have let myself get so caught up in what I was doing.
It wasn’t even like I was doing much, anyway— staring at floating chains for the better part of two hours wasn’t something I counted as work. It had been so easy to just lose myself in the swirls, twists, spirals and twirls.
Watching them had rekindled my old love for artsy patterns; whether it was visual illusions, crop circles or anything in between, I found myself enjoying it.
Still, I needed to manage myself a little better than this. True, it wasn’t the end of the world if I was a few minutes late, but I felt that I would have let myself down if I kept this behavior up.
Only you could simultaneously wave off the consequences of your failure while also insisting that it’s important to not fail. The sly voice said to me, and I had the sense that it was shaking its nonexistent head in bafflement.
Listen here, you— was as far as I got before I turned a corner and found none other than the boy wonder of Slytherin standing in my path.
Seems like you’re really going to be late, now. The sly voice continued. At least you have an excuse to throw at the kids, now.
“Draco.” I stopped and greeted the boy. “Good afternoon.”
“Afternoon.” The boy greeted with a slow nod, though his eyes darted to his surroundings, as though he was afraid to be caught out by anyone from his House. “A word?”
“Sure.” I said and nudged my head to the left. “Come on, I know a place.”
I led the boy through a few corridors and passages until we reached the classroom in which Mira and I used for practice. “In here.”
“What is this place?” Draco asked, sounding a little wary.
“It’s just a classroom.” I said, rolling my eyes and going inside before he could say anything. “Are you coming or not?”
Draco followed without another word, closing the door behind him.
“Lock it, will you?” I said. “Not many people pass by this spot, but you can’t be too careful. Who knows which fourth or fifth years decide it’s a good idea to try to snog here.”
Malfoy made a face. “That wouldn’t happen.”
“Happened last week, actually.” I said, but realized that he felt unsafe enough as it was. “But, do as you please. You wanted to talk to me?”
Draco stared at me for a second longer before pointing his wand at the door and muttering. “Colloportus.”
I whistled. “Not bad. You’ve been practicing, then?”
The boy only nodded in reply but said nothing. He seemed to be giving his words some very careful consideration.
Just as I was about to comment on it, the boy began to speak.
“I’ve thought about what you said.” Draco said, his gray eyes avoiding my own. “When we met last.”
“The last time we met?” I repeated, eyebrows raised with a certain incredulous amusement. “…That was two months ago.”
Draco glared and made to leave. “Forget it.”
Yeesh, he’s a little fragile, isn’t he? I thought and decided to throw the kid a bone.
“Woah, woah.” I said, moving in front of him and raising my hands to show that I meant him no harm. “Hold on there, I’m not making fun of you. I was just surprised, that’s all.”
“Do you think I’m stupid?” His voice was still angry.
“No.” I shook my head. “Far from it. I assumed that you just apologized to me to fix your standing with a possible future rival.”
That took the wind out of his sails.
“What?” Draco said.
“I mean…” I lowered my hands and sent him a knowing look. “While standing for what you believe in is important, it’s also important not to make enemies if you don’t really need to, right?”
Draco nodded. “It pays to have allies in the right places, yes.”
He sounds like he’s quoting Malfoy senior. Old man would be proud, I reckon. I thought with no small degree of amusement. Too bad the kid’s father is a major dirtbag.
I did not look forward to having to deal with that guy, or his little band of followers for that matter. Still, as they say: ‘ya gotta do what ya gotta do.’
“Anyway, I figured you were just building good relations, or at least returning them to a neutral state.” I shrugged. “I didn’t actually think you’d given my words any consideration. What is it your House likes to call me? ‘Pondscum’, or something, wasn’t it?”
To his credit, the boy winced. “I don’t agree with that.”
But you do nothing to stop it, either. I thought. Though maybe I’m being a little unfair to him; he is only eleven, after all. A child.
“That’s good to hear.” I smiled to put the kid at ease and moved to lean on one of the tables. “So, you’ve thought about what I said?”
“Yes.” Draco said. “You’ve gone against everything we’ve been taught to believe.”
“Everything you’ve been taught, eh?” I said, bringing my index to my chin. “Let me guess; something along the lines of ‘Mudbloods steal our magic and trample all over our traditions’, yes?”
Draco blinked and nodded; his face reddened, however, and he looked as if he wanted to argue.
“Peace, Draco.” I said. “I’m impressed.”
“Impressed?” He said, failing to keep himself calm. “How’s this impressive? This is pathetic. I’m—“
He stopped himself from finishing his sentence, but I figured it out well enough. I’m becoming a blood-traitor.
“You obviously remember our last conversation.” I said. “We talked about the ridiculousness of the word ‘Mudblood’. Well, I talked, and you listened.”
Draco rolled his eyes. “Yes. What of it?”
“Well…” I said, sending the boy a bit of an impish smile. “Here’s another ridiculous term for you: blood-traitor.”
Draco looked at me, shocked that I was able to read him so easily. “You…”
“It’s quite a strange thing, isn’t it? Blood-treachery; just who would you be betraying, exactly?” I said, shaking my head. “It’s a term made up to keep people like you in line.”
Draco bristled and sent me a glare. “People like me? Just what the bloody Hell do you mean by that, Clarke?”
Real scary there, champ. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. “People with questions, Draco. Smart people.”
The boy huffed and looked away.
“Look, let me try to talk this out through your own perspective.” I said, extending the boy an olive branch. “You tell me if any of what I’m saying is wrong.”
Draco turned back to me, his eyes boring holes into my skull for a long moment before he gave his consent.
“All right. So, all of your life, you were taught never to question these beliefs, right?” I said, and saw the boy nod slowly. “’Mudbloods are stealing magic’, ‘Mudbloods are without talent, wasting magic that could have been used by a Pureblood’, and so on.”
“You accept these statements as truth and never consider any alternatives.” I continued. “But then someone like me or Hermione shows up, and we end up being good at it. With me so far?”
Draco’s face soured at the mention of my friend. “Yes.”
“You tried to make sense of what was going on. You started to ask questions— at least in your own head.” I said, throwing in a bit of flattery for the boy’s fragile ego. “That’s the thing about smart people, we can figure things out on our own, without needing anyone to lead us like sheep.”
Seeing his nod, I kept going. “But then you realize that you can’t say things like that out loud. People will shun you, and you may even get labeled as a ‘blood-traitor’. You may have even felt guilty that you had any of these thoughts to begin with.”
Draco swallowed, looking anywhere but at me.
“Those feelings you have— the guilt, the fear of being caught and labeled as a traitor…” I said, approaching the boy and placing my hand on his shoulder. “That’s how society controls you, Draco. Do you control your own fate, or are you a puppet on a string, dancing to whatever tune they decide for you?”
He backed away from me, tearing his anxious gaze away from my own.
I winced. I may have come on a little too strong, there.
Oh well. I shrugged and gave the boy some space. “Sorry if that was a little intense.”
But Draco stayed quiet, not even looking in my direction.
“I’ll, uh…” I said, feeling a little awkward. “I’ll leave you to think about this for a few months. Maybe we’ll see each other again in June?”
The amused snort that came from the boy was promising. “Yeah, maybe.”
“Right.” I said, and exited the class. “See you later.”
Well, you definitely have a good excuse to throw at the group now. The sly voice said to me after I resumed my course for the Library.
Oh, shut the hell up.