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Feb 19, 1992, 9:00 AM
Pierce the flesh, pull to mouth, bite, chew and swallow. Pierce the flesh, pull to mouth, bite, chew and swallow.
Draco Malfoy did not even realize someone was talking to him, taking another bite of his sausage and mindlessly swallowing it.
He snapped out of it at the sound of someone snapping their fingers next to his ears. Draco turned to see a concerned Pansy Parkinson.
"Pansy?" He said, rubbing behind his ear with an annoyed look. "Don't do that."
"I'm sorry, Draco." Pansy said, looking abashed. "I just couldn't figure out how to get your attention. You seemed like you were under some sort of spell."
Beside him, Crabbe grunted in agreement.
Draco blinked, not realizing he had lost track of everything. He stifled the wince that threatened to come over his face.
You are a son of Malfoy and Black. He heard the cold rebuke of his father in his own mind. Act like it.
"I was thinking about something concerning our Potions homework." Draco hoped his quick lie sounded smooth in their ears. "It's due tomorrow."
He had, in fact, completed the damned thing the day before. Still, he could always pretend that he needed to give it one last proofread, just in case.
"Plenty of time, Draco!" Millicent said, waving his words away before piling some food on her plate. "Best to enjoy your food while it's still hot!"
Draco bit off the scathing response and composed himself. He did not appreciate the girl's forward nature. It never ceased to get on his nerves.
Nott had been the same way, as well. The theft incident had driven the boy away from Draco, however.
He still did not understand why Nott had even done it. It wasn't like he didn't have an allowance of his own— Draco had seen the boy's sack of coin firsthand, after all. It had been a meager amount compared to his own, but Theodore still had far more than any of the others.
So what was the point of it? He'd risked everything and then lied about it to Draco's face for no apparent reason.
Draco shook his head. Understanding fools was an exercise in futility.
Besides. He thought to himself. However inelegant and crass, Millicent is right about one thing: food's getting cold.
He continued eating his breakfast, savoring the tastes as he tried not to think of anything. Hopefully, this time it would work.
He lasted about five seconds before someone got his attention.
"There he is." One of the upper years said nearby. "Can you believe it?"
Draco followed the boy's line of sight and found the object of his most recent thoughts.
Adam Clarke; the boy entered the Great Hall with his two friends and took a seat at the Ravenclaw table. He looked a little worse for wear, but far better than he had the day before.
"Filthy Mudbloods." One of the girls muttered low enough to not be heard by anyone farther than a few feet. "They think they're so smart."
"My mum told me once that they steal the magic away from honest wizards."
There was a murmur of agreement going through their immediate surroundings. Even Draco found himself nodding along, almost not registering what it was that they were saying.
"What do you, Draco Malfoy, think?"
The Mudblood boy's words echoed through Draco's mind, having spread their roots deep inside the totality of his thoughts.
"Not what your parents think, or even your friends. You."
Draco exhaled, trying to steer his focus back to the sausage hanging off of his fork.
"Look at him." The same boy continued, his voice full of contempt. "He thinks he's better than us."
"Heard he has an interview with the Daily Prophet today."
"What is Wizarding Society coming to, now that the pondscum thinks it can engage with us?"
A smattering of people fidgeted at the boy's words, but did not dare challenge them. Draco's gray eyes swept over them; he swiftly identified the students as the half-bloods of the House.
Draco frowned and set his fork down, having lost his appetite.
Could Clarke be right? Draco thought, the warring feelings within him weighing him down.
Father had always told him that they, the pure of blood, were superior to all, both mentally and magically.
And yet, Clarke the Mudblood had surpassed everyone around him with strides so monumental that it boggled the mind.
And with such laughable ease...
For a brief instant, Draco remembered the Shield Charm that the boy had cast that day, when they'd caught him unawares.
That was when Draco had realized that he wasn't dealing with any normal wizard.
Clarke had taken every spell they'd thrown at him and kept moving like they weren't even there.
Staggering power. Draco thought.
It was a sobering event, and one that never failed to cause his anger to surge, as well as his unease… perhaps even his fear, if he were to be honest with himself.
The Ravenclaw boy had not retaliated, even though Draco knew that Clarke could have— a hundred times over, he could have.
So, why hadn't he?
It was yet another question Draco had no answer to. Draco hated mysteries the most, unless he was the one being mysterious to others.
"You're a smart wizard." Clarke had told him. "Just think about it."
Maybe there's more to Clarke than meets the eye. But what could it be? Draco thought. Perhaps it's the way he acts. He behaves more like Father or Professor Snape than he does a Mudblood, after all.
It was plain for the eye to see, and Draco had been watching this one for quite some time.
So, what did he know about Clarke?
I know that he's a prodigy when it comes to the magical arts. Draco thought. I know that he carries himself with the dignity of a pureblood— or at least, someone of noble bearing— and I know that he seems to be a step ahead of everyone around him.
Draco pondered this for a few moments further before it clicked for him. A Mudblood raised in an orphanage— wait.
He stilled as a thought occurred. Surely not?
Draco turned his head towards Clarke with a thoughtful expression. His mind was going a mile a minute. Maybe he's not a Mudblood…?
"Draco, what's wrong?" Pansy said in concern, cutting off the blonde's thoughts and bringing him back to reality. "You seem…"
She did not finish, but Draco could figure it out well enough. He knew that his behavior was strange in their eyes.
To be honest, it's strange in my own eyes, as well. He thought and decided to address the girl. "I'm all right. I've just been thinking a lot, that's all."
He had hoped the words would assuage her concerns, but interest made its way into Pansy's eyes, instead.
"Oh?" She lowered her voice to a whisper as she leaned towards him. "About what?"
Draco resisted the urge to scowl and pushed himself off of the Slytherin table. "I don't want to talk about it."
"Oh." Pansy said, the expression on her face telling Draco that she realized that she'd overstepped one too many times. "I'm sorry."
Draco waved it off and shouldered his book bag. "Let's go. I need to get my homework done."
"But I'm not done eating." Goyle muttered but got up anyway, along with the rest of their group.
Draco felt bad about interrupting his friend's meal, but made his way out of the Great Hall, regardless.
Pansy did not follow.
It was just as well; Draco wanted to make as much distance between himself and Pansy's questions, at that moment.
In fact, he didn't want any of them knowing that, somewhere deep inside of his most guarded thoughts, he felt sympathy for Adam Clarke— Mudblood or not.
A true shame that someone of his talent is not one of us. The fact that he could even have these thoughts was both galling and frightening.
Draco did not think any of his friends or family would react well to his change. He knew that he would not have, were the roles reversed.
It only made him feel all the worse.
Adam Clarke, same time
I spied a glimpse of Malfoy as he exited the Great Hall in a bit of a hurry.
He looks troubled. I thought and turned to Su, who had been talking to me. "I'm sorry, Su, I got a little distracted. What were you saying?"
"Oh." Su followed my line of sight and couldn't find what I'd been staring at. With a shrug, she focused on me again. "I was wondering if you were ready for the interview, today."
I gave her a strained smile. "Hopefully, I am. I don't rightly know."
If I were to be honest with myself, I'd rather fight another two-man cell of Aurors than do interviews with reporters. I thought.
"You look a lot better than yesterday, Adam." Su said, before wincing. "I'm sorry. That sounded a lot more encouraging in my head."
"No, no." I was quick to say. "You're doing great— better than Tony, at least."
"Hey!" Tony said, brandishing his fork at me with menacing promise in his eyes, before it shifted to amusement. "But, to be serious here, you're right, Su."
It would have sounded reassuring, or even endearing, had he not had a mouthful of potatoes in his mouth.
"Talking or eating." Su wrinkled her nose at him. "You should pick one! Don't be like Ron."
Tony gave us a sheepish look and swallowed, before speaking again. "Sorry. Anyway, you're definitely looking better, Adam. I'm glad you've been resting."
I smiled and nodded. "Thanks, guys."
It had actually been the best sleep of my life, which was both great and frightening in equal measures.
It was great because I had finally made everything right with the Castle again. Alef Ard was no longer pressuring me to do anything— in fact, its presence worked to soothe my soul with such a penetrative fervor I hadn't felt since I'd reached the peak of my previous life.
I had gone to bed feeling exhausted, but complete in a way that simply couldn't be described with any accuracy.
On the other hand, it was frightening because I had murdered a man who stood as an obstacle in my path, and I felt nothing for him.
I didn't know what that signified, but I did know that my lack of reaction was not natural.
This body isn't natural. The very thought of killing another person— it doesn't phase me anymore. I thought, piling some eggs onto my plate. Helena referred to me as a living corpse. Am I so linked with the void that I feel no guilt when I'm pulling people into it?
Another argument for me not feeling anything was that, just like me, everyone eventually would go to the void to be reborn in the future.
Why be sad over the natural order of things?
Did I enjoy killing the man? No.
I did feel a great thrill whilst dueling him, though; the primal human fear borne from putting my life on the line, the deadly game of spell exchange, the excitement that came with it— all of these worked me up something fierce.
He should have walked away. I thought with a bit of frustration. He forced my hand. All they had to do was fuck off. The guy got himself killed over 50 Galleons.
You almost got yourself killed over 50 Galleons. The sly part of me whispered with some amusement as I stared down at my eggs. At least try to be a little self aware when making comments like these?
I nodded to myself before digging in. It was a fair point, after all. I just wished it wasn't the voice in my head making it.
I brought another forkful of eggs to my mouth, doing my best to keep my breathing level as my taste buds writhed with pleasure. Anything I ate tasted like ambrosia, a true delight.
I feel so… I thought, swallowing. Alive. All of my sensations seem magnified, in a way.
Within the far recesses of my mind, I felt Alef Ard buzzing about with happiness, like a child praised by its parents.
That had been a change I was still acclimating to: in all of the excitement, I hadn't considered the consequences of naming a genius loci.
This is your doing? I thought, and the spirit buzzed in the affirmative. I see, thank you.
I had half expected the genius loci to have Intellectus, which would allow me to have instant knowledge of anything within the Castle walls— sort of like the Marauder's Map. Maybe the Marauders had inadvertently tapped into Alef Ard when they were working on it? It could very well be just a spell they made up, too. Hard to tell, though…
I threw a glance towards Fred and George Weasley. The two boys seemed to be deep in discussion— a far cry from their usual fanfare.
Maybe there's something to it?
I watched them for a few seconds longer before Tony poked my shoulder.
"Incoming." Tony said, and I followed his face to see Hermione walking over to me with an expression of determination on her face. Trailing behind her at a more sedate pace, were Harry and Ron.
I know that expression. I thought. She's looking for answers. And dragging the poor sods with her, too.
As she got even closer, I wondered what she wanted before giving a mental shrug.
"Good morning, Hermione." I said before she started. "Ron. Harry."
"'Lo." Ron waved, oblivious to Hermione's mild agitation. "All right?"
I suppressed the urge to smile. Ron, you hero.
"I'm feeling a lot better." I said. "No more headache and I'm not as tired as before. What about you three?"
"I'm fine." Both boys muttered.
Hermione took a second to answer. "I'm doing well. Adam, I was hoping we could have a word?"
I gave her a long look, watching as she fidgeted under my gaze.
"All right." I finally said, setting my fork down and preparing to get up.
"Wait, if you're still hungry—"
I scoffed with amusement, raising a hand to forestall whatever she was about to say. "No, it's fine. I had a little too much, as it is."
"Growing body, and all that." Ron piped up.
"Yeah." I let out a scoff before smiling. "I take it that this is a private talk?"
Hermione nodded before turning to her two friends. "Ron, Harry—"
"Yeah, yeah." Ron cut her off, turning away. "See you later. Come on Harry."
Harry nodded to us before backing away as well. As soon as he was sure that Hermione wasn't looking, he mouthed 'Good Luck' to me.
Observant kid. I gave him another nod and gestured to the exit of the Great Hall. "We can talk on the way to the Headmaster's office."
Hermione opened her mouth before forming an 'o' of realization.
"Oh, right." Hermione said. "The interview."
"Good luck, Adam!" Su and Tony said at the same time.
"Thanks, you guys." I graced them with a smile before snatching a piece of bread. "I'll let you know how it goes."
"You'd better." I heard Tony's mutter as I joined Hermione and exited the Great Hall in silence.
As the doors closed behind us, the rowdy, boisterous atmosphere was replaced with the peaceful quiet of the halls of Hogwarts.
"So." I started the conversation off, taking a quick bite of my bread. "Have you ever been to the Headmaster's office before, Hermione?"
"I have not." She answered.
I gave her a sidelong glance. She seemed to be trying to find the words to say.
"Fascinating place, really." I said. "It's got all the previous Headmasters in portraits— there are a lot of them."
"I read about them."
I nodded and took the final bite of the bread, patting the crumbs off of my robes. "Yeah, I did too. But seeing them was a completely different experience, you know?"
Hermione nodded slowly, looking like she was working up her nerve.
I decided to cut the poor girl some slack and stopped walking, turning to her. "All right, out with it."
"What?" Hermione's eyes widened at the sudden confrontation.
I smiled to put her at ease. "You've been looking like you wanted to say something to me even before you came over to me in the Great Hall. So go on— spit it out."
She hesitated, and I felt my stomach drop. Wait… is she going to admit to having a crush on me or something?
I hoped to God that this wasn't the case. If she did, I was going to run to the Headmaster's office faster than the fucking Flash.
"Can you turn invisible?" Hermione finally blurted out, unable to keep her question inside any longer.
I blinked. "What?"
That hadn't been what I was expecting.
Like a dam bursting, Hermione's words came. "Well, I could never figure out where you were, so I went looking for you and you always kept disappearing and I lost track of you— which means that you either know some secret passages, or you can go invisible."
She said all of that in one breath. I marveled at her word-vomit for a second before what she said caught up with me. She's been following me?
I hadn't even noticed.
Professor Quirrell's words about minding my own surroundings came to mind. Maybe I should follow his advice a little more stringently.
"I'm sorry." Hermione continued, taking my silence as a sign of rebuke. "I didn't mean…"
"You're right." I said.
"It's just that I— wait." Hermione's eyes widened. "I'm right?"
"Is that what you focused on?" I scoffed in amusement, but nodded anyway. "Yes. I know a spell which allows me to go unseen."
A moment, and then—
"The Disillusionment Charm, correct?"
My smile widened. "Did your homework, huh? Not bad."
Hermione did not answer, looking away with a blush.
I suppose that's answer enough for me. I thought. "You want to learn it?"
"No." She said quickly. "I mean yes! I definitely want to learn it."
"No… Yes…" I drew the words out, enjoying messing with the girl. "Which is it, exactly?"
"Yes." Hermione said with some force, before looking unsure. "I want to learn it. It's just that… um…"
I waited for her to finish, though I had a feeling I knew what she was going to say.
"I wanted to know where you were going, too." Hermione forced herself to say, sending me a mixed look of expectancy and nervousness and doing her best to ignore how red her face was.
Well, at least she's honest and direct. I thought, wondering what to say to her.
Hermione fidgeted, wondering if she'd said too much.
How much should I really tell her? I thought. "Do you need to know?"
That didn't seem to be the answer she expected, I realized as she tilted her head. "What?"
"Do you really need to know?" I repeated myself.
"I mean…" she grabbed her left arm in a clear sign of rising tension. "No, I don't— but I just wanted to know where you were going, Adam."
I considered telling her about the Room of Requirement for a moment, before discarding the thought. Until I had a better handle on the Castle's genius loci, it was better to keep this one a secret.
"I just like being alone sometimes." I said. "If I stay around people too long, I become really tired. It doesn't matter who I'm with— I just need to get away for a little while, maybe do some independent research, or catch up on some reading. I don't like being disturbed."
It wasn't exactly a lie; as an introvert, I did enjoy being alone. It helped me recharge my 'social battery', so to speak.
All I omitted was the location of my retreat and what exactly I would be researching.
As I spoke, Hermione's expression turned into one of guilt and mild shame.
"Oh…" she said, her eyes not meeting my own. "I didn't know that. I'm sorry, Adam."
"It's okay." I waved her apology off, feeling bad for not telling her the full truth. "I'm sorry, too. I don't really share what I do with anyone because I'm not used to people actually worrying about me."
"That's right..." Hermione had a look of realization before it grew even guiltier than before. "I didn't think about…"
"Like I said, it's all right." I reassured her before she could beat herself up some more. "You still want to learn the spell?"
Hermione nodded in silence, not wanting to put her foot in her mouth anymore.
"All right." I said, patting her shoulder a few times to show her that everything was fine. "We'll have to figure out when to meet—"
"Ah." Professor Flitwick's voice came from the side, drawing my attention away from our conversation. "There you are, Mr. Clarke."
"Professor Flitwick." Hermione and I greeted him automatically.
"Miss Granger." The diminutive man gave her a cheerful nod. "Fine day, isn't it?"
"Yes, professor." Hermione said with a nod.
"Am I late for the interview, sir?" I said.
"Goodness, no!" Filius said with a laugh. "The interview won't start for…"
He pulled out a pocket watch and examined it for a moment. "Another fifteen minutes. Plenty of time, lad."
"Aye." I agreed before turning to Hermione. "Talk later? We'll figure something out."
Hermione nodded. "I'll hold you to that."
I turned to the Professor, who was eying the two of us with interest. "I'm ready, sir."
"Come along, then." He said, before addressing Hermione again. "Have a wonderful day, Miss Granger!"
"You too, sir!"
We descended into silence as we made our way towards Dumbledore's office. I felt a slight nervousness creeping up my spine.
"Any idea who the Prophet sent to do the interview, sir?" I asked out of the blue.
"I'm not sure." Professor Flitwick said, sending me a knowing look. "Afraid that it's Rita Skeeter, Mr. Clarke?"
I smiled, some of the nervousness washing away. "Is it that obvious, Professor?"
Flitwick gave a little laugh before answering. "Now, don't take this as confirmation, but Miss Skeeter has always preferred taking stories which are of a more… dramatic nature."
I nodded, understanding what he was getting at. Tragedies, deaths, affairs, scandals, smear campaigns: that was Skeeter's bread and butter.
There was a good chance that she wouldn't take this story. It was going to be a puff piece about an eleven year old orphan succeeding through hard work.
Then again, if anyone can turn a story like this into a hatchet job, it's Rita Skeeter. I thought.
I could already picture it. A few suggestive sentences here, a few misquoted, misunderstood statements, and it could easily become a story of a Mudblood daring to spit in the face of his betters.
I shook my head. Voldemort was still a shadow stuck to the back of Quirrell's head, and his followers were either in Azkaban or had fucked off to the depths of whatever Hellhole they'd crawled out of.
Articles like that wouldn't get far in the current political climate.
"There is no need to worry." Professor Flitwick said. "Even if they do send… her, both the Headmaster and I will be attending to make sure nothing untoward happens."
I smiled as we turned a corner, the Headmaster's office gargoyle now in view. "You're right. I just have to put my best foot forward."
"Words to live by, young man." Flitwick said and stood before the gargoyle. "Twirling Twizzlers."
The gargoyle leapt to the side, revealing the spiral staircase leading up.
"We're just in time." Professor Flitwick said. "Ready, Mr. Clarke?"
I swallowed and nodded. "As ready as I'll ever be."
We went up the stairs and paused outside of the Headmaster's door.
"Come in." Professor Dumbledore said before we even knocked.
I scoffed, sending my professor a glance. Filius seemed amused at this, as well.
I pushed the door open, seeing the Headmaster at his desk. Opposite of him, a young witch in her twenties engaged him in polite discourse.
"Ah, Filius, Mr. Clarke." Dumbledore said by way of greeting, gesturing for us to approach. "Amy, I'm sure you are already familiar with Filius."
"Professor." The woman named Amy got up and greeted the man with great warmth. "It's been a long time."
"Miss Broduk." Filius said in amusement. "Please, call me Filius. I haven't been your teacher and Head of House for some time now."
"Be that as it may, Professor." Amy smiled back. "Old habits, and all that."
"Indeed." Professor Flitwick only graced her with a fond expression, before gesturing to me. "I'd like you to meet Adam Clarke— I daresay, he is one of the best students that I've ever had."
"My, my." She gave a polite, but impressed smile as she turned her hazel eyes towards me, extending a hand. "Amy Broduk. Reporting for the Daily Prophet. A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Clarke."
I took her hand and gave it a firm shake, marveling at how soft it felt to the touch. What the hell is she using to keep her hands so soft?
"The pleasure is all mine." I said, letting go and staring down at my own hand. "What's your secret to keeping your hand soft like that?"
Amy gave an amused chuckle at the question. "Professor Dumbledore was right about you, Mr. Clarke; you are very inquisitive."
I smiled back, keeping things polite. She could tell, however, that I was waiting for an answer.
"I propose a trade." She said, taking a few steps over.
The tall woman towered over me, and I couldn't help but run my eyes over her. She was thin, with silky brown hair reaching down to her neck and a kind face, enhanced by the slight smile still playing at her soft, pink lips. I almost took a step back, being acutely aware of her perfume— an alluring note of myrrh and lilies hovering in the air around her.
"A trade?" I did my best not to react to the wonderful smell before answering. "I'm listening."
"Perhaps a display of your skill to dazzle the readers?" She said, smiling with her eyes. "You do this for me, and I'll tell you the secret."
I considered her offer.
She's pretty shrewd. I thought. Or maybe I'm reading too much into it? She's either trying to call attention to the possibility that I'm a fraud, or she genuinely wants to show people proof of my skill. Either way, it makes for a more impressive story.
This woman was something else. Her alluring features, as well as her bubbly personality seemed like the sort of thing that would let her past many people's walls, while her sharp nature let her ask all the right questions; traits like these were a reporter's bread and butter— the best way to get the scoop. I wondered why she was saddled with such a low tier story.
Then again, the name Broduk didn't sound like any I should recognize.
Discrimination? Maybe office politics?
I supposed it wouldn't hurt to show off a few of the less impressive spells in my repertoire, if it helped her a bit. "All right, Miss Broduk. I'll give a demonstration."
"Splendid! And, please… call me Amy." She said, smiling a little wider and stepping back as she sent a wink, fully aware of the effect she had on me. "Shall we?"
What a woman.
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