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As promised, here's the next chapter.

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With that said, on with the story!

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Doubt
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December 15, 1991, 11:00 AM, Defense Against The Dark Arts Classroom

"Time to see how far you've come, Mr. Clarke." Quirrell said, standing opposite of me. "I trust you have come prepared?"

I responded with a nod.

"Your chosen three spells?"

"The Shield Charm." I said.

Quirrell nodded. "Your second choice?"

"The Banishing Charm."

Here, he hesitated, as if he didn't know what to make of me. "The Banishing Charm, you say?"

I nodded in confirmation.

"Very well— a useful spell, though not what I expected of you. Intriguing choice." Quirrell said in acceptance. "And your third; the Disarming Charm, I presume?"

I shook my head, a little thrown off by that assumption. "No. It's— erm— the Severing Charm, actually. Sir."

"The Severing Charm?" Quirrell stepped forward, interested. "Any specific reasoning as to why you made that particular choice over a more standard spell, such as the Disarming or Stunning Charms?"

I nodded along with what he was saying until it was my turn to speak.

"I thought it'd be more useful to know of a way to cut things." The excuse came out easily, having practiced it a few times beforehand. "Same reason for the Banishing Charm— pushing things or people away can be very useful in a dangerous situation."

"Do you expect to find yourself in danger, Mr. Clarke?"

Did he really just ask me that question?

"Knowing how people behave—" I looked down for a moment. "People only want to look after themselves, and they usually don't have any issues putting you down if it helps them— even a little."

"Surprisingly well thought out, Mr. Clarke. You never cease to impress." Quirrell gave his off-putting smile, which never failed to make my skin crawl. "I suppose… Yes, I see the appeal. They also function as methods of giving yourself space, do they not? Very well, then."

I had a few more ideas for these spells than their baseline use, but he didn't need to know that little tidbit of information.

"Are you ready, Mr. Clarke?"

"Yes, Professor."

With a silent wave of his wand, the man Summoned a dummy from his office. "Start us off with a few Severing Charms, won't you?"

"All right." I said, drawing my wand from my pocket and waving it at the dummy, focusing my will to cut into a finely honed blade. "Diffindo!"

The green light carved into the wooden man's shoulder, making splinters fly every which way and leaving a deep, straight cut in its wake.

It could very well be a fatal blow if the person isn't attended to by healers. Most certainly fatal to a Muggle.

"Well done!" Quirrell clapped once before repairing the dummy. "And your Banishing Charm?"

I nodded and took a breath, before releasing my next spell. "Depulso!"

The dummy flew back, its heavy wooden base grinding and clattering over the stone floor until it smashed into the far wall with a loud thud and crack.

"Hmm. Acceptable." Quirrell stared at my handiwork. "However, you've overexerted yourself in the Charm's application."

I frowned, feeling confused and tired. "What do you mean?"

"I can see it in your posture." Quirrell said, stepping from my left side to my right. "That spell seems to have drained you quite a bit."

"Oh." Was all I answered with.

Come to think of it, I was able to use the Disillusionment Charm for hours on end without any fatigue, so a few uses of Banishing Charm tiring me out didn't make sense. "What am I doing wrong? Is it my pronunciation?"

"No, that is adequate— as is your wand motion. I believe you must form a more sensible… intent, as you are fond of putting it." Quirrell smiled again, amused. "But it is an acceptable showing, considering your age. Now, we've saved the best for last. Your Shield Charm, Mr. Clarke."

I felt my lips quirk in amusement at that. As evil and strange as he was, I found myself liking this guy.

What does that say about me, I wonder? I thought. That a vicious killer can be seen so favorably by me?

Nothing good— that was the answer. Still, I shook these thoughts off and prepared myself to cast the next spell.

Eyes narrowed, I focused my resolve to protect and incanted. "Protego!"

The spell burst forth from my wand, forming a white shield, more opaque than transparent.

"My, my… You have been busy, Mr. Clarke." Quirrell stood and drew his own wand. I already knew what he was going to say. "Your shield certainly looks impressive. Let's see how far it can go."

A vicious grin came to my face, unbidden. "Do your worst."

Quirrell smiled his horrible smile. "Such spirit, from one so young."

And then he started his onslaught. The grin fell off of my face as I felt the reverberations of the vicious spells smashing into my barrier.

Holy crap. I cringed, feeling the shield crack after the third spell, a sickly yellow jet of light. The cobwebs continued to spread with each successive spell. He's never hit me this hard before. Has he been holding back this entire time? Is he still holding back now?

That final thought sent chills through me.

The latest spell, a burst of red which bludgeoned the shield several times over, made my hands shake with the effort of holding it all together.

Somehow, I knew that the next spell would break through. I wasn't going to let that happen.

"No." I said out loud, and refocused my power.

The Shield shrunk in size, no longer covering my whole body, but the space in front of my chest and head. The cracks disappeared as the shield grew more opaque.

If I let the shield become a liquid, would the cracks disappear entirely before I reformed it into something solid? Questions for later.

Quirrell stopped his onslaught to stare, eyes wide with surprise at my feat. He stayed that way for a moment longer, before mastering himself. I'd never seen him react like that before.

"That." He said. "Was something I haven't seen in a long time. Remarkable."

I said nothing, keeping the shield up in case he decided to launch another salvo of spells.

However, Quirrell withdrew his wand and moved a few steps forward. "You may disengage the spell, Mr. Clarke. I've seen enough."

I blinked before cutting off the flow of power, watching the shield fade into the air.

"I must admit, I had not expected such a showing." Quirrell said, taking a seat and gesturing for me to do the same.

I complied as he waved his wand, Summoning his tea set over.

"Tea?" He said and quickly added before I could reply. "You've never accepted my hospitality before, but I do insist. This is our very last meeting, after all."

I stifled the urge to narrow my eyes, wondering if this was some elaborate trap on his part. Then again, he'd been nothing but courteous and helpful to me this whole time.

"All right." I felt my face strain itself into a smile. "Why not?"

"That's the spirit." He said and filled me a cup, before handing it to me. "Careful, it's still hot."

I nodded, taking the steaming cup in hand. "Thank you."

"You're welcome."

We both said nothing for a while, comfortable in the ensuing silence. It helped me get my thoughts in order.

"I do hope you'll forgive me for asking you to come in for your detention early, Mr. Clarke. I know that the holidays have started, but..." Quirrell said between sips, his eyes firmly set down on his tea. "I have a few… Tasks which require my attention later, you see."

"It's fine, Professor." I said quickly. "It'll give me some more free time today."

"Yes, quite." Quirrell deadpanned. "I can tell that your friend, Mr. Goldstein, will be ecstatic to see you."

I frowned and sent Quirrell a questioning look.

"He's waiting outside, trying—and failing, might I add— to listen in to our conversation." Quirrell smiled as he explained himself. "It's a wonder what simple Monitoring and Silencing Charms can do, yes?"

I swallowed my sudden nervousness and took a sip of the tea, wincing at its heat. "They definitely sound useful."

"I would highly recommend that you research a few." Quirrell said. "It's too early for you to worry over such things, of course. Still, it wouldn't hurt to be prepared."

"Proper preparation prevents poor performance." I said reflexively. When Quirrell looked at me, I clarified. "I've heard the phrase a lot at the orphanage. I suppose it stuck with me."

"It's good advice." Quirrell said, taking a few more sips before setting his teacup down on the table. "Speaking of performance..."

I took a sharp breath and did the same, preparing myself for the man's judgment.

"You've exceeded my expectations." Professor Quirrel said, bringing his hands together. "I've not seen a student with potential such as yours in a long time— save perhaps…"

He froze for a moment, his expression turning to a grimace, before he shook his head of whatever was threatening to bubble up to the surface.

He must be thinking of Voldemort— is this really still Quirrell? I thought, forcing myself not to tense, despite the fear that coursed through me. I can't tell which one of them is in control at any given moment. Or, did they merge?

Had I been talking to a mixture between Quirrell and Voldemort this entire time? If so, why was he still wearing the turban? Keeping up appearances, perhaps?

I wasn't sure which was more frightening; Voldemort being in control, or Voldemort merging with someone as mutable as Quirrell.

The Voldemort from the first book had been a weakened spirit, barely clinging to life through consuming the blood of unicorns.

'You will have but a half life, a cursed life, from the moment the blood touches your lips.' Firenze had once said in the past. Or is it now my future?

Or is the future unknown?

What a strange life I'm living.

"It doesn't matter." Quirrell finally said, looking at me. "What matters is that you continue on this path, young Mr. Clarke."

I nodded.

"I cannot stress that enough." Quirrell said. "No matter how hard things get, if you stay the course, you will achieve greatness."

That took me aback.

I was being complimented by Voldemort.

How the fuck am I even supposed to react to something like that?

I decided to go with the 'wide eyed wonder' approach.

"You really think I've got what it takes?" I asked.

Quirrell only snorted. "Spare me the act, Clarke."

The expression fell off my face, and I shifted in my seat, not sure how to react to him calling me out like that.

Was this the part where he would declare that he'd been toying with me the entire time? I mentally prepared for what was to come. If it was a fight he wanted...

Quirrell defied all of my expectations by smiling and taking his teacup in hand, once again.

Am I so far beneath his power that he can dismiss my intent to attack? I thought, feeling both confused and defeated. Or is he really not able to reach my mind?

I took a long, shaky breath as the unpredictable Professor Quirrell took a sip of his tea, his eyes locked on me.

"How long?" I forced the words out.

"How long?" Quirrell smiled as he repeated what I said. He was toying with me. "How long… what?"

"How long have you known that...?" I trailed off, not knowing whether he was aware of my secret knowledge or whether he was calling me out for my deceitful behavior.

"That you're not what you present yourself as to the others?" Quirrell said.

Oh, thank God. I nodded, keeping my mouth shut. He doesn't know.

"It's obvious to anyone with a modicum of intellect." Quirrell said. "Though, it helps that it is not a complete act on your part. Your passion for magic is genuine, and it is something currently missing from wizardkind."

I frowned. Was he saying that my friendship with Tony and Hermione were acts?

Aren't they? The sly part of me said.

No. I shot back.

"I understand because I've also pretended to be things I'm not to achieve my goals." Quirrell said, staring down at the contents of his cup, completely unaware of my inner monologue. "I understand the need to hide your true self from the world, Mr. Clarke."

What the hell is he talking about? I wondered.

"What do you mean?" I asked, my confusion overriding my sense of self-preservation for a moment.

"I am a man of two faces as well, you see." Quirrell said, gesturing at himself. "You've seen the face I present to the public and the face before you."

And the third face beneath the turban. I thought. Or, is that one gone?

"...Why hide it?" I said, pushing those thoughts away. "What's the point of hiding?"

"What's the point in hiding your true self?" Quirrell said, as if amused that I hadn't pieced the reasoning together. "It applies a veil of safety around you. It weaves the illusion that you or I are harmless— beneath notice, even."

"And you aren't harmless?" I questioned, skeptical.

Quirrell shook his head, a serious look on his face. "No one is harmless, Mr. Clarke."

I nodded, conceding the point. "Fair enough."

Another silence blanketed the room for a few moments before Professor Quirrell broke it again.

"I was like you, once." He said. "Eager to test myself, to test the limits of what I could do. I used to hide my true self from others, because they could never understand."

He stopped to take a sip before continuing. "It wasn't until… sometime in my travels that I was shown who I truly am, and what I was truly capable of."

He's talking about his trip to find Voldemort. It is still Quirrell, in there. I realized and tried to derail the conversation. "Traveling— is this a rite of passage that all wizards and witches must go through?"

Quirrell blinked, not having expected such a question. He stared down at his tea for a moment before his gaze lifted to me.

"No, it isn't." Quirrell said, a thoughtful look on his face. "But it should be. It ought to be."

"It does sound like it could be fun, actually." I said.

Quirrell chuckled, surprising me.

"I shall miss these chats of ours, Mr. Clarke." He said, a genuine smile on his face, for once. "I believe I've kept you from your friend long enough— go on."

I nodded and got off my chair, heading towards the door.

Then, I stopped and turned to Quirrell.

"Thank you for all that you've done for me." I said sincerely. "I mean that."

The man stared at me, his face betraying nothing.

"You just stay the course, Mr. Clarke. Your only real enemy will only ever be yourself." Quirrell said, waving his wand and opening the classroom door, revealing an embarrassed looking Tony. "I b-believe your f-f-friend is anxiously waiting for you, Mr. C-Clarke."

I forced myself to ignore the man's drastic shift in tone and demeanor and nodded. "Yes, sir. Am I excused?"

"Y-yes, of course." Quirrell gave a jittery, frightened nod, though the flash of amusement in his eyes told me another story entirely.

With a quiet nod, I exited the classroom and entered the halls, feeling relieved that the sessions were over, but also… regretful?

Why was I regretful?

Get it together, Clarke. Why are you feeling regretful over not being able to see that evil piece of shit again? Part of me snarled.

Maybe because he was teaching me useful things? I shot back. He just doesn't seem as bad as he was portrayed in the books, either.

Or maybe that's his play? The first part scoffed. Riddle is supposed to be charismatic— charming enough to acquire sacred heirlooms of the Hogwarts Houses.

That… sounded like a reasonable explanation for his behavior.

And, to think I was seriously considering requesting more sessions from the man.

Insanity.

Tony fell in step with me, taking my attention away from my current predicament.

"How boring was it?" Tony asked. "The detentions— they must be beyond dull; you never talk about them."

"It is pretty boring, yeah." I lied. "Writing lots of lines. 'I must pay attention in class'."

Maybe Quirrell is right about you. The sly part of me sniped. You shouldn't lie to your friends.

He wouldn't understand. I thought back.

You're starting to sound an awful lot like Quirrell.

"It seems a bit much, doesn't it?" Tony said, breaking through my thoughts. "He was making you attend them for quite some time… The punishment doesn't seem to fit the crime."

"Doesn't matter to me now." I said, shrugging. "That was the last one."

Tony perked up, excitement shining in his eyes. "It was, wasn't it?"

I nodded.

"How do you feel, free at last?"

I'd like to hole up somewhere, curl up into a ball and try to sort through my thoughts and emotions. I thought. "I'd like to relax somewhere for a bit."

Tony hummed.

"You want to call off the meeting with Granger, then?" He said. "She won't be happy, you know."

I stopped in my tracks.

"Wait." I felt a headache coming. "That's today?"

Tony nodded, stopping beside me.

"Damn it." I said. "I could've sworn it was tomorrow."

"It's today." Tony said. "You can go and relax, if you like. I'll tell her you don't feel well."

At that, I smiled. "No, no. It's okay. I'll go. She's leaving for the hols, anyway."

As we moved through the hallway, I convinced myself that Quirrell was only trying to play me, that it was all a ruse for some goal only he knew. People were nefarious by nature, and Voldemort was the worst one of the lot.

Still, the image of Quirrell sending me a genuine smile flashed through my mind.

What if I'm wrong?

oooo

Ten minutes later, in the Library…

"D'you think — need — the Restricted Section?" Harry's voice was just barely heard as Tony and I approached the group.

"Nonsense, that's against the rules!" Hermione whispered back.

"Don't see you coming up with a different idea." Weasley sniped.

It was then that Potter spotted us and nudged his two friends.

Weasley and Hermione stared at their friend for a moment before their eyes turned to us.

"Oh!" Hermione said, surprised. "Adam, Anthony! I forgot you were coming."

"A lot of that going around." Tony grinned and elbowed me. I pushed the offending arm away with a huff.

At the girl's questioning look, I explained. "I'd forgotten we were supposed to meet today, too."

Hermione gave a small smile at that.

"It's fine, though." I said, preparing to leave. "I'll leave you to your friends—"

"No, no." Hermione said quickly. "It's all right, you can sit with us for a while. Right, Ron, Harry?"

From the looks on the two boys' faces, they certainly didn't want that. Still, they nodded.

As we took our seats, Ron sent a dirty look towards Tony. My fellow Ravenclaw returned it with equal fervor.

I stifled an eye roll.

"So, what are you lot studying?" I asked and looked over the tomes, even though I know exactly what it is they were looking for. "Treasures of Merlin? You're looking for treasure?"

"Erm…" Potter said eloquently.

"Yes." Ron said, eyes narrowed in suspicion. "What's it to you, Clarke?"

"Ron!" Hermione chastised the boy, who shrugged indifferently.

I gave a placid smile. "I'm only curious, Weasley. Treasure hunting sounds like fun— a proper adventure with traps and monsters to battle."

"Yeah!" Tony piped up before realizing where he was and cringing.

That kid was too adorable for his own good, sometimes.

An awkward silence blanketed the group.

Tony, to ward off the tension he was likely feeling, broke his glaring contest with Weasley and went to grab a book from a nearby shelf before sitting back down.

Ron only pretended to read, while shooting glares at the two of us.

Potter just looked incredibly awkward and confused.

Hermione, bless her, was completely oblivious to all of this, happy as a clam, reading and researching.

For a smart girl, she can certainly be painfully clueless, at times. I leaned back in my chair, studying one of the bookshelves to my right to pass the time.

I raised my finger to my mouth but stopped, realizing I was almost about to take a bite out of my nails.

Some things never change, huh?

"We should tell them." Hermione said abruptly, pulling herself out of her reading fugue.

"No way!" Ron said immediately.

"Tell us what?" Tony stopped what he was doing and turned his attention to Hermione.

I said nothing, only glancing at Tony and then at Hermione.

"We're obviously not finding anything." Hermione said. "Plus, we could use the help. I trust them— Adam is my friend."

I stared at the girl, not really sure how to feel about that. I was touched.

Quirrell is wrong about one thing. I do care about these kids. I thought. However annoying they can be.

"No." Ron refused again.

"What are you looking for?" I asked, already knowing the answer.

"We—" Hermione said but was cut off by Weasley.

"You can't trust them!" The boy raised his voice, but winced as he caught the attention of Madam Pince's glare.

She'd come at the sound of arguing and was glaring at us like a vulture eyeing its new meal.

"Sorry." The red-haired boy said, looking sheepish. Pince said nothing, instead moving away from the group and back to her desk.

The group let out a collective sigh of relief.

Tony waited a few moments before talking again, adopting a serious look on his face. "It sounds like whatever you're researching is pretty big. We're in."

"What..?" Ron said, dumbfounded.

I, too, was dumbfounded. Did this kid just volunteer himself— and me—into this shitshow?

Potter instantly shifted in attitude after the blind show of faith and support.

"Happy to have you."

Tony grinned wide, in response.

"And you, Clarke?" Potter said, and all eyes turned on me.

I stifled the reflexive sigh; pretending to look for something by reading random books would be cutting into my more important pursuits.

"It'll depend on what you're doing." I said, ignoring the feeling of pressure the group was trying to exert on me. "I've my own research to complete, after all."

Hermione looked like she was going to say something, but Tony beat her to it.

"Oh come on, Adam." He said. "You've been studying hard— almost nonstop— since Halloween. Do something fun, for a change!"

Ron turned towards Tony and gave him a double take, as if seeing him for the first time.

"I thought Ravenclaws were supposed to be obsessed with studying?" Ron said, sounding confused.

Tony looked annoyed at the statement.

"We know when to take a break, you know." He said, before sending me a dirty look. "Well, most of us, anyway. Adam's too busy mastering spells that are four years ah—"

"All right, all right." I cut him off. "Fine. I'll help you guys."

"Yes!" Tony pumped his fist in victory, before turning to Granger with a smile. "So, what are we looking for, Granger?"

The girl stared at me for a second longer before turning to Tony.

"Please." She said, smiling back. "Call me Hermione. We're looking for information on..."

As she began her explanation, I realized something.

Quirrell was behaving erratically, unlike anything I could predict from his canon self. I was involved with the golden trio, which would eventually put me in the man's path.

I have no idea what's going to happen next. With Quirrell the way he is— more mentally stable than I ever expected him to be— who knows what tricks he's got up his sleeve?

Considering he was brazen enough to reveal his secret persona to me, well…

You don't do that sort of thing unless you're pretty sure you've got everything covered.

I had to consider the awful truth that, if I'd made any attempts to reveal his secret, he would have killed me— or used the Imperius Curse— without a second thought. There was no way that he was helping me out of some sense of empathy.

This was Voldemort we were talking about.

Potter tried to pick up a nearby book, only to overreach and fall off his chair with a yelp and a thud.

"I'm okay!"

I have to keep these morons from getting themselves killed by him, don't I?

What did I do to deserve this?

oooo

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Karthrax, buddy. Thank ya kindly for all the love!

oooo

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