April 25, 1992, 5:30 PM, Room of Requirement
Spin the chain in a spiral, wrap it around the target, and… I thought as I clenched my left hand into a fist, watching as the swirling chain closed on the large floating block in the air. There!
“Prey captured.” I smiled up at the block of wood and began to tow it around with the chain.
My eyes widened with pleasant surprise. Maybe I hadn’t noticed it before, but the block was much lighter than I’d expected it to be.
“This is…” I said and began to move the block around with increasing complexity. It took a few minutes until I began to feel the slightest of strain.
“Could the weight of the object be negated by the Hover Charm you used earlier?” Helena said, languishing in the sunlight and breeze coming from the open window.
I blinked and sent her a quick look of gratitude.
“That might be it.” I said and turned my attention back to the floating block. “Let’s see…”
I held onto the chain’s magic with my left hand and pointed my wand at the block. “Finite!”
I braced myself, assuming that I would need to exert more force now. But there was no change.
The small block was still held up by the chains just fine.
“Feels the same.” I said, moving it in the exact same patterns as before. “Though to be fair, this is maybe a kilogram’s worth? A little higher, perhaps.”
“And yet there is no strain on your part.”
“Barely any— It’s just as easy as using the chains without it.” I said and set the block of wood down. “Now I’m curious to see how much I can actually lift with this thing.”
And so it began. For the next few minutes, I had Alef Ard conjure up some increasingly heavy things, which I tested out.
A chair? Easy.
A table? The same result.
A hefty desk filled with books? Some strain, but I was able to move it around with some practice.
And so I pressed on until I found my match, a stone statue as tall and broad as Hagrid.
I raised it a few inches above the floor before the chains fizzled out in an impressive light show. The statue crashed with a resounding crash that shook the floor.
I backed away as fast as I could and took a deep breath to keep my body and mind centered. That had been a little too heavy for me, and too close for comfort, besides.
Dumbledore could probably lift this with ease. I thought. So can any one of the professors, no doubt.
I shrugged to myself. This was the most I could manage, and it would have to make do.
“You don’t seem pleased.” Helena said, moving away from the window to float by my side. “Then again, you never are, Zero.”
I frowned, feeling the frustration building. “I don’t know. I just thought I’d do better— that I could be…”
I did not finish my statement, but my mind filled in the blanks, anyway.
Stronger than this.
“I’ve seen many talented wizards and witches living in these halls over the centuries, Zero.” Helena got my attention again, and I turned to see the soft, warm gaze in her brown eyes. “I’ve known great wizards in my life— my mother, and the other Founders. And afterwards, I met with many others in my House, with both talent and a burning passion for magic.”
I looked away.
“Look at me.”
I was tempted to say no, but something in the way she said the words made me turn back to her.
“You may have an unfair advantage over the others with your secret knowledge, but knowing about magic is a lot more different than using it.” Helena said, her intense eyes boring into my own. “You’ve made astounding progress— faster than any wizard or witch that I’ve seen— and you’ve done it largely on your own.”
“I’ve had your help.” I argued. “And Alef’s, too.”
Alef Ard buzzed around in the corner, happy at being acknowledged by his friend.
I still hadn’t figured out why he was hanging around there.
Before I could think about the Mystery of the Corner, Helena got my attention again.
“We have assisted you, true.” Helena said, conceding the point. “But you would be a fool to devalue your own worth in the process. We may have explained a few of the processes to you, but you are the one who has adopted them— improved upon them, even. And you’ve done that all on your own.”
I opened my mouth to reply, but then closed it. There was nothing that I could say here.
Well, except one thing, really.
“You’re right.” I said. “Maybe I am being too hard on myself.”
Helena smirked and got a faux-haughty look in her eyes. “Of course I’m right. I’m of the Ravenclaw line, after all.”
I smiled back in equal amusement. “Yes, Lady Helena.”
A twinkle entered the woman’s eyes at the method of address and she reached out to caress my cheek. “Good boy.”
I felt her warm touch for a few moments before backing away a little. Helena’s smile grew at my discomfort.
I swear, if she were alive and I was a little older. I thought, glad that my puberty hadn’t kicked in yet. The things I would have done…
On second thought, maybe not having puberty sucked.
You are a very confused man. The sly voice said.
Shut up. I thought back.
“I will ‘give it a rest’, as the children say, these days.” Helena said, the twinkle of mischief staying in her eyes for a few moments before being replaced by one of curiosity. “I have been wondering, though; you spoke of secret knowledge and made mention of a man suffering in prison before.”
My mood shifted at the drastic change in subject.
“Yes.” I said, all previous thoughts vanishing from my mind as I looked down. “Sirius Black.”
“Sirius Black?” She said, getting a strange look in her eyes. “The raving murderer who was sent to Azkaban not so long ago?”
“Not so long ago? That was ten years ago, Helena.” I said, but Helena only shrugged in reply.
“I’m nearly a thousand years old, Zero.” Helena said. “I’ve come to perceive time a little differently than you would.”
I blinked and shook my head, still feeling a mote of disbelief. “I suppose that’s a good point, Helena.”
“I remember the boy from his school days. Reckless and daring— he was, therefore, quite popular with the girls.” Here, Helena’s look turned a little frosty as she lost some of her color. “Worse, he broke the heart of every young woman who would have given him the time of day. The news of his treachery had not surprised me.”
I frowned at that. “That seems a little harsh, no? Promiscuity does not lead to great acts of evil.”
Helena turned her gaze back to me.
I shook my head in realization. “Oh, right, the baron.”
“Just so.” Helena said. “Men of his kind do not care for womenfolk, at least, not in the way a woman would like to be cared for.”
“I’ll admit that Black was probably behaving immaturely and breaking many young girl’s hearts.” I said, conceding the point. “But that’s just part of life. He ended up growing up a little before he was framed for murder and the betrayal of his friends.”
That got her attention. “‘Left an innocent man to rot in prison for years’, I believe you said?”
“Then, he is innocent of his purported crimes?”
Another nod, a little shakier this time. “And I knowingly left him to rot in there for months. I could have done it sooner.”
Helena watched me for a second. “You sound like you have done something— what is it?”
I shook my head and began to gather my things together. “Nothing, yet. But I’m about to.”
“It can wait.” I shoved a few things in my backpack before heading towards the exit. “This is something that I can’t keep ignoring for a second longer.”
With gritted teeth and solemn purpose, I left the Room of Requirement, missing Helena’s look of concern. My destination: the Great Hall.
That feeling of complete certainty stayed with me until I got halfway there; by which time, my mind began to ask the uncomfortable questions.
Just what was the plan, exactly?
I stopped and moved to the side so I could think, ignoring the annoyed mutter of one of the portraits.
My mind whirled at a mile a minute, slapping together thoughts, ideas and concepts into a jumble that made no sense whatsoever. I closed my eyes and took deep breaths to center my mind.
I need to be smart about this. I thought. I can’t just go in without a plan.
I nodded to myself.
The objective is to get Sirius Black absolved. I thought. The problem is that he did not testify or even receive a trial due to his on-scene confession.
I would have called it a stupid move on his part, but I was no stranger to grief.
I remembered the first time I had felt it; the sensation was not unlike a raw nerve continually being poked, prodded, stomped and then stabbed before being set on fire for good measure.
It had blinded my perceptions and left me locked inside of my own mind; a hostage situation of my own making. I couldn’t blame Sirius for what he did. It’s what almost anyone would have done in his place.
Still, knowing this didn’t help me get the guy out of there. What could I do?
Prison break with the help of Absol? I thought and scrapped the idea in an instant. It was ridiculous and outlandish; I had never cast the Patronus Charm before, and I was sure going to need it if I were to orchestrate an Azkaban prison break.
I’d need it and a lot more.
A Dementor was considered to be one of the most frightening creatures to ever exist in the Wizarding World. They could neither be killed nor harmed by any known spell, and they fed off of people’s happiness until there was nothing left but negative experiences and emotions, which the Dementors further enhanced.
They were cold, wraith-like creatures that seemed to feed on the existence around them without ceasing— almost like an endless void.
I stopped my thought process for a moment before shaking my head and moving on. Yes, a Dementor was a powerful and nigh-invulnerable magical creature, but it was even more than that.
Dementors were able to sense the emotions of humans, so they would detect me for sure.
I considered Occlumency as a way to keep myself hidden, but I shook my head. These creatures’ very presence affected humans so much that I considered it to be nigh impossible to maintain a hold on my feelings.
Between the constant chill in the air and the negative emotions that were bound to well up as a result of their influence…
No, breaking Sirius out of there would have to be done another way.
What other way is there? I thought.
Wait… The Map!
I nodded, liking this new idea. I could use the Marauder’s Map to expose the real criminal, Pettigrew, somehow.
“Are you going to keep standing there?” The man in the portrait beside me almost growled the words out.
“Keep your knickers on.” I said and moved away, missing the man’s angry yells and retort towards my back. My mind was focused on one thing and one thing alone.
I had to get the Marauder’s Map from Fred and George. I continued walking through the halls of the castle, piecing everything together until I had something workable.
It’ll be pretty clumsy, but hopefully it won’t be questioned too hard. I thought. If anything, the fact that I am a kid may be the thing that keeps people off my back, anyway.
You know. The sly voice said as I reached the doors of the Great Hall, standing by the side to let other students pass. You can always give up on this. Let the man rot in jail. Why do you care? Is it some misplaced attachment to a character in a book you’ve read over many years ago?
I gritted my teeth. The insufferable voice was, at least in part, right.
Sirius Black had always been one of my favorite Harry Potter characters. Headstrong, loyal, and always in Harry’s corner, Sirius was a man of action; that was what had made him so entertaining to read about and see on the silver screen.
There was more to him than a performance, of course. In this world, he was real. Time and again, this world showed me that these people weren’t just characters on pages, but I still stayed stubborn and did my own thing.
I would say that I wished to keep the canon events safe so I could react to the important bits, but that ship had sailed months before. No, the reason for my lack of interference had been far more simple, and cruel: I just hadn’t felt like doing it.
No matter my attachment to these characters, I still felt that I didn’t owe them anything. After all, what had they done for me? Before I got the Hogwarts letter, they wouldn’t have noticed my existence.
I would have been just another dumb Muggle to them. But, even when I had been recognized as a wizard, I was still the no-name orphan Mudblood. True, I had raised my own standing within my House and the school through getting a year ahead in my studies, but that sort of thing didn’t mean much to me.
Scholarly achievements were not so important in the grand scheme of things. No one cared how amazing your grades were after you finished your studies— that was the truth of the matter.
In Hogwarts, it was much the same. They hailed me as some kind of prodigy, but if I stuck to the standard curriculums of the school, I would be, at best, a mediocre wizard.
The choices I make and the obstacles in my path are what make my life worth living. I thought. And I have made a choice. I don’t need to justify it to myself, or to you.
Flowery words. The sly voice replied. And what will happen when people begin to connect the dots and find you to be something they’re not willing to ally themselves with?
I closed my eyes for a moment. Then I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. Whether it survives the crossing or is destroyed is up to the world.
Nodding to myself, I entered the Great Hall and spotted my quarry halfway on the Gryffindor table.
“I feel like I’m dying.” Fred said, wincing as he sat down at his usual spot on the Gryffindor table. “Why are we doing this to ourselves, again?”
“Because it’s fun.” George shot back, joining him in both sitting and wincing. “Though, when Wood gets all mental like that…”
The two boys shuddered. Oliver Wood, Fred was convinced at this point, had to be some kind of demonic entity sent from the depths of Hell to torment them for their sins of pranking the other students.
Did that mean they would stop and repent?
Never. He felt himself smile.
“What are you smiling about, Fred?” George said, tilting his head in confusion. “Get hit in the head one too many times on the field?”
A moment later, the boy got a smack to the back of his head, courtesy of Angelina. “Be nicer to your brother.”
“Oi!” George said, turning to glare at the dark skinned girl in question. “Careful, woman! There’s treasure more valuable than a mountain of gold in between these ears!”
Fred shook his head, knowing what was about to happen.
“Oh, is there?” Angelina Johnson said, smiling down at the boy with amused eyes of black. “Felt light as air to me.”
Beside her, Katie Bell giggled and then winced before hurrying to sit down with a sigh.
“Don’t know why he even bothers…”
Fred turned his gaze with a smile to one of his good friends, Lee, and leaned over to whisper. “I’m pretty sure he likes her.”
“He hasn’t told you?” Lee grinned. “I thought you two shared everything— even read each other’s mind.”
Fred frowned but shrugged it off. He supposed he couldn’t blame people for thinking like that. There were times that he and his brother were able to play off of each other so well that it seemed like they were reading each other’s mind.
But that came from years of practice. He thought. We can’t link our minds— though that would be pretty wicked, wouldn’t it?
If he and his brother were able to pool their minds together, who knew what sort of mischief they would accomplish?
Something to look into. Hogwarts and the world wouldn’t stand a chance. Fred thought before answering his friend with a twinkle in his eye. “We don’t. What about you, hmm?”
“Me?” Lee blinked, not having expected that.
“I’ve seen you looking off a few times at the Ravenclaw table.” Fred said, smiling when Lee got that momentary look of panic in his eyes. Oh, I’ve got you now.
“Have you?” Lee gave a nervous laugh. “A lot of time on your hands, mate? Or maybe you fancy me?”
“Who is it?” Fred rolled his eyes, not at all rising to the bait.
Lee shook his head. “I’m not telling you.”
Fred shrugged, still amused at the boy’s reaction. “Suit yourself, then. Pass me the roast chicken?”
Lee did so without a word.
“Thanks.” Fred said, scooping some mashed potatoes from another plate and getting himself some gravy while he was at it.
He stared at his meal for a moment longer and felt his mouth water with anticipation. He wished to gobble his food like a parched man in a desert, but he knew that would only make him puke. So, he took it slow, one small bite at a time.
It’s just as well. Fred thought, his taste buds exploding with the rich flavor of the gravy, as well as the texture and taste of the perfect roast chicken and mash. The Hogwarts elves never do things by halves, do they?
“This is so good.” Fred said, exulting in the sensations in his mouth.
“Still not better than your mum’s cooking, I reckon.” Lee said, patting Fred on the shoulder, making it flare in pain.
“Mum can’t be beat.” George entered the conversation as he nudged his brother. Without looking to see what the boy wanted, Fred took the salt and held it up.
“Thank you, brother of mine.” George took it with a smile and added salt to his own plate— an assortment of beef and various steamed vegetables, with a side of bread and butter. “Hogwarts food is great, too. Always needs some salt, though.”
Fred rolled his eyes. If George was able to, he’d eat salt, and salt alone. He had even tried that when they were young; the results had not been pretty.
“It definitely tastes loads better when you’re hungry and exhausted, though.” Angelina said, reaching for a plate of potatoes.
There was a chorus of agreement around their section of the table, where most of their Quidditch team save Harry and the Evil Captain Overlord were sitting.
“We should stop calling it training.” Alicia said, groaning as she popped her neck. “This is more like torture.”
“You shouldn’t pop your joints, you know.” Angelina said. “It’s bad for you.”
“You think so?” Katie said, staring with a bit of dubiousness at her hands. “I pop my knuckles all the time.”
Angelina shrugged. “That’s what my mum says.”
“Maybe you’re right.”
“Maybe we should stage a revolt.” Fred said, raising his forkful of chicken high into the air. “We’ll take the Captainship away from our evil overlord and rule the team, ourselves! What do you say?”
But everyone was looking behind him.
Fred froze, a tinge of fear entering his spine. “He’s right behind me, isn’t he.”
“No.” A young, slightly familiar voice chirped. “But I am.”
Realizing that there was no threat, Fred brought the food to his mouth and turned to see a person he hadn’t been expecting.
It was the Firstie they’d met on the train— Well, I guess he’s a Second Year, now— Adam Clarke. Fred wondered what the boy was doing here.
“Adam, wasn’t it?” George said from beside him.
“You remembered.” Adam nodded and smiled in greeting.
“Just about everyone knows your name now, you know.” Lee piped up from Fred’s other side.
“I suppose you’re right.” Adam said, his sharp gaze sweeping over the group of Gryffindors before settling on the twins. “A word, you two?”
Fred shared a quick look with his brother before turning back to the boy with a nod. “Mind waiting a bit, Clarke? We’re famished.”
“Because of a session with the ‘evil overlord’, eh?” Adam said, smirking and waving it off. “Sure, I don’t mind waiting for a bit. I’ll be outside of the Great Hall.”
And then, he turned and left.
“I wonder what he wants?” Lee said.
“Don’t know.” Fred shrugged and took another bite of his chicken. “The look in his eyes, though…”
“You saw it, too?” George said in a low tone from beside him.
Fred nodded. He didn’t know the boy well enough, but from their shared time in the train, as well as the few glimpses he had of the boy— not to mention ickle Ronnikin’s mentions— Adam Clarke seemed to be more of a quiet and reserved person.
He had not expected to be approached by him like that— and not with a look so determined in his eyes. Fred began to eat a little faster, his curiosity and anticipation rising by the second.
Fred finished his plate and looked over to his twin to see how much food he had left. George, however, was already out of his chair, waiting.
“Let’s go.” Fred said and got up.
“Want me to come with you?” Lee said, but Fred and George shook their heads.
“Nah.” Fred said and looked at the others. “See you all later.”
They got a chorus of goodbyes before they made their way out of the Great Hall.
“What do you reckon he wants?” George asked, halfway there.
“Maybe it’s about Ron?” Fred wondered before shaking his head. “We’ll find out soon.”
They found the boy leaning against the wall to the side. His eyes were closed in a frown, as if he was thinking furiously.
“Clarke.” George called out as they approached, and Fred watched as the boy schooled his expression into one of cool indifference. “We’re here. What do you want?”
Adam opened his eyes and pushed off of the wall to meet them halfway. “Mind going somewhere away from prying eyes and ears?”
The two brothers shared a look between themselves. What was Clarke planning? Just what was he up to? Was this a prank?
“I’ll let you two choose the place.” The boy extended an olive branch, knowing what they were probably thinking. “I just want to have a word.”
“You’ve said that.” George said, not budging.
“Must be important to do it away from the teachers.” Fred plastered a smirk on his face. “Up to some mischief, are we?”
“You could say that.” Clarke said. “So…”
For a few moments, the three boys heard nothing but the sound of the students in the Great Hall. George nudged his brother to let him know that it was fine.
And so, Fred nodded. “Come on, then.”
Clarke nodded back. “All right.”
The two brothers led the younger boy through the halls of the Castle until they reached one of the hideaways they’d used the year before. Filch had found this one and confiscated everything, but Fred figured that it would work just fine as a meeting place.
Once inside, the two boys stared Clarke down.
“So, what’s this about?” George started, crossing his arms and looking down at the shorter boy. “What do you want?”
Clarke looked at the boy, either uncaring or unimpressed at George’s show of bravado. “I want something of yours.”
“Something of ours?” Fred asked. “What?”
Clarke stared at him for a second before answering. “The Map.”
Fred felt a chill crawl up his spine, but he forced the reply out anyway, looking like he didn’t miss a beat. “What map?”
“Yeah, mate.” George backed him up and chortled. “You want a map to the bathroom, or something?”
“Maybe he needs one for the Library.” Fred suggested with a smile. “You get lost in there a lot, Clarke?”
But Clarke did not react to their banter, as if he expected them to try and deflect his questions.
“That little map that shows everyone in the castle— the one in your possession.” Clarke said, his face still expressionless. “I want it.”
“We don’t know what you’re talking about, mate.” George said, dismissiveness and a slight bite of aggression entering his tone. He nudged Fred towards the door. “Come on, Fred.”
Adam smiled and drew his wand. A second later, the door locked with a loud click. “Now, now, there’s no need to be unreasonable.”
That was silent spellcasting. Fred was astonished at the feat, and judging by his brother’s expression, he knew that George was feeling the same way. What the bloody Hell is this kid? I thought he was only a year behind us in schooling; that’s advanced magic, even for the Sixth Years!
Still, the two boys drew their wands, as well. “What then, Clarke? You’re going to take it from us?”
“It’s two against one.” George glared.
And yet, Clarke did not step back in fear or apprehension. He stepped forward, staring at them with fire in his eyes.
Fred knew that look; he’d seen it in Wood’s eyes whenever his captain was in for a challenge. It made Fred shiver.
Between Clarke’s obvious talent at spellcasting and his total lack of fear at the prospect of a duel with two older wizards, Fred wasn’t sure if they could beat him.
Clarke surprised them again, however, by stowing his wand away. “No. I’m not going to force you to give it to me. That’s not my style.”
Fred and George shared a look before lowering their wands, keeping them at their sides in case he was lying.
“What, then?” George said, thoroughly confused.
Fred couldn’t blame him. He felt the exact same way.
“I propose a trade.” Clarke said, opening his arms in a show of peace.
“A trade?” Fred said, intrigue bleeding into his voice.
“What could you possibly have that we want?” George, ever the skeptic, asked.
“Why, knowledge, of course.” Clarke’s face gained its first expression since the meeting started; a smile.
George opened his mouth to say something, but Fred held his hand up. The twins shared another look before George inclined his head ever so slightly.
“Knowledge of what?” Fred asked, sending him an expectant look.
“How about a spell that will make you invisible?” Clarke said, moving to lean against one the tables. “Among a few other things…”
The two boys shared a look. Invisibility alone would make their pranks even more legendary than they already were.
“We’re listening…” The two boys said at the same time.