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Life And Death

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September 15, 1992, 5:30 PM, Thestral Feeding Ground, Hogwarts

Adam Clarke

With a deep breath, I set the thick book in my hands down, instead choosing to stare into the crackling flames ahead of me. I scooted forward a little, enjoying the mild respite from the sudden cold breeze blowing through the area.

"I should start dressing a little more heavily." I muttered to myself as I hugged myself a little, waiting the breeze out before staring up into the sky. "Autumn's almost upon us."

I stared in the flames for a little while longer as I recalled my vision as best as I could. Most of it had become more and more blurred as time went on, but I still held on to the most crucial bits.

A throne underground, a collection of great power, and the words: 'Divinity is in your grasp, Sunderer.'

"Divinity…?" I said as the flames gave a sudden crackle. I frowned, wondering if the fire reacted to the word, or if it was just a coincidence, and tried to say it again. "Divinity."

Nothing happened. I exhaled and looked down at the book lying on my lap.

"Damn thing's useless." I said, shaking my head as I opened it again.

Frustration gnawed at me as I continued to flip through the pages of the Divination book. The campfire's warmth, which had been a source of comfort just moments ago, now seemed to mock my growing irritation. With each passing moment, my hope of finding answers dwindled further, leaving me feeling even more lost than before.

"Seeing a throne in one's dream speaks of opportunity for success. A throne is a seat where only the powerful and dignitaries can sit. Generally, to dream of a throne speaks of one's power and social status." I read, frowning. "It also symbolizes a build-up of desires and emotions that only the dreamer's close relatives know of. This dream has the distant feeling of a secret expectation of others. It means that one will be succeeding with greater responsibility in life. The throne means that you have been chosen."

I let the words marinate for a bit before speaking again. "Chosen… But for what?"

Divinity is within your grasp, Sunderer. The words echoed in my mind again.

What does this have to do with sundering or divinity? I rubbed the side of my head, trying to make sense of the words. Maybe the throne is divine in nature? Divine power… Still, that doesn't really explain the second part, or everything else I saw.

I furrowed my brow as I attempted to further analyze the symbolism, just as the book suggested.

"What about the holes in the air, or the tears in space-time?" I murmured, getting upset. "What about the Abyss? This doesn't make sense."

Yet, the more I delved into the interpretations, the more absurd they seemed. My visions' intricate imagery were twisted into incomprehensible predictions, utterly detached from any semblance of reality— or perhaps that was the point?

A heavy sigh escaped my lips, mixing with the crackling of the fire. Why did these dreams haunt me if they were nothing more than nonsensical riddles? I needed clarity, at least even a thread of logic to unravel the enigma shrouding it all.

As I read on, my frustration transformed into a mix of exasperation and disappointment. The book offered vague explanations that could be applied to any situation, rendering them practically useless in deciphering my own unique dreams. It was as if the text reveled in its ambiguity, content to leave me grappling with unanswerable questions.

I really, truly hate Divination.

My attempts to make sense of the symbolism felt like groping in the dark, only to find no solid ground to stand on. Each passage I read fueled the growing annoyance within me, until I wanted to throw the book into the fire and watch it burn.

"Hermione would kill me if she even knew I thought that… Even if it is Divination." I said out loud, shaking my head as I attempted to banish my frustration to no avail. I gave the book one last look before closing it with a sense of defeated resignation, the weight of disappointment heavy in my chest.

Maybe it was all just a dream; I couldn't help but wonder if these supposed visions were nothing more than random fragments of a wild imagination, a cruel trick my subconscious played on me.

No, I thought. It was too real. It can't be fake. I thought and leaned back, staring up at the darkening sky, seeking solace in the distant glimmer of stars slowly showing themselves. I raised my scarred hand up to the sky, watching as the light from the campfire played along its contours. "Focus on what you can control, and don't worry about the rest. That's all you can do, Zero."

~All done!~ Absol said to me from the side. I turned to see her stretching before sitting by my side.

Her silver, majestic wings glistened in the fading sunlight as they folded, and her beak was stained with traces of blood from her recent feast. Despite the sight, there was an air of grace about her, a silent understanding that passed between us as we shared this tranquil moment.

"You've got some blood on you." I said.

The Thestral turned her milky white eyes toward me. ~So?~

"Absol." I said, shaking my head as I produced a handkerchief from my robes. "Come here."

~No! I can clean myself.~ She replied, trying to reach up her beak with her tongue with no success whatsoever.

"You said that two days ago; Hagrid told me you then spent hours in a stream trying to get it off."

~So the Big Man has turned traitor, has he?!~ Absol turned her attention back to me as she tilted her head. The motion would have been cute if she didn't look like she'd committed mass murder. ~He shall pay dearly for this betrayal.~

I rolled my eyes. "Well, before you go and exact your revenge, I'll clean you up a little so you can look good while doing it."

~...Very well.~ Absol agreed with an inclination of her head.

I quickly wetted the handkerchief with a spell and reached out to clean her beak, keeping my touches soft and gentle, so as not to disturb her. A few moments later, I was done. "There, all better. That wasn't so hard, wasn't it?"

~I'm still hungry.~ Was all she said.

I blinked at the sudden shift in her attitude before turning my attention to the bowl of stew still kept warm by the fire.

"You can have that if you like?" I asked as I took the bowl in hand, raising it for her to smell. "I know you prefer your meat raw, but hungry's hungry."

She leaned forward, sniffing at the stew.

~It will suffice.~ Absol said before she dipped her beak into the bowl, trying a mouthful of the savory broth and tender rabbit meat. ~Acceptable fare.~

"I'm glad to have your approval." I said dryly and set the bowl down, watching as she tore through its contents within seconds.

A moment later, she lifted her head from the bowl and let out a loud, echoing belch. I chuckled at the display, finding it oddly endearing and strangely fitting for her majestic yet unconventional nature.

"Acceptable, is it?" I laughed, patting her sleek, lustrous neck. "Seems like you enjoyed that."

She looked away for a moment, and I noticed a bit of stew dribbling off of her beak. "Okay, time for another cleaning."

This time, she did not protest, merely laying her head into my lap and closing her eyes. I smiled and wiped her clean once more, patting her neck to let her know it was over.

However, she stayed right where she was. ~Little longer.~

Smirking, I shook my head and began to caress her head. "Take as long as you need, Absol."

As she nuzzled against my hand, I could sense a sense of contentment wash over us both. Our bond had deepened further since our reunion, resembling something akin to my own bond with Alef Ard.

Yeah. I thought to myself as I ran my hand down her neck, giving her scratches just the way she liked. Maybe these visions are true, but there's no sense in obsessing over them. That never leads anywhere useful. Never has.

I continued to pet Absol, content to remain in that moment. If only it could last forever…

The sound of grass and leaves crunching reached my ears and I suppressed the urge to sigh. It hadn't even lasted five seconds.

~Someone approaches.~ Absol told me through our mind-link, and I patted her neck gently to tell her that I knew. She raised her head to look behind me for a few seconds before setting it back down, completely unconcerned.

~It is family.~ She said.

Family? I thought to myself as I turned my head to see the approaching figure of Harry Potter. Right.

That term still caught me by surprise, even though I'd lived with Sirius and Harry for quite a while now.

"Family, huh…" I muttered to myself before raising my head as Harry got close enough to speak to. "Hey, Harry. What're you doing here?"

"I can ask you the same thing." Harry said, looking around a little furtively. "I thought there wouldn't be anyone around."

"Around for what?" I said in confusion before shaking my head. "I always sit here after work, good time to bond with Absol, you know?"

"I suppose so…" Harry said, though his eyes kept trying to avoid Absol.

"Come on, have a seat." I said, gesturing for him to sit beside me. "Don't worry, Absol won't hurt you; she knows you're family."

"She does, does she?" Harry said as he approached us slowly, his subdued face shined by the firelight. "You know, no one can see them but you and I?"

"Makes sense." I said. "Neville can, too, I think."

Harry's eyes shifted from us to the fire. "I read up on them. Thestrals can only be seen by those who have seen death."

"Yes." I nodded. "Or I suppose a better way to explain it would be: those who have seen and understood the concept of death— at least on a basic level."

Harry opened his mouth and closed it.

"And you've always been able to see Thestrals."

"Well, not always." I said. "But I saw death very early in my life."

It wasn't even a lie. In my previous life, I'd lived in a place where happening upon a corpse was considered normal; men, women, children— it was commonplace.

"I'm sorry." Harry said, and I could tell he meant it.

I reached out to grasp his shoulder. "Don't be. Never apologize for anything you haven't done, kid."

"Kid? You're only a month older than me."

"And yet I'm far wiser." I said, giving him a light slap on the back of the neck.

"Don't do that!"

"Well how can I resist when you present me with such a juicy target, Potter?"

"Ugh, just don't do it again."

"No promises."

"You'd better stop, or I swear, Clarke, I'll tell everyone about the rug!" Harry warned with a glare.

"You wouldn't."

"Try me."

Our staring contest lasted for only a few moments before I scoffed and went back to petting Absol. "Fine, you win this round."

Absol gave me a look before directing her gaze to Harry. ~I like this one.~

So you've said… I thought back to her. He's pretty cool, though.

~But his thread…~ Absol said to me, and I could feel her concern. ~Something's latched onto his thread— feeding.~

I know. I thought, suppressing the urge to sigh as I watched Harry stoke the flames with a nearby stick. I've been looking into it, among other things, and so far I have no idea what to do about it.

Looking up at the seemingly serene string floating above Harry, I frowned. Even now, I could see the barest hints of red coiled around the boy's soul, influencing it in ways that I didn't quite understand just yet.

Grindelwald likely knew how to proceed in a situation like this, or at least had an idea: that was part of why I'd given joining his order some serious consideration. Having Harry uninhibited by the need to die was never a bad thing in my book— plus, I'd grown fond of the kid. I even liked him, to a degree.

Much like Tony and the others, Harry was like a little brother to me now.

Light tremors gently shook the earth beneath us, signaling the arrival of a familiar presence. I turned to see the big man himself, lumbering his way to us with a smile.

"Hagrid!" Harry said in greeting as he got up and ran to greet the man.

"'Arry." Hagrid's booming voice filled the area as he gave the boy a pat on the back, sending him stumbling a few steps. "I expected you to be in the Ravenclaw tower by now, Adam, but no worries, no worries at all."

I chuckled, banishing any thoughts of Grindelwald and Harry's ever-looming problem out of my mind. There was no use worrying about what I couldn't control, after all.

"Sorry, Hagrid." I replied with a smile. "Time just flies when I'm with Absol."

Hagrid waved away my apology with a hearty chuckle. "It's all right. Besides, I've got somethin' right special to show the both of yeh."

My curiosity piqued, I exchanged a quick glance with Harry, who mirrored my intrigue. I wondered what it would be now; Hagrid always seemed to find the strangest, most dangerous creatures to befriend, raise, or straight up breed.

Hagrid motioned for us to follow him. I rose from my spot in the campfire, patted Absol goodbye, and followed Harry and Hagrid before they could get too much distance on me. I couldn't help but feel a thrill of excitement as we made our way into the darkness, led by the gentle light of Hagrid's lantern.

As we walked, I realized the path we were on was familiar—it was the one that led to a specific spot in the Forbidden Forest. It was a place I had ventured into a few times, although not since the end of the last school year.

The rustling leaves and mysterious noises of the night surrounded us, creating an atmosphere of both excitement and trepidation.

"Is this…" Harry said, his face mirroring the emotions I was feeling.

"I think so." I nodded before looking towards Hagrid. "Are you sure this is all right?"

"Oh, yes." Hagrid said with an emphatic nod. "Especially since she's been calm and all."

"Calm?" Harry mouthed to me, and I nodded in confirmation.

The brisk walk came to an end as we arrived at a clearing. "Wasn't this a wooded area?"

"Yeh." Hagrid confirmed with a nod as he led us further down to what he wanted to show us. "Needed the space, though."

A few more steps forward and there she stood; Hagrid's dragon, Norbert.

My eyes widened in astonishment at the sight before me. Hearing about it was one thing, but seeing it— Norbert had grown so much it was ridiculous. Once small and frail, now she stood as tall as an adult human, and it didn't even seem like she was slowing down in the slightest.

Her scales gleamed in the moonlight, but, strangely she exuded an air of calmness that I had never associated with dragons.

Harry and I exchanged glances, though they were puzzled this time. We had met Norbert when she was just a hatchling, full of mischief and energy. This serene version of her was off putting.

"She's... she's grown so much." Harry managed to say, still trying to grasp the enormity of the transformation.

Hagrid nodded proudly, but a hint of concern shadowed his expression. "Aye, she's a beauty, no doubt about that. But somethin' about her... worries me a bit. Dragons ain't s'posed to be this docile, especially not of her size."

I couldn't help but feel a knot of unease in my stomach at Hagrid's words as I approached Norbert, curiosity mixed with trepidation. She didn't even react to my presence.

"Can I…?" I said, miming myself reaching out to her.

"I wouldn't." Hagrid said. "Though I don't think she'd bite, yeh shouldn't try yer luck."

"Right." I said, retracting my hand and backing away.

"What's wrong with her?" Harry said, frowning as he approached as well. "Dragons are supposed to be vicious and territorial, Hagrid. This isn't right."

"I've been in contact with dragon experts who helped me raise her." Hagrid said, his voice tinged with a mixture of pride and uncertainty. "They said I did a fine job, but... I can't help but worry. It ain't natural for a dragon to be so calm. Even Dumbledore said so, and he doesn't know, either. Even talked to the leadin' expert in Magical Creatures!"

"You mean Newt Scamander?" I said, turning my head to him as Harry walked past me to get a better look at the Dragon. "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them?"

"The very same." Hagrid said, nodding. "Read his book, have yeh?"

"Oh, yes." I nodded. "Man's a genius."

"True."

"Harry?" Hagrid's voice turned alarmed as the boy took a few steps forward. "What're yeh doing?"

I turned as well, seeing Harry's outstretched hand. "Don't."

But the boy wasn't listening to me, as if he was caught in a trance. That's when I saw it: his thread seemed as if it was seized by something, compelling it to go forward.

What the Hell is this? I thought as I drew my wand just as Harry placed his palm over Norbert's snout. She rumbled and growled, her massive form tensing as if ready to strike.

Fear gripped me, and I took a step closer, moving to intervene and pull Harry away. But before I could act, something extraordinary happened. Harry began to speak, but his words were not in English.

The words slithered from his lips, tinged with an otherworldly resonance that sent shivers down my spine. They had an off-putting, serpentine quality, as if they were part of a long-forgotten incantation.

Parseltongue! I realized instantly.

The dragon's reaction to Harry's words was even more unexpected. Rather than escalating her hostility, her demeanor softened, as if she was also under the effect of a strange compulsion. It was as though Harry's words were tapping into a primal instinct buried deep within her.

Their soul threads kept mingling for a few moments at a time, communicating in some way I had little to no knowledge of, making me swallow in trepidation and uncertainty.

The dragon's large, intelligent eyes locked onto Harry's, and a surprising level of understanding passed between them. Her growls transformed into curious rumbles, and her body language shifted from aggressive to inquisitive.

Hagrid and I exchanged amazed glances, both of us taken aback by this development.

"Adam." Hagrid said, looking wearier than I'd ever seen him. "You just— That was Parseltongue."

The last part was muttered low enough for Harry not to hear. I frowned, turning my gaze to him, quickly realizing what he may have been getting at. Does he know that Riddle is a Parseltongue? Makes sense: he did tell the boys to follow the spiders in the second book.

"Yes." I said, not even having to force the smile on my face. "That was awesome. Wasn't it?"

A moment later, I moved past him and headed towards Harry, who patted Norbert on the neck before turning to us. "She says she's been waiting for me."

I closed my mouth; whatever I was about to say was forgotten. Instead, I said. "Waiting for you?"

Harry only nodded. "I don't much understand it myself, but that's what she said. When I asked her to explain, she said she didn't know."

Hagrid approached, still looking a little dubious about it all. "I see. I'll trust you on tha', Harry."

"What do you mean?" Harry said, confused. "You all heard her."

"Harry…" I said, looking between him and Hagrid. "How to put this…"

"What?"

"Well." I said. "We didn't understand a thing she said. And, you were hissing."

"...Is this one of your pranks, Adam?"

I shook my head. "No. Not this time."

"He's righ', Harry." Hagrid said, a dark look on his face. "You were speaking the language of snakes."

"What?"

"Yes, Harry. It's an ability called Parseltongue." I explained before Harry could ask. "A rare skill with the unfortunate happenstance of only having been seen in Dark Wizards— this includes Voldemort."

Not even noticing Hagrid's flinch, Harry stilled at that information, a look of disgust spreading over his face at the very thought of sharing any sort of characteristic with the monster who killed his parents.

"But she's not a snake!" Harry said, gesturing at the Dragon. "Maybe I can speak to Dragons?"

Before he could go on, he stopped himself for a moment, recalling an old memory. "Wait… I did speak to a snake at a zoo, before I first came to Hogwarts. It was bored and miserable... Wizards can't speak to snakes?"

I moved to grasp the boy's shoulder. "Not usually, no, but it doesn't make you bad or anything. Look at me— what I've done. I've literally killed people. Am I evil?"

"No!" Harry said abruptly, before stopping himself in an attempt to calm down. "But… I am like— him."

"It's just a language." I reiterated, shaking my head. "It doesn't make you like him. Right, Hagrid?"

"Erm—" Hagrid said, eyes widening as I focused a significant look on him. He quickly gathered his wits and backed me up. "Righ'; he's right!"

"See? No big deal." I said. "Don't sweat it, all right?"

Harry didn't say anything for a long moment before nodding. "All right. Thanks, Adam."

"You're welcome." I smiled and gave him another slap on the back of the neck.

"Ow!" He reached and rubbed the spot. "What was that for?"

"To wake you up. Idiot." I said with a roll of the eyes. "Acting all cool because you can speak more languages than me?"

"You speak French!"

"True."

"Ugh, you're the worst, Adam." Harry shook his head in irritation, but I could see that he was relieved by the way his thread was gently swaying.

"I'll take that as a compliment. Now!" I clapped my hands. "What else did she say?"

"Well…" Harry began, looking at her. "She thinks the area's not big enough for her to feel comfortable."

Norbert hissed and chirped a few times, getting the boy's attention. Hagrid and I waited patiently as Harry listened to her.

"She says thank you for the food." Harry said, though he seemed like he was trying to hide his amusement. "But, erm… Well."

"What?" Hagrid said, his curiosity overwhelming his wariness. "What did she say?"

"Well…" Harry said, hesitating like he was afraid to hurt Hagrid's feelings. "She doesn't like the name Norbert. Said it's not a girl's name."

"I— Yeh— What?" Hagrid was taken aback for a few moments before he shook his head. "I suppose that were my fault."

He turned to the Dragon in question and gave her an apologetic look. "I'm sorry. How about we give yeh a new name, eh?"

The Dragon looked at him before chirping at Harry.

"She says yes." Harry translated. Hagrid's face lit up in wonder, and how could I blame him? Even people like Newt Scamander, for all their talents, could not actually speak with the animals in their care.

"Alrigh'." Hagrid nodded and turned his attention towards her. "How about Norberta?"

She growled at him, and he raised his hand in surrender.

"She didn't like that, Hagrid." Harry said.

"Thanks Harry." I said, my voice dripping with sarcasm. "We couldn't tell."

The boy glared at me. "You come up with something, then, if you're so smart."

"Oh, no." I said, smiling as I took a step back, my wand still firmly grasped in my hand. "I have no desire to anger a Dragon. How about you give it a try, you old Dragoncharmer, you?"

"That name better not stick, or I swear I'll..." Harry gave me a mock glare for a few moments before sighing and staring at the now calm Dragon. They stayed that way for quite some time before Harry smiled and said. "Astrid."

I blinked. "Astrid?"

"Yeah."

"I like it." Hagrid said with a nod. "That's an old name, tha'."

"It is." I confirmed. "Astrid… That means 'Divine Strength', if I'm not mistaken."

The Dragon chirped happily before nuzzling her head against Harry's. The boy spoke in Parseltongue once again for a few seconds before turning back to us. "She approves."

"Astrid, it is." Hagrid said, his previous reaction to Harry's ability all-but forgotten. "She's got a real likin' to yeh, Harry."

I couldn't help but notice Hagrid's look sent towards me, though he tried to hide it.

I suppose his curiosity makes sense. I thought and looked in the general direction of the Thestral herd. Dragons are the ultimate expression of life here, while Thestrals can be argued to be the ultimate expression of death— and each of us is linked to the other. Is it coincidence?

Somehow, I had the feeling that it was not.

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Duality.

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