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November 21, 1991, Minutes Later
One sip of the stew, and I began devouring it like I hadn't eaten in days.
"I see yer appetite's fine— definitely a good sign, tha'." Hagrid said as he joined in the meal.
We were still sitting opposite each other in his cozy little cabin.
Maybe it was the good food, or maybe it was the man's great mood and demeanor that simply set me at ease, but the more I stayed in here, the more homey and appealing it became.
"This tastes great, Mr— I mean, Hagrid." I said, watching the man puffing his chest up in pride. I scooped some meat and potato out of the bowl and savored the gamey, starchy taste. "Rabbit, if I'm not mistaken?"
"Wild hare." Hagrid said, getting some of the stew on his beard and quickly cleaning it off. "Close enough."
"Right." I smiled slightly. "I haven't had this in a very long time."
"They take yeh out hunting— yer guardians?" There was a hint of confusion in his voice.
Right, he knows I'm an orphan, and it's not like they'd serve us rabbit on the regular. I realized and began to concoct a lie. I don't care what anyone says— Hagrid can be ridiculously perceptive.
"One of the workers—" I intentionally took in another spoonful of stew to stall and get my excuse in order. "He always talked about teaching us to survive in the wild— and took us on a few trips to the woods in the past."
The lie seemed to pass muster, as Hagrid smiled in response. "Aye. Nothin' like living off the land."
"Foraging for berries is not fun, I can tell you this much."
Here, Hagrid gave a full belly laugh just as knocks came at his front door. Hagrid looked startled for a moment before tilting his head back in realization, getting off of his massive chair and opening the door, revealing Harry Potter, alone.
I almost choked half-swallow, not having expected the boy to just show up unannounced, but I mastered myself quickly as Hagrid stood to welcome him in.
"'Arry!" The giant with the great big bushy beard said, smiling down at the diminutive boy. "Glad yeh got my invitation."
"Of course, Hagrid." Harry said he sent me a quizzical look, having finally noticed me.
A moment later, Harry started to speak. "Hagrid, maybe now is not a good time? I didn't know you had guests."
Hagrid turned to me, the look of confusion in his eyes showing he didn't really know what to say.
"I should probably go." I said, the rising awkwardness of the situation starting to get to me. "I've taken up too much of your time already."
Awkwardness is a thing I'll never truly conquer in either world, it seems. I thought with scornful derision.
"Nonsense!" Hagrid said and moved to me as I started to get up, pushing me back down on my seat. A serious expression came over his face. "At least finish yer stew, lad?"
I stared at him for a few moments before nodding; his sudden concern had taken me off guard.
I supposed that, if I focused solely on my meal, then the entire situation wouldn't really be that bad.
Just like old times, eh, Clarke? Part of me thought, half-forgotten memories of old friends and families bubbling back to the surface. You never really knew how to truly connect with anyone, even back home. Maybe it's for the best.
I looked down at my soup, even as I took another heavenly mouthful of the food. Harry pulled up a chair and sat beside me, nodding in greeting at me. In between sips and bites, I nodded back.
"Would you like some stew?" Hagrid said to the new addition to his home. "Jus' made it fresh."
"No, thanks." The boy mumbled at the man, sending me awkward looks.
It was then that my own awkwardness slowly abated. Why was I worrying over what Harry thought? Sure, he was the central character of the original story, but that was no reason for me to behave the way I was.
I smiled at him, taking a spoonful of the delicious food and gulping it down with gusto. "You sure? It's rabbit stew— a pretty good one, at that. D'you mind sharing the recipe with me, at some point, Hagrid?"
Hagrid's cheeks grew rosy, and he puffed up with pride at the praise. "Thank yeh, Clarke."
"You're welcome." I said and continued to eat, filling the room with silence again. Only, this time, it was no longer awkward for me. Watching him squirm in his seat was strangely cathartic and funny.
I wondered what he came here for.
"Tea, then?" Hagrid tried.
"Maybe in a bit." Harry smiled and tried to relax. His eyes flitted to me very quickly, though I pretended not to notice. "How've you been?"
"Can't complain." Hagrid said, pushing Fang off of his chair again and sitting down, once more. The large dog trotted up between me and Potter, laying on the floor. I made no move to make him leave— not that I physically could, even if I'd wanted to. "What about you? Excited fer Christmas, soon?"
A genuine smile broke across the boy's face. "Yes. I've never—"
He stopped himself and sent me a look, before swallowing. His smile was gone. "It will be the first Christmas I've had away from home."
Translation: it was going to be a happy Christmas, away from the Dursleys. I felt a pang of sympathy for the kid. He was just like me, in a way: alone in the world, without anyone he could rely on.
Sure, Hagrid, Hermione and Ron were his friends, but could he truly rely on them when the chips were down?
It was the same with me: Tony was my friend, but I didn't think I could trust him with any information concerning my reincarnation.
I barely trusted him with my increased knowledge, let alone anything else.
It was a lonely position to be in, and not one I could fix easily.
Well, there is one thing I can do.
"I know what you mean." I said. "It'll be my first Christmas away from the orphanage."
Harry's eyes focused on me, as if seeing me in a new light. "You're.. I didn't know."
"Hermione didn't tell you?" I asked before smiling. "I suppose that's not really something that comes up in conversation, eh?"
Potter smiled back, relaxing into his seat.
"Speaking of." Hagrid re-entered the conversation, setting his stew aside. "Where are yer other friends, 'Arry? You three are usually tied to the hip."
I took a few more sips and looked at Potter, wondering the exact same thing. I also wondered how those friendships came to be, despite the change of events. Considering the troll incident never occurred, how did the three children become inseparable, especially after Ron's insults?
I frowned, my thoughts turning unpleasant for the first time since I tasted Hagrid's rabbit stew.
The timeline wasn't set in stone— this much, I knew from my own existence and effects said existence has caused.
Draco, for instance, had never been this brazen with his bullying in canon.
Sure, he tended to talk shit and issue challenges, but it was always seen as schoolboy shenanigans— sectumsempra incident excluded.
I'd made sure to ask around, as well. While Draco targeted mudbloods in general, he seemed to target me the most— not even Hermione got so much attention from him.
It's because you're a fellow boy who's better than him both magically and in theory. My brain helpfully suggested. Men primarily compete with other men, and you're his competition. Just like Potter. That's why Malfoy targets you.
That… Actually made a lot of sense, in a strange and messed up way.
I shook the thoughts away and focused back on Potter, who had started to speak.
"Hermione…" the green eyed boy struggled to find the words. "She said she wanted to do some research at the Library, and took Ron with her."
"He didn't say no?" Much as I disliked the boy, I still found that pretty funny. "I can't imagine him wanting to study."
Harry nodded, looking amused at something only he knew, before replying. "When Hermione sets her mind on something, she's relentless."
I snorted, agreeing with him on that point. "The unstoppable Hurricane Hermione."
"The Library." Hagrid repeated the boy's words, wiping at his mouth. "Yeh wouldn't happen to be meddlin' into something you shouldn't be, are yeh?"
Harry didn't answer immediately, seemingly confirming the man's suspicion, judging by his annoyed and concerned look.
Meddling in… it only took me a moment to figure out what the two were referring to. They're talking about Nicholas Flamel and the stone.
They were already at that point— I supposed it made sense.
It was funny, in a way.
I knew that I could spill the beans in front of the two and end the mystery right there and then, but I held myself back.
A pointless endeavor, Clarke. I thought.
Even if they did believe me, which was highly unlikely as they didn't really know me and I didn't know them, they would begin asking questions I wasn't anywhere near ready to answer.
Questions like: 'how do you know about this? What else do you know? Why didn't you say anything before? What are you, really?'
The final question in that list was the one which filled me with the most unease.
I imagined that, the moment I revealed myself, I'd get snatched up by someone in the Department of Mysteries and never be heard from again.
Distracted as I was by my thoughts, I missed the looks Hagrid and Potter were sending me.
"—ke?" Harry's voice brought me back to reality.
"Huh, what?" I jumped in my seat, biting off a curse as I spilled some of the stew. "I'm sorry. I got lost in thought."
"S'all right." Hagrid said with a knowing look in his eyes.
"What were you saying, Potter?" I set my bowl aside and turned my attention to the boy next to me. "I really wasn't listening."
Harry nodded in acceptance and repeated his question. "I was asking what you were doing here— I didn't know that you knew Hagrid."
I opened my mouth and shut it again, sending a quick look at the man in question. "I, uh…"
"Jus' met him today, actually. He was somewhere he shouldn't have been." Hagrid said, nodding.
"Yeah, that's right." I said, latching onto the man's statement. "I was wandering too close to the Forest and Hagrid steered me to safety— I guess I lost track of where I was."
"Forest's a dangerous place, Adam, Harry." Hagrid said in agreement, sending the both of us serious looks. "Filled with dangerous creatures ye shouldn't be messin' with."
"More dangerous than Flu—" Harry blurted but stopped himself, just in time. He looked down in embarrassment at his slip.
I stared at the two for a moment, knowing that they were talking about the Cerberus on the third floor and that they wouldn't likely explain any of it to me.
"You seem to know a lot about dangerous creatures, Hagrid." I said, offering the two a way out.
And seize it, Hagrid did, a wide smile breaking out on his face. "I do! They're misunderstood, is all."
I somehow doubted that an Acromantula was, in any way, misunderstood, but I nodded anyway, ignoring Harry's dumbfounded look.
"I'd like to learn more about them— I know Care for Magical Creatures is a third year class, but it's oh so interesting to learn." I said, my smile twitching in amusement at the end. "And I may or may not want to enjoy some of that rabbit stew, again."
Hagrid boomed out a laugh once more, filling the hut with his cheer and warm presence.
For a while, everything was right in the world.
Days later, in an empty, unused classroom…
"This marks the.." I checked my notebook. "Seventh attempt at modifying the Shield Charm."
I scoffed at the open air. The baseline research that I'd undertaken over the past few weeks indicated that it was certainly possible to adapt the spell to function as I wanted it to.
Being able to turn my shield charm into shards which I could manipulate for both attack and defense was something I really wanted to be able to accomplish.
A swirling vortex of shield shards— "Shield Shards, that's a good name. I'll have to write that down. Now…"
I held my wand at the ready and focused my will and desire. "Protego!"
The Shield manifested with a barely perceptible hum. I smiled: the sheer strength of the Shield was a source of pride for me.
I'd worked long and hard on it.
Now, if I can just figure out how to turn it into floating shards which I can attack and defend with, then I'd be getting somewhere!
I huffed for a moment before taking a deep breath. Focusing on the spell work, once more, I tried to chip away at the magic.
As it had happened with all previous tries, the Shield Charm cracked and burst apart like shattered glass.
I tried to latch onto the remnants in a vain attempt to control them, but it was for naught.
It was like trying to grab water.
"Damn it." I glared at the air where the Shards were. "What am I doing wrong?"
I sat down with a long exhale, feeling frustrated and somewhat tired.
I wanted to head to the Room of Requirement to find the answers, but ever since my little episode, I didn't feel comfortable going there.
I'd somehow hurt the room, and it seemed to want me gone. The logical part of me wanted to study this phenomenon, but the still sane part of me knew that was a terrible idea.
Hogwarts was sentient in its own way, and I wasn't going to mess around with something that I barely understood. Whatever the void was, I was nowhere near ready to tap into it.
Perhaps, when I was older and wiser in the ways of magic, I could try again.
Until then, I satisfied myself by mastering the available, known magics; that's what I needed to focus on.
In fact, maybe I was looking at this problem the wrong way. I pinched the bridge of my nose, closed my eyes for a few moments and opened them again.
I'm creating a shield and then separating it into different pieces, but this ends up breaking the shield, even though the Shield Charm is known to be able to interlink with other shields. I thought as I wrote the information down in my notebook.
"They merge, but they cannot separate?" I wondered out loud, feeling like I might be onto something, there. The fresh rush of excitement provided by the realization got me back to my feet.
"All right! New test." I gave a slight grimace. "Hopefully this one actually works, this time."
I held my ebony wand up and began to visualize my intent and desire.
To protect. Repel. Defend.
I struggled to figure out the exact wording, and so I stopped.
"I want to defend, but I need more than one shield. Multiple shields." I muttered and focused once again.
Start with two. I thought, getting ready to cast the spell. To protect my front and back.
"Protego!" I incanted, luxuriating in the rush of power and marveling at the new feeling of the spell.
Did it work? Was the eighth try the charm?
For a moment, I thought I'd failed. The Shield in front of me looked like one solid object; It was when I checked behind me that I saw a small, translucent dome the size of my palm, hanging just behind my middle back.
"It worked! Holy crap." I crowed in excitement for a moment before getting myself under control, once more. "How do I make it move?"
The next minute was spent trying to move the Shield Shards in any meaningful way.
I failed and cancelled the spell with a sigh.
"Two steps forward, one step back." I said, though I felt no frustration, this time. "I'm getting somewhere, at least, so there's that."
Honestly, all of this spell tinkering reminded me of my old life. I used to spend weeks upon weeks messing with computers and developing programs.
This is exactly like that. I smiled fondly. The spell incantation is calling the method, and magic as a whole is the machine code which holds all of the data modules I'll ever require— I just have to tap into the right ones, while not breaking any of its rules.
The problem was that the rules weren't clearly defined.
There was no handy guide, just a set of vague guidelines created by magical humans with the acumen of a credulous peasant from the Dark Ages.
It was then that my stomach growled.
I stared down with a hum, before pulling my wand out and incanting. "Tempus."
A mist appeared before me, coalescing into bright orange lettering:
I guessed I lost track of the time again. I smiled; time well spent, all things considered.
I decided to go visit Hagrid. He'd told me I was always welcome to visit, after all.
Maybe he'd made some more rabbit stew?
A man could hope.
Just in case, I'd take a quick trip to the kitchens for some bread.
That way, I'd at least have something to eat to keep up my strength.
I wasn't going to assume the man actually had food ready for me if I showed up unannounced.
I stowed my supplies away and left the classroom, making my way down the staircases and into the entrance hall.
It took a bit of searching, but I found the door which led downstairs to the kitchens.
I found myself in a brightly lit hallway, staring at the various portraits depicting various foodstuffs.
I zeroed in on the painting of a bowl of fruit, and tickled the pair.
It gave off a startlingly delightful giggle, before morphing into a large, green handle.
What strange magic. I stared at the handle, wondering just what sort of spell made it function the way it did.
Touch-based. I thought, my gaze intensifying. When a touch event occurs, specifically a tickle, the pear giggles and transforms into a door handle— a Touch-Triggered Transfiguration. TTT. I smiled at the wordplay before my stomach made its displeasure known, once more.
I turned the handle and opened the door. The previous silence was banished away by the sudden wall of noise coming my way.
I took a moment to cope, using the time to marvel at the sheer size of the room. It was as easily as big as the great Hall, filled on one side with a mountain of pots, pans and other implements, while the other side was dominated by a massive set of brick fireplaces, where the scents of meats, vegetables, fruit and other things were being cooked.
And the house elves… hundreds of them!
One of the elves, who was busy cleaning entire stacks of dishes, turned to me, having finally noticed my presence.
"Erm— hello." I said, not knowing what to say.
Smooth introduction, Clarke.
If the elf had noticed my awkwardness, he didn't comment on it.
"Can Forky help Master?" The elf said, eyes shining with eagerness so genuine it took me aback.
"I was hoping to get some bread." I said, noticing a few other elves' eyes on me. "I'm quite hungry— oh, another one so I can bring it to a friend, too?"
Maybe Hagrid would appreciate it.
If he doesn't. I stifled a laugh and smiled instead. More for me!
The elf before me, Forky, snapped his fingers. A loaf of bread flew from a nearby basket, landing in my hands. Another floated for a few seconds as a piece of cloth wrapped around it before flying to me as well.
I stowed the wrapped bread in my pack and took the other in my hands.
It's fresh. I smiled, the bread firm and warm in my hands. "Perfect. This will do nicely. Thank you, Forky!"
With a nod, I turned and left, not noticing the elf's widening eyes at my expression of gratitude.
Closing the door behind me, I watched the handle morph into a pear, once again.
Were the house elves the ones who created the kitchens? I'd known that Helga Hufflepuff had something to do with bringing the elves to Hogwarts to escape abuse and persecution, but I couldn't remember the details.
I stared down at the bread and took a bite, exulting in the richness of the taste.
Bread should not taste this good. I thought as I made my way out of the Castle. I wonder if I should teach them how to make a pizza.
I smiled, even as I felt the cold, November air hit my face. Pizza would certainly be delightful.
Adjusting my clothes to better cope with the temperature, I set out towards Hagrid's home at a slow, but steady pace, determined to enjoy my meal.
It was a dozen minutes later that I was knocking on Hagrid's door, belly full of food and a smile on my face.
"Come 'round the back!" Hagrid boomed from the other side of the building.
I stepped away from the door and moved to the back of the house. I found Hagrid filling several large buckets with dead rabbits.
"Ah, Adam. It's you." Hagrid said as a greeting.
"Did I come at a bad time?" I said, my right hand patting the loaf of bread in my robe's pocket.
"No, no!" Hagrid stopped and looked at his dirty hands. "Well, maybe. Glad to see yeh, though."
That drew a small smile from me. I drew the wrapped loaf from my pocket. "I brought you some bread."
He stared at the food in my hand for a moment too long.
Wait. What if he doesn't like it?
Before the thought could drop me into a bottomless pit of awkwardness, Hagrid seemed to brighten before my eyes. "I'm actually quite hungry. That'd be great!"
"Good." My smile widened on reflex and I handed him the food. "Here you go."
"Thanks." Hagrid said and took a bite of the bread, seemingly relishing its taste.
"Good stuff, right?"
"Aye." Hagrid agreed, taking another bite. "Hogwarts elves know their bread."
I watched him take a few more bites before deciding to make my exit— "Ah, I should leave you to what you were doing."
"Nonsense, yeh should stay a while. I could use the help." Hagrid said, gesturing to the bucketfuls of rabbits with his free hand. "Taking these to feed the thestrals."
"Oh, all right." I moved closer and tested a lone bucket's weight. It took some effort, but I was able to lift it.
Not for the first time since I was reborn in this world— and certainly far from the last time, I'll tell you that— I regretted the loss of my adult body.
Hagrid topped off another bucket and then looked at me. "Yeh sure you can handle that?"
"Positive." I said with a nod. "If it's too much, then I can just levitate it."
Hagrid smiled. "That you could."
"It's better to stay active, anyway." I made sure to add. "Keeps me busy."
Hagrid gave me what I understood to be the "I don't know what to make of you" stare.
I supposed I was one of the most agreeable of 'children' he's ever met. His gaze lingered a moment longer before he turned and started moving. "Let's go."
The trek was surprisingly long and arduous, I realized fifteen minutes in.
It hadn't even been the weight of the bucket that made this hard— though it did play a small part. It was primarily the bucket's size and the uneven terrain that almost made me fall over more than once.
I considered myself lucky that I didn't sprain my ankle.
A miraculous performance.
"We're there." Hagrid said a few minutes later as we reached a large fence. "Now, Adam, don't be afraid. Yeh won't see them, but they're there."
I nodded, playing along as I placed the bucket down. "They're— the… thestrals are invisible?"
Hagrid bobbed his head left and right. "Yes and no. To see them, you'd need to— well, best not to say."
"So they're somewhere here?" I looked around the open field, noticing nothing but dead grass and hard earth. "I'm guessing. I don't see anything."
"No. They only come when called." Hagrid chuckled and put the buckets down, raising his fingers to his lips and whistling for all he was worth.
Man's got a set of lungs on him! I cringed at the high pitched noise, almost smashing my palms to my ears. Does being part Giant enhance every aspect of his physiology? This is insane.
Any attempt to answer that question went right out of the window when the thestrals emerged from the treeline.
They would have almost looked like horses, if it weren't for their draconic heads, bat-like wings and fleshless, lustrous bodies. Their skin clung to the bone, as if they hadn't had a proper meal in weeks.
The sight was both disturbing, and yet, strangely comforting. Why was that?
Mesmerized as I was by the creatures, I failed to see Hagrid's perturbed look until he cleared his throat.
"Yeh can see them." He said, his tone somber.
"Yes, it seems that way. Should I not be able to?" I asked, feigning confusion before I looked at the creatures again. "They look so… Starved and weak."
"Appearances can be deceivin'." Hagrid said, snatching a few rabbits out of the bucket and throwing it towards the thestrals.
They surged onto the food in a frenzy of squawks and stomps. The sound of flesh tearing from bone filled the air as the animals gorged themselves.
Hagrid threw a few more rabbits in, and I watched as the feeding frenzy renewed.
"I see what you mean." I said, watching the creatures with an intense look. "I definitely wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of that."
Hagrid sent me a smile, though it seemed strained by his realization that I'd likely seen death, at some point.
And yet, he didn't ask for details or pry into my business— a good man, through and through.
I snatched a rabbit from the bucket and threw it towards one of the thestrals who'd approached me.
The winged skeletal horse snatched the food from midair and tore it in half, before swallowing the half he'd held onto.
A moment later, and it snatched the other half before trotting up to me.
It looked down at me, its pupil-less, white eyes locking with my own.
Why does it look like it understands me?
"He likes you." Hagrid said, his voice keeping me at ease and jerking me out of eye contact. "Come on. Let's finish feeding them."
"R-right." With a nod, I threw more food over the fence, eyes flitting towards my new animal friend, who seemed to be staring at me when not busy eating. He stayed close to me, the entire time.
"I've never seen any of 'em take a shine to anyone, before." Hagrid said, giving me an impressed look. "You must have a way with animals, young Mr. Clarke."
"I don't know…" I said, throwing more food towards the animals. "But thank you, Hagrid."
A creature that can only be seen if you've had an experience involving death— wait.
Were thestrals related to the void, somehow? I met my new friend's eyes for a moment before looking away, the revelation flooring me.
The magic world really is vast and frightening, isn't it?
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