April 22, 1992, 3:00 PM, Near Hagrid’s Hut
Rolling the wheelbarrow up the hill towards the greenhouses, I felt the barest hints of sweat forming on my forehead and frowned.
I didn’t feel tired, so it was obvious that I was just hot because I had put on too many layers.
You would think that having decades of experience in extremely cold climates would give me some experience in dealing with the eventual temperature shifts that happen in spring. I shook my head in both amusement and self-reproach. But I never can get it quite right, huh?
Cresting the small hill, I set the wheelbarrow down and unbuttoned the top of my shirt, feeling the trapped heat dissipate in the cool breeze. Wiping the sweat droplets from my forehead, I took the moment to stare out into the distance.
The greenhouses, standing tall and proud, shone with the afternoon sun’s rays, forcing me to squint. Spring had come to give her bounty to all of her children.
She woke the seeds lying in wait under the earth, feeding and watering them as the birds she summoned sang them songs to make them grow and bloom.
And bloom, they did. I smiled, heartened and rejuvenated by such a sight.
It would be a shame when I had to leave this place. I wished I could stay in Hogwarts forever.
Can’t you? The sly voice said in amusement. Is there anything stopping you from sneaking into the castle and hiding out there for the summer?
I considered its proposal for a few moments before shaking my head. There was no way that Dumbledore would allow it to happen.
Even if Alef Ard hid you in his domain? It pressed on, undaunted.
“I am not going to hole myself up in a room for the entirety of summer.” I shook my head. “That’s no way to live.”
What difference does it make? The voice asked. You’ll be confined to the orphanage, anyway!
I winced. The Orphanage of Pity wasn’t the most terrible place in the world, but its conditions weren’t good, either. The owners and managers did only the minimum that was required of them; it wasn’t a home for anyone living in its walls.
Those people did not care about the other kids, and so the atmosphere had always been one dominated by the workers’ polite disinterest. While it was better than them being outright abusive to the kids, being dismissed like that created its own set of problems for them. I understood why they did it, of course.
Getting attached to the children was a trap. When they eventually got adopted or grew old enough to leave, those bonds would be severed— and that sort of experience hurt. It was just easier to avoid getting attached, altogether.
Of course, that ended up with the kids becoming deprived of one of the most essential things in life: feeling you’re wanted. Though I was an adult in mind, I still felt the bite of the workers’ detached airs. I could only imagine how the real children had felt.
I shook the thoughts away and focused on my initial issue. Even if I could leave the orphanage and hide out in Hogwarts, I wasn’t sure whether my absence would go unnoticed, or not.
True, I was some no-name orphan, but I imagined that Dumbledore would start keeping some tabs on me. There was no doubt that I was, in all actuality, checking off many points on his personal list of red flags.
The old man was led in no small part by his failures; it was a trait which was likely to make him very risk-averse. Not keeping any tabs on me was a risk too great to ignore, and so I assumed that I would, at the very least, be observed at least once in the summertime.
It was also possible that the Headmaster had learned from past mistakes and decided to live and let live. It was hard to figure something like this out because I had no real proof one way or the other.
Of course, there could always be another reason for why I would not be watched.
I suppose... I thought. With Grindelwald out and about, Dumbledore will be a little busy from now on. Between him, Voldemort and Harry, I’d say the man has his hands full.
My cover of anonymity was being eroded, sure, but circumstances had favored me with the cloak of relative unimportance. As a gifted wizard without a rich pedigree, I was an oddity, to be sure; but it would not engender the feelings of suspicion and paranoia from the population.
I’d say that the only guy who could possibly be suspicious of me is Mad-Eye, but then that man is a bit of a lunatic, anyway. I thought, smiling as I took a breath and resumed my trip to the greenhouses. Who knows, maybe I can get in his good graces and have him teach me a few things, instead.
I scoffed, rolling my eyes as I got close to the usual delivery spot. That was a daydream if I’d ever heard of one. “Just focus on what you can control, Clarke.”
A few moments later, I was greeted by the sight of Professor Sprout and… Neville Longbottom?
Huh. I blinked and nodded in their direction, intending to deliver my cargo to its destination.
“Mr. Clarke!” Professor Sprout greeted me in her usual sprightly fashion. “What brings you here on this fine day?”
“Just delivering the usual fertilizer, Professor.” I gave the woman a pleasant smile, before nodding towards Neville. “Neville.”
“You—“ Neville hesitated with palpable nervousness. “You know me?”
Oh, right. I thought in realization. Confidence issues.
“Well, no.” I continued to smile as I let go of the wheelbarrow and walked up to the two. “But I have heard a lot about you from your friends.”
A moment passed before it clicked for the boy. “Oh! From Hermione and the others?”
I nodded in reply and raised my filthy hands. “I’d shake your hand, but, you know.”
That got a grin out of the boy and a laugh out of the plump witch beside him.
“Won’t be considered a good day of work unless you’re elbow deep in fertilizer!” Pomona said with amusement. She patted Neville on the shoulder, nodding down at him. “Neville here has shown a great talent when it comes to Herbology.”
I watched as the boy began to fidget, a clear sign that he was not used to being complimented by others. I frowned at the sight for a moment before schooling my face into a pleasant expression.
“Really?” I said, smiling at the boy to put him at ease. “That’s very impressive. Herbology is a pretty difficult subject.”
Pomona looked amused. “That doesn’t seem to have stopped you from passing your exams early.”
I nodded, sending Neville a conspiratory look. “Well, we geniuses have to stand out somehow; right, Neville?”
“R-right.” The boy replied, but did not seem to be enthused.
“Don’t worry, Neville.” I said, giving the kid a fervent nod. “You’ll do fine, I just know it.”
My show of confidence, more than anything else up until now, seemed to put Neville at ease.
“So, what brings you here, Mr. Clarke?” Pomona said with a pleasant smile. “Not that it isn’t a pleasure to see you, of course; but I’d been expecting Hagrid. I meant to have a word with him…”
I blinked and then smiled with a bit of nervous energy. Hagrid was over at his house, fretting over his dragon egg.
“Oh.” I said and thought of something on the spot. “I think he had something at lunch that didn’t really agree with him, so I offered to do this for him, instead.”
“Oh, my!” Professor Sprout said, a mote of concern entering her voice. “Is he all right?”
I nodded twice. “I think so. He looked like he was only a little under the weather. I reckon a hearty soup and a good night’s sleep ought to do the trick.”
“Food and rest.” Pomona said, nodding. “Be sure to tell him to head to the Hospital Wing if it gets serious, won’t you? Hagrid, he works very hard. Too hard, at times.”
“Doesn’t know when to stop.” I shared a smile with the older woman. “I’ll make sure to tell him.”
“I won’t keep you two any longer.” I said and inclined my head in respect. “Professor. Neville— it was a pleasure meeting you. We should hang out sometime, yeah?”
“I— erm—“ Neville said, unsure of how to react.
“Should I take that as a yes?” I said with a laugh. “We’d be glad to have you join us.”
A moment passed before he made up his mind.
“All right.” Neville nodded, not looking at all sure of what he was getting himself into. “I’ll come.”
“Great. I’ll tell the others.” I said and waved before going back to the wheelbarrow. “See you then!”
The two said their goodbyes as well before I went back to work.
“Now, do you see this, Neville?” Her words grew weaker and weaker as I made distance between us on my way to the fertilizer delivery spot. “You take this and then…”
Finally there. I stopped before my destination and wheeled my cargo in before upending it into the small pile. I got a strong whiff of the stuff and scrunched my nose in mild disgust.
I took the wheelbarrow again and began to make my way back to Hagrid’s, noting with idle purpose that Neville and Professor Sprout had already gone back inside one of the greenhouses.
Adding another lost child to the bunch? The sly voice said. You really are a strange one.
What do you care? I shot back. Let me guess— more of the same ‘it presents no advantage’ crap?
I was only making an observation. The voice said, its voice still as mild as before. That your answer is one of hostility and assumptions says a lot more about you than it does myself.
I stopped for a moment to sigh, before resuming.
And just what are you, anyway? I thought. Are you… the soul of the real Adam? Is that what this is?
Not a bad guess. The voice replied. It would be the logical assumption to make. Using your own soul as a template, it would have fashioned its personality off of yours in some way, but no. You are wrong. I am not the ‘real Adam’.
I frowned, but the voice continued to speak in my mind. The real Adam died in his mother’s womb when she died. You and I are what took his place.
“You…” I said, shaking my head and forcing myself to think, instead of speak. Just how much do you really know? What are you?
I don’t feel like telling you. The voice dismissed my questions away. I will only leave you with this: I am of your void, and you are of mine.
“…What the fuck is that even supposed to mean?” I blurted out, feeling confused and even annoyed.
But the voice had gone quiet.
Oh great. I gritted my teeth with anger. It’s speaking in goddamn riddles. What the hell is my void?
Why had the voice used possessives? Maybe it was just messing with me. That had to be it.
I shook the thoughts away, focusing on the sight of Hagrid’s house. I wheeled the empty cart back to its normal spot before moving away.
A wave of my wand, and I shivered as the Scouring Charm enveloped my body, giving it a thorough cleaning. I checked myself over for a moment and nodded before spotting a certain Thestral in the distance.
I smiled and called out. “Give me just a second, Absol! I’ll be right with you.”
Absol nodded and spread her wings before launching into the air. I headed to Hagrid’s front door, watching as she circled the house overhead.
I smiled at the sight, shaking off the vestiges of my previous malaise. Elegance in motion.
The door swung open before I was able to knock. Hagrid gave me a gentle push to get in quick— of course, a gentle push by half-giant terms equaled a pretty hefty shove by normal standards.
Still, I had been accustomed to the man’s strength and broke off my momentum with a few hops that probably made me look like a complete moron.
It’s a good thing that no one is watching. I thought with an amused smile. “Hagrid.”
“Clarke.” Hagrid said, heading towards the fire. “Finished yer work for the day?”
“Yeah.” I nodded, listing the completed tasks with my fingers. “Fed the herd, checked the peppers and tomatoes— they’re starting to grow pretty well, by the way. Shoveled the dung and delivered it to the greenhouses, just now.”
“Did yeh tend to the flobberworms?”
“Yes.” I said without thinking before his words caught up to me. “Wait. Can I change my answer?”
Hagrid laughed and shook his head. “I’ll take care of it in a bit, Adam.”
“All right.” I said. “If you say so. Professor Sprout asked after you at the greenhouses. I think she wanted to have a word.”
“Did she, now?” Hagrid said, running his hand through his great, big, bushy beard. “Wonder what she wanted.”
“I don’t know, but I covered for you— told her you had something that didn’t agree with you at lunch.” I said.
“Oh.” Hagrid said, before frowning at me. “Yeh didn’ need to do tha’, Adam.”
I shrugged. “Probably not; I could’ve probably just said that you wanted to check the thestrals or something. I didn’t really have time to think about it. Sorry, Hagrid.”
“S’all righ’.” Hagrid said, shaking his head. “I s’pose it couldn’t be helped.”
Atop of the man’s fire, the large pot clinked and clanked, drawing my attention. I stared at it for a few moments before the commotion stopped.
“Aye, happens from time to time.” Hagrid said, moving towards his large chair and sitting down with a sigh. “Hopin’ it means that the egg’ll hatch soon.”
“Yeah, that’s probably what it is.” I said, nodding as I went to the pot to check on the egg. It had been dark brown with a few splotches of black when I had first looked at it. Now, it was blacker than pitch.
I wondered if that’s what all dragon eggs were like, or if it was Norwegian Ridgebacks, specifically.
It would make sense if it’s all dragon eggs in general. I thought, imagining a dragon around her clutch of eggs, stoking the flames every so often with her fire breath. The fire roasting the egg until it’s essentially as black as char is symbolic in nature. It goes into the deepest essence of these creatures. As I read in another series, they are fire made flesh.
I saw the egg wiggle a couple of times before calming down again, feeling myself smile. I halfway turned to Hagrid. “Can I try something?”
“What is it?” Hagrid leaned his head in my direction as he spoke.
“I want to see if I can candle the egg.” I said.
I blinked, not having expected that reaction. Did they not have this practice in the Wizarding World?
I shrugged and answered the man’s question. “Um… It’s something the Muggles do to check on eggs. Basically, you shine a light into the egg, and you’ll be able to see what’s inside.”
“Oh?” Hagrid perked up at that. “So yeh can see the Dragon while it’s still growin’?”
“Exactly!” I smiled. “Can I try it? I’ll just use the Wand Lighting Charm; that way, the egg won’t be harmed in any way.”
“Fair enough.” Hagrid said and got up to fetch his mittens. “Egg needs some time off of the fire, anyway. Yeh’re not supposed to put it in there fer too long.”
“Makes sense.” I nodded and watched. Hagrid picked the egg up, hissing as he hurried and set it on the table. He hadn’t been gentle about it, either. “These eggs can take some punishment, can’t they? It hit the table and didn’t so much as get a scratch.”
“Aye.” Hagrid said with a nod. “Sturdy things; they’re one of the most fearsome beasts on Earth for a reason, o’ course.”
“Of course.” I repeated and drew my wand, looking at the large man for a moment. “May I?”
He nodded in reply.
“Okay.” I murmured, placing the wand’s tip against the egg. “Here goes. Lumos!”
The wand lit up with silver, sending the light into the egg.
I checked the egg for a few moments before sighing in disappointment. “Nothing. I guess—”
“I see somethin’!” Hagrid’s excited voice banished my negative feelings away. “It’s too faint, though.”
I nodded at his words. “If it’s too faint, then we’ll need a stronger light.”
I focused my intent and cast the next spell. “Lumos Maxima!”
The light from the tip of my wand intensified, shining with the power of a spotlight into the egg. And, there it was, as clear as day.
Occupying a small bit of the space within the egg, I was able to see the still-growing creature. Its wings were only half-formed, and it didn’t seem to have any spikes or scales, from what I could tell, but it was, without a doubt, a dragon.
A very small, very tiny dragon embryo.
“Blimey!” Hagrid bellowed with surprise and stared into the depths of the egg. “Yeh did it, Adam!”
The creature from within twitched for a moment before calming down.
Hagrid’s eyes widened. “It jus’ moved. Yeh think it can hear us?”
“I’m not sure…” I said, trying to remember the old articles I read from an age long past. “I think it can, but it probably is still developing its brain and ears, so it probably won’t remember its days beneath the shell aside from something in its subconscious.”
But Hagrid smiled anyway. “This is amazin’, Adam. What the Muggles can do— unbelievable. Inventive folk, aren’t they?”
“Yeah.” I nodded in agreement. “When you have no magic, I suppose you would need to get pretty resourceful, yeah?”
For a moment, I saw Hagrid’s eyes darken before he hid them under his usual expression. I suppressed a wince. The man had his wand snapped when he was just a kid, and I’d just reminded him of it.
“It’s incredible.” He said, his voice a lot more serious than it had been a second ago. He stared down into the egg. “Wizards misunderstand the Muggles, like they misunderstand a lot of things. They don’t see…”
“They can’t.” I said, looking down at the vulnerable creature within the egg. “They can’t appreciate the beauty of this. Sure, it’ll be pretty scary when it matures, but look at it now.”
“Aye.” Hagrid said and went to put on his mittens again. “Thank yeh, Adam. Seein’ the dragon in its egg, it was a beautiful thing.”
I opened my mouth to answer when the sound of thumping came from the roof.
“Blimey, what is that?”
“Oh!” I palmed my face, feeling bad all of a sudden. “It’s Absol, I told her this wouldn’t take long.”
Hagrid laughed and waved me off. “Go on, you. I’ll deal with the work later. You go on and have some fun, yeh hear?”
I smiled a little. “All right, Hagrid. Make sure to cool yourself off every now and again; not just the egg.”
“O’ course!” He said and took the egg, moving towards the roaring fire. I shook my head in amusement and exited the man’s house.
“Back in the fire you go, Norbert.” Were the last words that came from the man before I closed the door behind me.
I took a breath of the cold air, both glad and sad to be out of that heat trap. On one hand, it felt so much better being out here. On the other hand, seeing that dragon through its shell had been a beautiful, almost mesmerizing sight.
Absol landed before me, taking my attention away from my experience.
“Hey, Abso— ow!” She smacked me in the face with the edge of her wing. I flinched and stumbled back onto the stairs. “What was that for!?”
I froze at the strange noise, forgetting about the smack that Absol had just given me and looking around. “Is there anyone here?”
No answer came.
I shook my head. Absol’s smack must have knocked a screw loose, or something.
This didn’t bode well. Considering that I already had a foreign voice in my own head, and I had already been a little loopy even before I’d been reborn, I was pretty sure that extra brain damage was not something I wanted.
Then again, maybe it’ll be so bad I’ll become a normal thinking person again? Just a really big loop-around. I thought, snorting at my own humor. Maybe I should get a few extra hits in, just to be sure.
I got back to my feet and stared at Absol. She had not moved an inch after she’d slapped me. “I’m sorry I’m late. I was helping Hagrid with his egg.”
Absol seemed to consider my words for a few moments before giving me her regal nod of forgiveness.
“Thanks, girl.” I smiled, and reached into my pack before thinking better of it. “Come on, I’ve got a treat for you, but let’s find some place to relax.”
Absol gave me a nod and led me away from Hagrid’s hut. We trudged the hillsides for a while until we found ourselves in the usual spot where Hagrid and I had our stews.
I guess Absol likes this place as well. I thought and sat down at Hagrid’s campfire spot. “Maybe I should come up with a name for this place here.”
I dug out a few, large and bloody cuts of steak from my pack, watching as Absol perked right up. I watched as she threw herself into a feeding frenzy faster than any I’d witnessed from her before.
Never seen her eat so fast.
I blinked. There’s that sound again.
It was an airy voice, echoing all around me with the grace of the wind.
~Grat..tud..~ The voice said again.
I turned to Absol, who had stopped her eating to stare right at me. “What’s up with you? Wait…”
Could it be, or was I imagining it?
I swallowed and stared right into Absol’s eyes. “Say something.”
~Som…in..~ The voice replied.
“Holy shit.” I breathed. “Absol?”
My faithful companion nodded and went back to tearing her food apart. I sat there and watched her do it, too dumbfounded to react to what had just happened.