May 9, 1992, 3:00 PM, Twins’ Meeting Place
These kids are something else. I thought as I threw a glance at the two. A moment later, I stared back down at the Marauder’s Map. The twins had not given me the activation phrase yet, and so I was forced to pretend to try and figure it out.
The two mischievous boys were quite good at the practical aspects of magic— even with my knowledge, I had still managed to underestimate them. It was astounding, really. The Weasley family was a hotbed of geniuses.
Of course, they still hadn’t been able to successfully cast the spell yet; that would have been ridiculous. It had taken me a long while to study and figure it out on my own, so I hadn’t expected them to fare any better.
They were getting pretty close, though.
They hadn’t come asking for any pointers yet, aside from basic definitions of the spell and what they should be thinking when they do it. I had considered broaching the topic of states of matter concerning magic, but figured that it was a little too much at once.
I didn’t want to fry their brains, after all.
So, instead, they allowed me to look at the Marauder’s Map under their supervision. I shrugged. Whether they saw me or not didn’t matter. If anything, this would provide further legitimacy to what I was about to do.
The plan I’d formulated was a little convoluted, I had to admit, but it was the only one I figured would work in my best interests while still achieving the main objective: freeing Sirius Black from Azkaban Prison.
I wanted to minimize the amount of questions that I would inevitably get when everything came out, and so I would have to follow my plan in a slow, methodical way.
“Slow and steady wins the race.” I muttered under my breath as I stared down the empty bit of parchment again.
“Did you say something, Clarke?” Came George’s voice from the other side of the room.
I raised my gaze to them and shook my head. “Just talking to myself.”
“Well, at least you’re not grinning like a lunatic, this time.” Fred said, smiling.
“Heh.” I said, shaking my head. “I did get a little excited on the train, didn’t I?”
“It was a little odd to see.” George admitted. “Usually the first years are beyond nervous.”
“Except us.” Fred said. “We were never afraid.”
“I’m sure.” I said with a knowing look before I stared around the room. “It all just seems so unreal to me. Sometimes I still think I’ll just wake up and realize it was all a dream.”
The two boys sent each other uncomfortable looks, not knowing what to say.
“How’s the spell going?” I decided to spare them the awkwardness of the moment.
“About as well as your inspection is, I’d wager.” Fred said, stretching a bit before making his way to me. “Got any tips?”
“Depends.” I got off of my seat and met the boy halfway. “Let’s see how far you’ve gotten.”
We went back to their practice target— an empty box of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans. That candy was something I hadn’t dared to try yet. I didn’t want to get hit with a flavor that didn’t agree with me, so I stayed away from it as far as I could.
The two boys, on the other hand, didn’t seem so opposed to it.
As targets went, however, it was a good starting point.
“Ready?” George said, keeping his eyes on the box.
“Let ‘er rip.”
George blinked and sent me a quick look before shaking his head and focusing on the empty box. A second later, he twisted his wand in a spiral and tapped it against the box’s top. “Praetexo!”
I watched as parts of the box went from white to a shade of brown, close to that of the table the box was sitting on, before the effects reverted, putting it back to normal.
“Bloody Hell.” George said and muttered a few more curses. “Why isn’t it working?”
I smiled. “Oh, it’s working.”
George pointed at the unchanged box in response. “Clearly, it isn’t.”
“But.” I raised a finger. “You made it change color, if only for a little bit, yes?”
Fred was quiet, happy to let his brother do the speaking for him, now.
“So.” I repeated, tilting my head. “That means that you’ve got the spell’s basics down. You can change something’s color to match the background around it, but you can’t visualize a proper way to make the effect cover the object and last a long while.”
George considered my words, nodding as he got a glint in his eyes. “Make the effect cover the object— like a cloak, you mean?”
“Exactly, you’re not trying to change the color of the box itself, but you’re creating a covering on top that shows the background behind it.” I explained with a pleasant smile. “If you like, I could use it on you so you’d feel and see the effects for yourself?”
George nodded and turned to stand before me. “Is there anything I have to do?”
“No.” I said, shaking my head slowly. “Just be still for a few moments and try to memorize how it feels.”
I drew my wand, nodded to the boy and tapped it atop his head. “Praetexo.”
The teen shivered as he was covered from head to toe by a film that made him blend into the background.
“All right, George?” Fred said from beside me, sounding a little worried.
“‘M fine.” George said, moving around. “This is wicked, like I’m covered by something, but also not.”
“Not quite invisible, is it?” Fred noted, sending me a pointed look.
Should change your name to Karen Weasley with how entitled you are, brat. I thought and answered.
“That’s just the first level of the Disillusionment Charm.” I said, shrugging. “I wouldn’t bother learning anything further unless you can master this first step.”
Fred said nothing in response, but I could tell that his mind was moving a mile a minute. I had the same thoughts when I made the realization, months before.
“Magic is an ever evolving skill, Fred.” I said, smiling a little as he turned to me with surprised eyes. “And it’s not just the Disillusionment Charm this applies to. Almost every spell you’ve ever learned will have levels and quirks to it. It’s just a question of finding what they are and mastering them completely.”
I waved my wand and George’s camouflage disappeared, revealing the boy once again.
“Give it a try now.” I instructed before George could say anything. “Remember that feeling and use it.”
George stared at me for a second before turning to the box of Bertie Bott’s. He closed his eyes and began to focus. A few seconds passed, and then another dozen.
He’s harnessing his willpower. I thought, feeling the tingle in the air that signified magic was roiling in the air, charging it with power. The boy’s will was rough and unfocused, but it was strong.
“What are you…” Fred tried to say but was stopped by my raised hand.
I shook my head at him, telling him not to say anything without using words.
Fred nodded and backed off. We waited for another thirty seconds before George opened his eyes once again. From this angle, it almost looked as if they glowed with energy.
“Praetexo.” The entire box disappeared from top to bottom, covered by the same film of camouflage that I’d shown the two just now.
“Heeey!” Fred cheered. “You did it, George!”
“That was well done.” I said in agreement.
But George did not answer, focused as he was on keeping the spell active. A few seconds later, the disguise faded away into nothing, returning the box to its previous appearance.
George swayed to the left and staggered into a desk, using it to hold himself up.
“George!” Fred was at his side in an instant. “What’s wrong? Are you all right?”
When the boy didn’t answer, Fred directed a glare towards me. “You didn’t say this would happen, Clarke.”
“Just breathe, George. Take deep breaths.” I said, familiar with what was going on. “This was bound to happen to one of you two, sooner or later. Keep breathing and it will get better in a minute or two.”
“What will?” Fred said in anger, and was about to continue when George pressed his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Georgie?”
“‘M fine.” George said, panting. “Feels like… training with Wood.”
“Are you sure?” Fred said, still worried as he led his brother to a chair. “Wood’s training is pretty tough.”
“Maybe… a little… less intense.” George said, a smile forming on his face despite the boy’s exhaustion. Fred found himself laughing. I stifled a wince, feeling bad for the boy. Maybe I should’ve told them about it?
A moment later, Fred turned to me, with a bit less fire in his eyes. “What was that?”
“Your brother.” I started. “Properly focused his intent and desire for the first time.”
“I don’t follow.”
“Well, you usually put a little bit of intent into your spells, right?” I said gesturing at the empty box. “Say you want to levitate your target. You use the Levitation Charm and sort-of will the box to fly.”
“Right…” Fred said, nodding.
“Well, some spells require you to focus yourself more, the more advanced they get.” I said. “And the Disillusionment Charm is highly advanced— I believe it’s Sixth Year magic? Maybe even higher.”
Hermione hasn’t cast the spell successfully yet, and she’s been at it for a good long while— at least a month. I thought. Though, in her case, it’s probably due to some mental disconnect, rather than her lack of skill.
Still, I knew it rankled the girl something fierce. I didn’t have to worry, of course; she’d master the spell in due time. That’s just what Hermione was like. She did not know the meaning of the word ‘quit’.
These two— they’ll succeed, as well. I thought, smiling a little at the two boys. “Better that he learns it here than to learn it in a bad situation, yeah? And now that he’s got it down pat, all that’s left is to build his reserves.”
Fred opened his mouth and closed it, not having anything to say to that one. George sent me a look of half-irritation and half-understanding.
“Could’ve told…” He said.
“I imagined you two would appreciate a good prank.” I sent them a smirk.
George half-chuckled, the mirth coming back into his and his brother’s eyes. “Could use… Some work.”
“But passable, I suppose.” Fred finished for him, looking towards the empty bit of parchment on the table I had been working on. “What do you want with the map, anyway?”
“I want to know what makes it tick.” I said, having practiced the line beforehand. “Maybe even make my own version of it.”
The two boy’s eyes widened at that.
“We’ve tried.” Fred said. “But I imagine you would probably have better luck with it, eh?”
“It was made by students.” I said, nodding. “I’m sure if you two keep studying, you’ll be able to figure it out quickly enough. Look at what you were just able to do with the Disillusionment Charm, George. Who knows what you’d accomplish if you really focused yourselves?”
“Yeah, yeah.” Fred said and rolled his eyes, though I saw a glimpse of what he could become flash in them for the briefest of moments. “We get it. You sound like our mother.”
I frowned for only a moment, but the two picked up on it.
“Sorry, mate.” George said, his breath coming back to him. “Fred sometimes speaks without thinking.”
“No.” I shook my head. “It’s fine. But I will say this: appreciate the family you have. Some people have no one waiting for them.”
The two boys gave uncharacteristic, solemn nods.
“You know.” Fred said, breaking the heavy air with a grin. “You’re all right, Clarke. I see why ickle Ron likes you.”
“He likes me?” I said, shaking my head. “That’s new. I always figured he just hung around to lord it over me on the chess board.”
“Oh, no doubt about that.” George said and took a short breath before getting up again. “But that’s how you can tell he likes you.”
“Is that so…?” I said as I turned towards the map. “I’ll keep it in mind. So, can I borrow the map now? I’ve kept my end of the deal.”
Fred and George stared at me for a second longer before relenting.
“How long do you want it for?” Fred asked.
“A week or two.” I said, shrugging.
“You think you can solve it in under two weeks?” George said, incredulous. “Look, you’re good, but you’re not that good!”
“You don’t even know the passphrase for it.” Fred said, just as disbelieving as his brother.
I moved to the piece of parchment and, feeling a little mischievous, tapped my wand against it. “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”
I did not turn to look at their faces, but I imagined that they were probably gaping at me.
Alef could crack this thing in ten seconds flat. I thought.
In the back of my mind, Alef Ard buzzed twice to say no, and then once.
You are astounding. I thought. You know that?
I turned to the two boys, who were still staring at me in shock. “What?”
They did not answer.
Ten Minutes Later…
I had done it. The Map was now in my possession.
A shame it took so long to acquire, but you work with what you can get, I suppose. I thought. They could have made me wait until they both mastered the spell, after all.
No. This was good. I had made some good time, I thought as I made my way through the Halls of Hogwarts with a new destination in mind.
Now that I had the Marauder’s Map, I could feel safe about going through the old records of the Daily Prophet concerning the end of the first war.
The Map itself was never particularly important. I thought as I turned a corner and was forced to dodge two Third Year Hufflepuffs who looked to be in a hurry. With Alef Ard’s help, I could make one of my own at any time. I didn’t even need to get it from them, even. Alef could do it himself— his presence, after all, encompasses the entire Castle and even the Hogwarts Grounds.
But, without the Map, I could not justify learning of Pettigrew’s existence in case the hard questions were asked. His name was not one I was privy to, after all. Apt questions would arise, concerning my hidden knowledge.
If I could, on the other hand, provide a paper trail to me finding the name in the records of the Daily Prophet, it would mitigate suspicion by a great deal. Now, I was a hundred percent sure that Dumbledore and several others would suspect that I know much more than I’m letting on— there was no doubt about it.
I shrugged. This was the path I chose. Using the shadows as my defense was only ever going to be temporary. I would have been forced into the light, sooner or later. What better way than to be exposed while doing a courageous, good act?
And having free bed and board at the thankful rich man’s place, no doubt? The sly voice said. Using your self-righteousness to conceal your hypocrisy— how amusing.
Righteousness, not self-righteousness. And, it’s okay to be both righteous and seeking an advantage. I shrugged. You’re an idiot if you think I should only subscribe to one mode of thought. Besides, getting someone in my debt isn’t a bad thing— it’s not like I’m going to go around asking him to murder people for me, is it? I just want a place to live in peace, versus the bullshit of the Orphanage.
The voice did not answer, but I frowned thinking of that place.
The Orphanage of Pity. I shook my head. I refuse to go back there. Even if all of this falls through and I get sent back, I will leave immediately. I’ll live on the streets of Diagon Alley, or even Knockturn if I really have to.
Not that it would happen, of course, but it never hurt to have backup plans to my backup plans.
With any luck, freeing Sirius would land me a new place to live and I would be able to focus my studies on the non-wanded subjects.
Maybe even get some R&R. I thought with a smile. I could go on a hiking trip or something, or maybe just walk around Diagon Alley, have a chat with Ollivander about Thestral hair.
My experiences with Absol were showing me that Thestrals, beyond being severely misunderstood creatures, also possessed telepathic abilities.
I stopped for a second and went to lean against the wall so that I could think in peace. Though I’m not sure if Absol’s recent developments are a natural part of her race, or a reaction to me specifically. As far as I can tell, I’m the only one with access to the void, other than Dumbledore and his Deathstick, and Potter with his Cloak.
Neither of them seemed to pay the Thestrals any more mind than anyone else. Maybe Absol would know something about it. She was still unable to speak in complete sentences, but at least she could use words now.
Her progress, I realized, was nothing short of astounding. But then again, she is mind-linked to me, and so is probably learning by osmosis. Like a straw slowly sucking the liquid out of a cup, with myself as the cup.
I shivered at the mental image my brain conjured up. It reminded me of a movie that would not be released for at least another five years. The brain bug… Ugh.
I shook my head and resumed my path, reaching the Library after another five minutes of walking. Passing the threshold, I made my way to the front desk.
Madam Pince stopped what she was doing and sent me a cool, but not unpleasant look. “Mr. Clarke. I assume you wish to ask for aid?”
I blinked and nodded. She seemed to be in a good mood today.
“Yes.” I said. “I was hoping the Library has a section that keeps the old copies of the Daily Prophet?”
It was Pince’s turn to blink. Her eyes narrowed with both interest and suspicion as she eyed me. “Indeed we do, Mr. Clarke. Why do you wish to read them?”
I looked away for a moment before returning my eyes to her. “I want to know more about the war that happened recently. I’m new to this world and I’m still trying to find my place in it, and it would be in bad form to ask people about this war— as I understand it, many have lost their whole families…”
Madam Pince looked at me for a second longer before nodding and moving around the table, gesturing for me to follow. “Come with me.”
And so I did, marveling at the woman’s brisk pace. No wonder it somehow feels like she can Apparate in the Library. Look at that speed!
Pince led me through a few aisles before we arrived at the corner of the Library.
“This section is generally kept under lock and key.” Madam Pince gestured at the small section. “And it holds the records of the Daily Prophet ever since the publication’s inception in 1743.”
She pulled a small key from one of her many pockets and moved to hand it to me, before snatching it out of my grasp. “It is an invaluable collection of history, Mr. Clarke. I have shown you and your friends leniency because you are, for the most part, respectful of the rules I have in place for the Library. However, if you damage these in any way…”
“I understand, Madam Pince.” I said, nodding in respect and holding my hand out. “I promise to return them in tip top condition, in the right order.”
She stared at me for another moment before pushing the key into my hands. “See that you do.”
She turned to leave before stopping halfway to address me again. “Oh, and Mr. Clarke?”
I took my eyes away from the innocuous key. “Yes, Madam Pince?”
“Ten points to Ravenclaw.” She said, sending me a little smile. “For keeping the memories alive of the many people who have sacrificed themselves for us. It is an act to be commended.”
I swallowed and nodded again, watching her leave.
Maybe Pince isn’t as bad as I thought she was. I thought.