June 14, 1992, 9:00 AM, Hospital Wing, Hogwarts
I took a deep breath, and then a step forward, feeling my body protest with every move.
“You know that isn’t really necessary.” Tony said for the third time that hour.
“Yep.” I said. “I know.”
“But you’re still going to do it anyway.”
“Yep. I will.”
“You’re not even listening to anything I’m saying, are you?”
“…Yep.” I said, giving the boy an obnoxious grin. “I’m just messing with you.”
Tony glared, but the heat behind it was nowhere to be found. A second later, he started to laugh. “Well, at least you’re in good spirits. Though, do you really have to keep those burns uncovered like that?”
I stopped my walking to stare down at my right arm. “Madam Pomfrey said it was all right.”
“I know, but they don’t really look… Healed.” He said, unable to look at them for long. “At all.”
“Oh.” I said, reaching down to pat the burn-scars. “It doesn’t hurt, if that’s what you’re asking. Not anymore.”
“Oh…” Tony said, and I realized that he was referring to more than just the pain.
“That’s not what you were asking about, huh?” I said, giving him a bit of a sad smile. “The burns are never going to disappear, or so Madam Pomfrey said.”
Seeing the pained look on his face made me feel confused.
“But…” Tony said before stopping and clamming up. Beside him, all of the others looked onwards, awkward as one can be.
“It’s our fault.” Harry said, voicing what they were all thinking. “We just weren’t good enough. If we studied a little harder, practiced more…”
So that’s what this is about? I shook my head. Should’ve known Mr. Harry “I have a saving people thing” Potter and his band of monkeys would feel like this.
“If you studied more… then, what?” I cut off whatever it was they were going to say and took an aggressive step towards Harry, ignoring the pain flaring in my muscles. “You’ll have miraculously won the day? Saved the princess from the evil lord’s tower and lived happily ever after?”
Harry glared back, defiance shining in his emerald eyes. “…Maybe. You don’t know.”
“Maybe.” I repeated, shaking my head. “Maybe, perhaps, possibly, probably; don’t waste your time with maybes. Everything went to shit despite everything we did.”
“Adam!” Hermione said, scandalized at my crass language.
“Sorry.” I said, not meaning it.
I turned back to Harry, poking the side of my own head a few times. “Think about it, Harry; think! What could we have possibly accomplished with a few extra hours of studying? Did you, yourself, not see both Professors Snape and Flitwick get absolutely destroyed in that fight?”
Harry opened his mouth to argue, but then closed it and looked away. He didn’t have anything to say to that, but he grit his teeth anyway.
A tense silence began to settle into the air, but I was having none of that.
“Look.” I said, sighing as I broke the silence. I moved to the boy and raised a weak hand to place on his shoulder. “We did everything that we could. At your level, you could probably pass the Second Year Defense Exams— I should know; I took them.”
“But you—” Harry said, looking back up at me. “You did so much better…”
“But nothing.” I said, shaking my head. “I’m not you, and you aren’t me. I still can’t beat Ron at chess. Everyone’s got their strengths. You’re a very good wizard; you shouldn’t doubt yourself like this.”
“He’s right, Harry.” Ron said. “With all that’s happened, you were brilliant. You beat those other students! And you beat Quirrell.”
“I had help.”
“That doesn’t detract from your victory. We all had help.” I countered before sagging a little. “That took more out of me than I hoped. Can you help me back to bed?”
“‘Course.” Harry murmured and led me back to bed. I took a seat, relishing the sweet relief for a few seconds before I focused back on everyone. They were all staring at me with various looks.
Concern, consternation. I thought before my eyes settled on Hermione. Suspicion?
“You knew about the Stone the entire time.” Hermione said, and no one in the group reacted. Her tone wasn’t even accusatory; she was stating it as fact.
“I did.” I confirmed with a nod, seeing no reason to deny it. “If you wish to ask why—”
“No.” Hermione said, looking down. “I understand why. I wish you told us, though. Friends don’t keep each other in the dark.”
The statement hung in the air for a moment, and I knew that my next words would either break or make my friendship with all of these children.
“I don’t agree with you.” I said, shaking my head. “That secret would have killed you all; friends also don’t try to get each other killed, and no amount of extra preparation would have stopped what was coming. But keeping you away from the danger might have.”
Hermione pursed her lips, unable to refute my words, but also unwilling to concede the point.
“If you can’t accept that, and don’t want to be friends with me anymore, I’ll accept the consequences.” I continued, my mismatched eyes flaring with annoyance. “At least you’re alive to make the choice. That’s all I care about.”
Alef Ard buzzed in my mind, sending waves of concern towards me. I brushed them off, unwilling to budge on this. Hermione stared at me for a few seconds longer before turning. “Feel better soon, Adam.”
And then she left, leaving us all in an awkward silence.
“We should go with her.” Harry said, looking towards Ron who nodded.
“Yeah, that’s probably for the best.” I sighed, placing my palm against my face. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry for keeping this from you guys. I’m not…”
“It’s fine.” Harry said. “I understand; really, I do.”
And I could tell from his tone that he did, on some level. Trust was not something that came easily to me, and I was not about to trust anyone to do anything, no matter how close they were to me.
I’m truly alone now. I thought. Alzalam is no longer looking out for me, carrying part of my burden.
“But you should’ve told us.” Harry said, as if that settled the matter.
The two boys left without another word, though they did send me looks of both concern and consternation. I turned my gaze to Su and Tony.
“And you two? What do you think?” I said, feeling compelled to ask.
It was Su who answered first. “It wasn’t right that you lied to us… but I am glad you did.”
“Su?” Tony said in shock.
“We weren’t supposed to be there in the first place!” Su said, getting a little heated as tears started streaming down her face. “We could have died! Professor McGonagall almost did, and so did Adam!”
“I—” Tony hesitated. “I know, but…”
“Don’t get me wrong.” Su said, pointing her finger at me. “You’ll have to make it up to us, mister!”
I blurted out an incredulous laugh that bordered on turning into a sob, but I would never admit it to anyone. “You still want to be friends?”
Su glared before shaking her head and muttering. “Boys— all the same no matter how smart.”
“Um…” I said before the girl came over, wrapping her arms around me.
“Don’t ever worry us like that, again!” She said, and it was then that I realized how brittle her voice was. “You— you…”
I reached up with weak arms and hugged her back. “I’ll do my best. I’m happy you’re all okay.”
Like a dam being broken, the waterworks started coming out. It started with a few sniffles, and then somehow morphed into full blown bawling. My eyes widened and I turned them towards Tony, who was just smiling and shaking his head, as if to say ‘you got this one, buddy.’
I patted the poor girl’s back, taking a moment to think of what to say. “I’m really sorry, Su. I just didn’t know how I could get everything to work while keeping you all safe. I thought you’d be safer not knowing. I really did.”
But that only seemed to make the girl sob even harder. Crap.
“What he means to say…” Tony said as he approached, rolling his misty eyes. “Is that he’ll never do it again, and he’ll keep us in the loop, next time.”
“Uh…” I said, still holding the girl. “Yeah, what he said. Wait, next time?”
“Who knows, maybe we’ll have to wrestle a real-life Dragon next year.” Tony said. The boy then tried to laugh, but the lump in his throat made that hard. Instead, he sniffled and wiped the tears away, sending me a gruff look instead.
“Sure.” I said. “We’ll throw it into the dirt like real men. How about it, Su? Want to beat up a Dragon with us boys?”
“No!” She said, reaching out and snatching Tony before pulling us in a tighter group hug. “No more crazy stunts this year!”
“All right.” I said, smiling a little. “I can promise that much, at least.”
An Hour Later…
I was starting to grow concerned. Absol hadn’t responded to any of my calls since everything had gone down.
It’s been more than a day, and I’ve only been getting the sense that she’s in some kind of sleep. I thought. Did the trip traumatize her into a coma?
It was not a comforting thought. Was this the price that was exacted of her for crossing over like she had? Why hadn’t she told me?
No. I thought. I can’t think like that. I can’t assume that she’s in a coma, not until I go and see her. I just need to focus on getting better so I can do just that. Plus there’s still one more thing I have to deal with.
I stared at the spot where Tony and Su had just been. They had already gone for lunch, shooed away by Madam Pomfrey, but they promised they’d come back with candy.
My gaze went to the left, where it landed on an empty corner— or, at least, it was empty to any eyes other than mine. The thread of life twisting around something invisible there told me that someone was standing near me for at least five minutes now.
Alef Ard had confirmed as much, when I’d asked to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating.
I wasn’t sure who it was, but I adjusted my position under the sheets nevertheless, making sure that the ebony wand in my hand was ready, just in case this went south.
“So how long do you plan on standing there, watching me?” I said, giving the corner a pleasant smile. “I suggest that you show yourself, or I’ll make you.”
There was a moment of silence, and I began to tense my muscles in preparation.
“There will be no need.” Dumbledore’s voice came from the corner as the air shimmered, revealing the wizened old face of the man. “Impressive that you managed to see me, Mr. Clarke. Truly impressive.”
I didn’t say anything for a while, wondering just what his game was. “Headmaster.”
Just what would he say to me, now? Did Snape spill the beans on me, or did he take my words to heart?
Promising him that last chance… I thought. It was a gamble, but did it pay off? Did it work? How much did he tell Dumbledore? Did he even say anything?
I took a breath and did my best to get my emotions under control.
“Just how were you able to see me, I wonder?” Professor Dumbledore says. “If you’ll satisfy an old man’s curiosity.”
“Easy; you stink.” The words flew out of my mouth before I could help myself.
“Indeed?” He made a show of mock-sniffing his shoulder before turning to me with a placid smile. “I suppose I could use a bath.”
I scoffed at that. “I’ll give you a real answer if you’ll answer my own question: why were you watching me?”
“You have changed, child.” He said, not losing his smile as he gave me a nod. “You’ve grown bolder.”
“I suppose that does tend to happen when you get up close and personal with death.” I said. “It tends to make one a little more uncaring of the consequences of their words or actions.”
“And yet, these may still have consequences.”
“That sounds ominous coming from you, Headmaster.”
“I suppose it does.” The man said before shaking his head. “Then allow me to ease your mind on the matter; I am merely ensuring that you are indeed free of any further attempts from possession.”
I frowned at his words and looked to the corner he came from, where I saw a small, faint glow upon the walls. “You put a spell on the walls?”
“Oh?” Dumbledore said, following my line of sight. “Remarkable; that should be invisible to the naked eye.”
I blinked and turned my gaze to him, before raising my hand towards my right eye. “I have… been seeing things I shouldn’t.”
Dumbledore lost his smile then. “Seeing things, child?”
I nodded. “At first, I thought it was just my eye needing to heal up properly— maybe it wasn’t focusing right. But I’ve been noticing odd glows, almost like… um, I think the word is aura? Energy, maybe?”
I’m not telling him about the threads, but this much I can say.
“Aura.” Professor Dumbledore nodded, his expression thoughtful. “It is a concept which has been presented by the previous Headmaster of Mahoutokoro— Kazumi Nobitora, I believe his name is. The theory states that a wizard’s body produces an emanation of power, of sorts. Sadly, his theories have been widely considered to be false; a sham.”
I blinked at that, before looking towards the glow around the wall he’d cast.
“And yet you seem to know exactly where I have laid my spell into the walls, so who’s to say whose theory is correct?” Albus continued, his tone neither commending nor disparaging. “The world is wide and full of mysteries that we wizards have yet to even broach, let alone solve.”
I absorbed his words even as he continued to speak on his way over to the side of my bed. “Even with all that we know, there are still some things on Earth that have boggled many a talented mind. You would perhaps be well suited for that sort of life, you know.”
“You think so?”
“Of course.” Albus said. “The Department of Mysteries will always welcome diligent, inquisitive and industrious minds like your own, Mr. Clarke.”
I looked away. They’re more likely to cut open my brain to figure out my secrets, if they knew that I was a reincarnate.
Snape’s reaction was indicative enough of how loopy a person would get after such a revelation. As soon as that man had brushed up against the void, he’d been ready to kill me, right then and there. If I hadn’t dangled the possibility of speaking to the literal love of his life, then I would likely have died.
It was a sobering thought.
After everything— the blood, sweat and tears— it would have been over with a single spell.
“There is another reason I have come here.” Professor Dumbledore said.
“And that is?” I said, tightening my grip on my wand again.
“I wished to thank you.” He said.
I frowned, not having expected that. “What? Thank me?”
“Indeed.” He said. “What you’ve done, child… You have averted a great disaster. If Lord Voldemort were allowed to regain his body, I daresay it would have begun a war of such drastic proportions that… No, I should not burden you with such knowledge. You have done enough.”
“A war?” I wondered out loud. “I…”
And then I stopped. Sure, it could have turned into a massive war eventually, in a few years anyway, but the way Dumbledore was talking made it seem worse than that.
And then it hit me. “What happened when you left, sir? No one is telling me— Madam Pomfrey made it forbidden.”
Albus looked at me with a frown, before nodding. “I suppose she would. The state you were in when you came to the Hospital Wing— with your injuries… It would have been best not to agitate you any more than necessary.”
“I suppose that makes sense.” I said. “But I’ve improved, as you can tell. Madam Pomfrey even said I can leave tomorrow.”
“Indeed?” Albus said, smiling. “That is good news. It has been an ordeal for you, I am sure. Professor’s Quirrell’s actions were unforgivable, especially in regards to you. That he would stoop so low was something that none of us considered in our wildest dreams. Using children for his own ends…”
So he did buy the story Snape and I came up with, after all. I thought. I figured Severus would go against my wishes and tell the Headmaster everything. Or… Has he told him and Dumbledore is just playing along, pretending he believes the fabrication?
Severus was both somehow predictable and unpredictable when it came to things.
“However, as I have said, you and the other children have indeed averted a great disaster.” Dumbledore said, bringing my attention back to the conversation at hand. “You should feel proud. You have done very well.”
Despite my effort, I did feel my chest swelling with that emotion, and considerably so. “Thank you.”
“You are most welcome, Mr. Clarke.” Albus said as he made to leave. “May you get well soon.”
“Thank you.” I said again, watching the man exit the Hospital Wing, leaving me alone for good.
“That wasn’t so bad…” I said to no one in particular. Realization came a second later. “But he didn’t answer my questions.”
I palmed my face.
For fuck’s sake, Dumbledore. I thought, feeling annoyed, and yet I realized I was also smiling.