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The Ground Beneath their Feet

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In the Witching World, during his 202nd year, one Hadrian Potter became part of the team of architects renowned for building the great Witching Library of the British Isles. The building’s towering central spire would steal the breath of those who beheld it and inspire waves of wizards to try and revive Witching architecture across the Isles. Over the two hundred years leading up to Hadrian's birth, the practice of magical architecture had gone rather out of the common way in England. The time and effort magical architecture required were hardly possible during periods of warfare, when magic was unstable due to the disappearance of both the world’s people and its lands. Hadrian and his two partners (three, sometimes three, depending on how one counted) Millicent Bulstrode and Hermione Granger each had their own goals, which remained hidden from the Witching World until a great many years had passed. Their work, however, would unintentionally reignite the Witching community’s ties with the earth and their passion for property and family.

For Hadrian, his main reason for contributing to the library was his love of earth and stone – particularly the stones. Hadrian somewhat unintentionally began a love affair with the ground beneath his feet when he was just beginning the first class of his local school at the age of five. Although first chosen as a deflection, his love of stones became so rooted in the core of his sense of self  that by the time Hadrian learned about magic, his passion for them did not abate but rather flourished alongside his magical development. That love seeped throughout his life, fundamentally altering both it and the lives of those closest to him. By the time he—and they—had reached full maturity at the age of forty, almost his entire magical skill set was grounded in solid stone and the living dirt that rests beneath all people’s feet even if they pay no mind to it. It was natural that, as they grew and matured together, Hadrian’s closest friends since Hogwarts had developed complementary skills. The three (four sometimes, four depending on how and when you counted) were well on their way to becoming architects. Once they realized it, they spent the next century perfecting their craft with the goal of calling a magnificent citadel of knowledge—a Witching Library—into being. They didn’t know it, didn’t think of it, but the structure would be celebrated as an architectural marvel for centuries after. Once the magnificent structure was brought into being, one could certainly say that they had done their public duty. They thus promptly vanished from most, if not all, people’s knowledge.

Three hundred years after the Library’s construction, people still told myriad stories and spread rumors about it. To actually build the library, some claimed that the three partners ordered the ground to heave itself open in order to pull the stones out, just as the founders of Hogwarts had done a millennium and a half prior. The story went that, working as a triad, Potter the Geomancer had joined hands with Bulstrode the Charmer and Granger the Neuromancer to raise the earth and build a spire as a tribute to knowledge. To lend the tale even more romance and drama, the three supposedly vanished not long after, supposedly subsumed by their own creation. Some claimed that the rooms spelled to protect those learning some of the darker arts had eaten them. Those books did, after all, bite. Others claimed that the three had tied themselves too deeply to the building and into wards, dying there and becoming ghosts. The three were known, after all, to have dabbled in some darker blood magic. The three had tried to push the state to lift bans and restrictions. They had built their library around the idea that people should be able to study and collaborate on almost any subject, if under certain restrictions for the more questionable ones. And their existence as ghosts would have explained why the three’s group portrait in the library entrance simply did not respond. People whose ghosts lingered simply did not have responsive portraits. But most people believed that the three in the portrait were just sleeping peacefully after more than two centuries of labor.

In truth, though, almost all of the public record about the three partners and the construction of the library were incorrect or entirely fantastical, even if some was partly grounded in kernels of truth. The stories’ embellishments were pure fiction as the three had not died - neither having been consumed by the newly-born Library nor having sacrificed themselves to their own wards. The portraits were not, of course, sleeping as none of the three were dead. The rumors that the three were ghosts were more accurate, although still off the mark. For the purposes of the Witching world, they were ghosts. And those rumors abounded in part because the friends still stopped by the library, where they were, on very rare occasions, recognized as disembodied heads sticking out from under invisibility cloaks or as translucent, pearly specters as disillusionment charms started wearing off after hours of research. The truth of the matter was that, at more than 500 years of age, none of them had died at all. But none of them felt the need to let Witching society know that they had far outlived the usual old age of 220. For most, 500 years was an infeasibility. Rare was the person who lived to 220. To live to 500 necessitated outside influence to escape the bonds of mortality. Magic contributed to long-lived beings, sustaining its hosts far beyond non-magical capacity, but Hadrian and his two friends lived longer than most.

In Hadrian’s early life, most in the magical community saw 200 has a ripe, old age. Indeed, most in the Witching community held that 17 was the age of maturity and 100 was a good, old age to reach. That belief was largely due to the imbalance created by two centuries of wars including the two Dumbledore Wars against Grindelwald and Voldemort. Those centuries of violent conflict devastated the population, resulting in the life expectancy of the British Isles’ magical humans sinking from around 200 to a mere 45 years, which was in truth an age when a witch was barely out of their adolescence. Killing children does tend to lower average life expectancy. And children have short memories, but often assume that what they do know encompasses the expanse of reality. With so many people dying, the English Witching Government decided to try channeling more people into the workforce and more people to produce new children quickly. With that view, the English government dropped the legal age of adulthood to well before actual mature development. Non-magical humans can have children when they’re still barely more than children. Magical humans can too be it however unwise.

Furthermore, dropping the legal age of majority meant children were now positioned to lead. Children are cruel and—understandably—childish. For those very reasons, children should not run a government. But in England, children were the majority of the population. The childish leaders who took over, electing themselves into power, set about trying to shape the world to their preferences with almost no knowledge of how that world actually functioned. Youth and age should go hand in hand in leadership, the generations listening to one another for a synthesis of new breath and aged wisdom. Between the two, society could handle new issues based on healthy consideration. But without access to wisdom, the young English government decided to obliterate problems rather than balance the system. They wanted to remove disease in order to alleviate symptoms of discord. In theory, the idea made some limited sense. In practice, the government’s youthful hands forgot that the world was not divided into discrete systems. In practice, forbidding entire branches of magic like blood magic was a little bit like cutting out someone’s heart to prevent a small cut from bleeding. The bleeding would, in fact, stop but at an inexcusable cost.

Hadrian had the simultaneous benefit and disadvantage of spending his infanthood removed from the Witching world. In consequence, he shared none of the fallacious perceptions of blood magic or the all-or-nothing mentality of many of his peers. That removal both gave him perspective which served to his advantage and harmed his development by impeding his understanding of matters which the magical-raised seemed to grasp instinctively. He shared none of the privileges of those raised with magic within the Witching World. For him, blood magic was neither good nor bad. It was simply a form of magic one could learn and practice. Because so few spoke about it openly, much less to Hadrian, he was unaware of the associated stigma of the practice. Hence, in the long run of hundreds of years, that removal did benefit his development as an architect. Yet, it would have been better for that removal, that distance, to have never happened. In the Witching world and without, it children should not be abused for possible benefit.

For Hadrian, blood magic was a part of his focus on earth and stone almost from the beginning. Stable magical architecture is, after all, not only about construction but also about function, which includes protection. The most common and perhaps securest forms of protection were usually based in runic warding tied to blood magic. Most magic architecture included extensive use of Witching space both to capitalize on location but also to protect from non-magical interference. Witching space is not stable for non-magical beings as for them the space does not actually exist in the standard four-ish dimensions most non-magical beings operate across. Even for magical beings to operate in witching space, those spaces need an anchor in the four-ish ‘standard’ dimensions. Usually, the magical beings act as those anchors, with wards tying family bloodlines to a place in order to keep magical properties rooted in reality. In order to tie the family, the individual family members usually fed themselves to blood wards. That feeding, however, did not usually include lasting harm or death. Usually, women do not die when they menstruate. Nor do non-menstruating women and men perish upon finger pricks with needles. Indeed, before those two centuries of war, for most families, blood magic meant lavish feasts with candied sweets and a sense of renewal.

But communities forget in part because most children do not have the information in the first place to forget about it. Most children in Hadrian’s childhood had no experience with blood wards or buildings bound into Witching space. Most children in Hadrian’s generation had only seen a few such buildings, if ever. That absence was due in part to the downside to blood wards serving as the anchors for witching space. Blood-based wards meant that if those tied to the wards were, say, killed in a war, then the property folded into itself and was lost. Over the 200 years before Hadrian’s birth, hundreds of properties across the Isles and the Continent simply vanished when their tethers to the living, breathing, non-magical world snapped. The mansions and castles behind the illusions of broken huts melted away leaving only the huts behind as memorials to once grand magical homes. For those who looked, who knew enough to be interested, there were often records of those properties. Sometimes beautifully illustrated portraits hinted at the majesty of those lost spaces. But the properties themselves were irretrievable. Even when the children in government passed a series of laws stipulating that the properties without clear heirs should revert to the state, the properties rarely did. The law could do little to retrieve a property that had ceased to exist.

With the number of magical people slaughtered over the past century, several once famous places were gone, leaving witching places like Hogwarts Castle bereft, all too lonely as they watched their fellows vanish. Most properties, however, were only tied to a few people instead of a whole bloodline. Some were jealous of their wards and refused to tie them to the whole family. The subsequent loss of those hundreds of properties meant that when Hadrian first attended Hogwarts, the Castle was in deep mourning. Her friends, her companions of centuries, had been vanishing across the Isles.

The remaining properties watched one another carefully to see who would survive these massacres. Because another effect of that blood, of the life and magic that filled those Witching spaces, was that the spaces would absorb all of that blood and life and magic into themselves. The true head of an established family was often the house. English magic had been spun and developed as a dependency to the earth. Without that tie, the family could not be rooted in the Isles. Other groups bound themselves to the air or the water but here, in this dimension, upon these Isles, the English had made their homes in stone and dirt. And the children; those young, foolish children who did not even have an inkling what they had never known, what they had never had a chance to forget, all unknowingly severed those ancient ties as they brandished their decorative sticks of wood and forgot the call of the earth. Hogwarts seethed at the foolishness of the children who left her much too early even as she yearned to protect them.

Hogwarts did not vanish or even diminish despite the new laws, despite the delusions of the English magicians, in part because of the children who ran through her halls and stumbled up the stairs of her spine. Witching law was all well and good for those who wished to live by it, but magic was not only intent based. The children’s knives slipping in potions, falling from brooms, pricking their fingers with needles, burying their first moons’ blood under the perimeter trees all resulted in a stream of blood, of life, pouring into the Castle’s wards. All of those children, those accident-prone children, unintentionally practiced blood magic. And in so doing, the children almost all tied themselves into Hogwarts’ wards. Hogwarts’ architects had built her with just that in mind. She was supposed to be their safe haven and they her protectors. It was hardly the founders’ fault that people forgot to know what they had never learned.

For Hadrian, Hogwarts was his first home and part of the convoluted series of reasons he became a Witching architect and one of the three masters of the Witching Library. The Castle’s desire to speak with friends would eventually inspire him to build places Hogwarts could commune with. But then he also did it to thumb his nose at the Ministry of Magic as well as society’s elites. Adding to that, which likely would have already sufficed, his inheritance of multiple properties with family libraries pushed him toward architecture because he wanted a public, British institution to donate them to. Combine all of that with his friendship with Millicent Bulstrode and Hermione Granger and there was reason enough to build a fortress for knowledge.

Hadrian hadn’t enjoyed watching Hermione’s hair spark with rage when she’d learned the results of Grindelwald’s reign of terror. Grindelwald had set out to claim the public Witching library of England as his own. Grindelwald, like Voldemort after him, was technically still a child when he started his reign of terror. He had not understood the results of murdering each of the librarians tied to the property. The moment the last librarian stopped breathing, the public Witching library in England had folded itself away. But, just as the government was learning, Grindelwald could only tear his hair as he failed to bring back what no longer existed. Neither Grindelwald nor Voldemort actually possessed the breadth of knowledge they believed. In their ignorance they both, as so many children do, destroyed much of what they claimed to admire and love. Only with age does one usually appreciate how much one does not know.

Hermione had raged to know that while there were Witching libraries on the continent, in Britain semi-public access was limited to the government’s library in the Ministry and the Hogwarts library in Scotland. There were some in Ireland, but crossing large bodies of moving water with magic was simply not feasible for most unless their magic was tied to water. Hermione declared that a school library was not supposed to be one of the best libraries in the country. For Hadrian’s part, he wished that Hermione should be happy (and she was most certainly not happy with a school library being one of the best in the country) and tentatively felt that knowledge should be accessible to all.

But, really, at the heart of Hadrian’s decision was his love of stone. Long before he saw Hogwarts or met Hermione and Millicent, a great love of earth and stone had formed in his breast and rooted in his stomach. Long before Riddle ended up bound to him, Harry had looked at the earth under his fingers in his aunt’s garden and loved the small, grey stones he had to pull from her flowerbeds. For him, it was sheer providence that those sensations developed early, because magical architecture takes decades to master. Mastery, after all, necessitated connections to earth and sky both, as well as a solid basis in charms, transfiguration, and arithmancy. And, as Hadrian would learn, it required a team of friends who trusted one another enough to allow them to dip into one another’s magic.

It was good that Hadrian had those decades because his work necessitated spending more than ten years walking the Isles in order to tell them about how he wanted to build a library. The speech of the earth and the stones is slow, after all. Hadrian had to slow himself down in order to convey his requests to the stones beneath his feet. He had to tell the whole of the Isles about the idea, with Riddle trailing along behind. He had to convince them to form the library as part of themselves. Hadrian didn’t want to command or compel the earth as rumor suggested. He wanted to tie the library’s Witching space to the earth itself. So, he asked quite nicely if the earth would be willing to follow Hermione and Millicent’s chanted blueprints and consume part of their beings.

This library was not supposed to vanish with the disappearance of its librarians, it was not supposed to belong to any handful of people but serve as an edifice of knowledge for any who desired to learn. It was supposed to enable the desirous to flourish. It would house at least one copy of every text magical Britain produced. They ensured legislature that the edifice be open to all, regardless of affiliation and background. Knowledge, the three argued, was for the people.

Most knowledge was for the people, at least. There was one piece of knowledge that the friends chose not to share with anyone but themselves: the bit about their access to the (or possibly a) philosopher’s stone. Instead, they remained quiet about their possession of the famous but-all-but-forgotten-stone and charmed their faces to look aged. And, after the Library stood tall, the three (or four, perhaps) chose to vanish. The Witching world was already used to the three disappearing for years. After decades of absence, most people in the Witching community believed they would never come back, particularly after rumors about ghostly apparitions of the three spread across the Isles.

Any who could see the library were welcome to enter and use the material there but not to remove it. Millicent had worked hard to develop charms to return each book to its shelf-spot at precisely 1:25am no matter where the book in question might be. The system carried problems for researchers who worked through the night as their tables, overflowing with books, would suddenly empty, their notes fluttering to the now-bare table surfaces. But then again it also served as a difficult-to-miss warning that the unionized house elves were soon to sweep through at 2am. Best to clean up and step down to the cafeteria to digest the reading material with a cup of tea.

The three architects loved their tea. Generations of house elves passed down their preferences as part of young elves’ apprenticeships. To be a unionized Library Elf was quite something among the Elves.

And, at least partly, it worked. The system had flaws, which the three attempted to solve whenever they stopped by for a visit.

All of this - the library and the stone and everything that would eventuate from it, tied back to a fundamentally important and little known piece of information: Hadrian was a stone thief. And that thievery had resulted in Hadrian licking a philosopher’s stone when he was eleven. He hadn’t known what it was at the time, but a teacher at his primary school had mentioned, and some library books confirmed, that taste was one way to identify stones. He'd verified the technique with his small store of stones from his aunt’s garden and the school playground. So, when he’d snatched an intriguing package with a mysterious red stone inside and failed to recognize it with his eyes and his fingers, he'd licked it. Each of those things—the love of stones, the view of Hogwarts as home, his two friends, the thievery and the licking—would change the entire course of his life from what it might have been. Thus, although very few would ever know it, did Harry become set upon the path that would result in ‘Harry’ becoming Hadrian Potter, geomancer and architect.

This story, though, is about how he got there.

 

 

Chapter Text

Before Hadrian Potter stepped into renown; not too long before the licking incident but more than a century before the Library, he was simply a boy who lived in a cupboard under the stairs. He was hardly ever happy there, rarely ever smiled, and scarcely even dared to breathe a calm breath. Sometimes he sang to himself in the dark space. His aunt and uncle called him lots of names, but they never called him Hadrian or even Harry. Instead they favored epithets such as "little thief" and “cheat.” 

For his first year of school, Hadrian’s guardians met with the teacher and told them all about it while Harry sat quietly at a table, drawing. "He's a little thief," his aunt and uncle told the teacher. "We're so very sorry, but if things go missing, check his bags first.” His aunt assumed a mournful expression and added sorrowfully “And always makes sure to monitor his behavior during texts. He’s a cheat.” Harry wondered what those words meant. 

What those words immediately resulted in was a teacher who spent the year eyeing Hadrian mistrustfully, glowering at him out of the corner of their eye. And, after the first few days, as Dudley spread Hadrian’s (alleged!) reputation around, his classmates would shift uneasily whenever he passed by. Hadrian felt cornered and frustrated, unsure what he had done to earn this widespread condemnation and even more unsure how to address it. During recess he would clench his fingers into tiny fists in futile frustration. As the smallest child on the playground, the other children towered over him in sneering disdain. 

Dudley broke his nose that first year, claiming the fist to Harry’s face had been in response to the boy trying to dig into his pockets. The pain had been stunning, temporarily consuming Hadrian’s entire focus. At least he'd been at school where the nurse had patched him up. Her touch had been gentle even as she lectured him on stealing. She had run careful hands across his nose and given him an icepack. Hadrian couldn’t remember someone ever touching him so tenderly and he had treasured the moment even as she adjured him not to be a “sneaky, little thief.” She had tilted his head carefully this way and that to survey the damage and Hadrian had all but melted at the gentlest touch he could recall in his short life. 

Dudley spent one day in detention for inappropriate use of violence. Hadrian had felt pleased at the punishment for an all-too-brief moment. But then Dudley punched him again at home for it, in full view of his aunt and uncle. And this time there was no nurse to apply ice to his face and gently tilt his head this way and that. 

In those first months at school, Hadrian heard over and again about just what a little thief he was. He didn't know what precisely made him a thief, but he did learn that people were not to be trusted. Adults were dangerous creatures with tendencies toward nasty, spiteful behavior. And they seemed to believe almost anything another adult told them, as well as most anything a child (who was not Hadrian) told them as well. Hadrian wondered if he could come up with a story to protect himself from them. 

Later in his life, Hadrian would be disgusted that the teachers had ignored and thereby condoned his abuse. That they had believed he deserved the black eyes and bruised ribs because "boys will be boys." He would be relieved decades later, when he had just started to become old, that several countries across the world would start anti-bullying campaigns. Educators would acknowledge the harm done to both the abused and abuser. But that would come years later and did nothing to help Hadrian as a child.  

At the time, the constant repetition about Hadrian's identity changed his world before the philosopher's stone ever could. Beneath persistent, stifling pain and a layer of dirt, the boy was clever. He was becoming cunning, although he would not hear that moniker applied in relation to himself for another five years. It did not occur to him at the time to make a list of his own attributes. 

What he did do was take advantage of the resources available to him. That first year, those resources expanded significantly with class library day. That day, he learned what, precisely, a “little thief” was. Hadrian rarely spoke, trained out of it through his family's liberal use of swats and screams, but he listened closely as the librarian explained about dictionaries and encyclopedia. The class teacher nodded along, encouraging students to look up answers to things they didn't know in the reference collection.

Hadrian’s aunt and uncle hadn’t thought to warn the school librarian off him and his teacher was too busy trying to stop Rosemary from climbing the stacks to pay him any mind. Hadrian would revel in that introduction to books.

That first day at the library, during that first visit, Hadrian carefully pulled out an encyclopedia volume for “t.” Taking the book to a quiet table, in clear view of the teacher so they wouldn’t look for him, he quietly sat with his hands in full view. He carefully, slowly paged through the volume until he reached the entry for ‘thief.’ Evidently, the concept involved taking that which was not initially yours, but the techniques, goals, and value varied. There was robbery and pick pocketing, there was burglary and larceny. And, there were great thieves like Robin Hood in some story named after him and Jean Luc from Les Miserables.

 Harry read the entry and then closed the book. Looking at it solemnly, he stroked his fingers across the cover. If someone had seen him at that moment, they might have declared him cute. But no one was looking and not one called the under-sized child cute. 

The child pondered his situation as he felt the texture of the cheap binding under his fingers. At that particular moment, Hadrian could not think why he was called a “little thief”. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever taken something that wasn’t his, although the Dursleys often claimed that he had. 

Hadrian opened the book and read the entry again. He decided he wanted to know more.  

What he learnt was that there were good thieves and bad thieves. Apparently, the two were often contrasted against one another, with good thieves stealing for moral purposes and attempting to avoid unnecessary harm. Bad thieves stole simply because they wanted something someone else had and often did not care if they harmed someone during the theft. Good thieves stole based on need and only from those who had extra. Good thieves stole cleverly and didn't get caught. Good thieves took from the rich to give to the poor. Bad thieves did none of these things, and inevitably seemed to get caught and sent to jail (or, Hadrian would note as he got older and read more mature books, had worse things happen to them).

The ‘little thief’ thought, rather sensibly, that if this was who he was then he would at least be a good thief. Robin Hood was a hero to the people - a model of solid, English values. Hadrian felt he could emulate those values. 

So, Hadrian learned from Robin Hood and Jean Luc. What Robin Hood did, Hadrian learned (first from picture books and then from chapter books in the school’s library) was a form of redistribution of wealth. Taxes, the taxes that Prince John collected, were going to pay off a ransom for King Richard. They should have gone to people instead. Hadrian learnt that a government was supposed to support and protect its people. He found he felt quite strongly about that. He would like to have feel protected. It wasn’t fair, he thought, that some children went hungry while others ate cake just because of an accident of birth. The tiny, five-year old child seethed at the injustice of it all.

But he kept his vitriol behind his teeth and considered. A good thief did not just jump into action. That got one caught. Instead he plotted and planned. And, that year during Dudley’s birthday he began his foray into stealing. Feeling defiant, he filched a broken cookie from the tray when he was cleaning up the remains. There was no cake left to be had. Nonetheless, Harry took his pilfered goods that night with him to the cupboard and felt triumphant. 

Hadrian’s reasoning followed a child’s assumptions. He was, as the reader knows, quite clever, but he was still a child. He knew that children had to be good for their families to be able to love them. He knew his family thought he was a thief (though he was not quite sure why they thought that). It followed that he needed to be a good thief. Because, if he was a thief, then he needed to be a good thief for his family to be able to love him. But he kept that desire locked tight in his chest. He’d already begun to suspect that this family would not love him no matter what he did.

Hadrian started spending lunch in the library. Initially, he went to find out more about how to be a thief. But then, as the librarian saw him a second and a third time, they started giving him a half smile before ignoring him. He reveled in that half smile. It drew him back again and again even if he avoided speaking to them. If not for that half smile he might have stopped coming. But it existed and so he came.

Coming back again and again, Hadrian opened book after book and learned about being a good thief. In those children's tales, good thieves rarely got caught. He learned it was a tragic thing when a young boy had to learn how to steal but that sometimes it was necessary and sometimes people deserved it. Sometimes. But not everyone and not all the time. That would be cruel. Perhaps about that last thing, Hadrian got his messages crossed, for Robin Hood often stole from the same person or persons. But Hadrian was, after all, only six and Robin Hood was one of the more accessible stories about thieves. He wished that he too could be friends with Little John and Maid Marion. He wanted to meet Will Scarlet. But in many of those stories, friendships began later, often only after one excelled in their craft. He held that idea as a hope.

It was justice then, Hadrian thought, to take from those who had not earned what they had. Slowly, carefully, the little thief Hadrian learned to pinch more things than the odd, broken cookie. He lifted little things at first. His cousin's unwanted, broken toys; a coin here and there from his aunt's purse, and then a small bill from his uncle's wallet. The books suggested taking small things, things that were usually overlooked and wouldn't be missed. Hadrian started taking food. He would snatch slices of bread from the fridge, particularly after his cousin had just opened the package and his aunt could see Dudley’s fingers wrapped around the slices.

Harry followed the tales' advice and learned to lighten his step and to pay attention to where the floor creaked. He practiced sleight of hand for hours alone in his cupboard and learned about hiding things in the bathroom loo. Slowly, very slowly, he also learned to open locks. That one took him some extra time as he didn’t initially realise he needed two tools and not the single hairpin he had filched from his aunt. He would only realise later that the two pins shouldn’t have worked any better than the one.

At school, Hadrian began taking chalk and boxes of raisins. He only took from children who appeared with new shoes every few weeks, whose clothes never had holes in them, and whose backpacks were stylishly new. 

 

Chapter Text

In the following two years, learning about being a thief led Hadrian in a rather unexpected direction. The books said that he should learn to be unremarkable. Hadrian, in the long nights alone in his cupboard, thought through what that might actually mean for him in terms of his life. Practicing sleight-of-hand with a small, smooth stone he’d picked up from the street, he considered the options. He didn’t have the clothes to be unremarkable. But he did want to learn about, and hopefully master, hiding in plain sight. To be dull and easily forgotten.

In deciding to hide behind a façade, though Hadrian didn’t know it, he was drawing himself closer to the once-man who had given him his scar. That once-man had done something similar in choosing to hide his first years at school. That individual, however, had learned to hide behind charm instead of obsession. But the once-man’s techniques didn’t matter as Hadrian sat in his cupboard.  Hadrian had no idea that the once-man even existed. Tom Riddle was far from a conscious concern even as the little thief’s subconscious kept that valuable-but-horrific possession safely tucked away. He didn’t think about it as his body slowly chipped away at that foreign object.  

Even if Hadrian had known, the knowledge would not have helped him. Hadrian was not immediately charming. He was sweet in an understated, need-to-get-to-know-him sort of way. The kind of charm the once-man had wielded was, for Hadrian’s own purposes of being unremarkable, not particularly useful. And anyway, he was unaware of his particular brand of charm and consequently unprepared to wield it. 

The slowly-growing thief decided to hide behind people’s boredom. If he could redirect people’s attention elsewhere, make himself into someone who did not concern people, then maybe his life would be easier. He could rely only upon himself to learn how to best be a good, unremarkable thief and in doing so become a better thief all around. 

At school, Hadrian watched his classmates out of the corner of his eyes, trying to determine the best way to appear uninteresting, to be mostly forgotten. He decided his best bet was to emulate the children with minor obsessions. Usually, those children had their heads down in books focused on their chosen subjects. They were occasionally teased, sometimes mocked, but most people made quick assumptions about them, misunderstood them and proceeded to ignore them almost completely. Most people became bored with those children and failed to care about those children’s nuances. Usually. 

Back inside the classroom from recess one day, Hadrian sat in his chair, listening to the teacher talk about volcanoes. Hadrian decided he too wanted an obsession with which to bore other people, to present a front and turn them away. He ran his hands across his desk, feeling the lines of the sheet, pressboard grain. He listened to the teacher talking about how lava flows solidified into igneous rock. She passed out samples for the children to touch. 

Harry, like the other children, handled the pieces of rock as they passed him. He liked its sharp edges and the light feel under his fingertips. He briefly considered taking one. The texture was interesting, so very fascinating. He could imagine comparing the texture to the smooth stone he used to practice his sleight-of-hand. But he passed these stones on like the other children did. The teacher was watching and she would be inclined to blame him if any of the stones went missing. To be a good thief, he couldn’t draw attention to himself. 

Hadrian watched the tray of rocks move on and thought about how he’d enjoyed that feeling. As the lesson continued on he continued contemplating how interesting it would be to run his fingers across those points and edges in the dark of his cupboard. 

Hadrian ran his fingers across the screws holding the pressboard to the metal, curved legs of his desk. The teacher was talking again, outlining the difference between the pebbles the children might find in the playground and volcanic rock. ‘This,’ he thought, ‘might work.'

As Hadrian saw it, standing out in the playground the next day, his options were few. Most things were too hard for him to obtain. Most things had too much value and his cousin might take an interest in them just because he had. But rocks were all over the ground. Harry already knew they bored his cousin. They wouldn’t be new, wouldn’t be special. 

Hadrian bent to the ground and picked up a rock. He’d never really thought about them before, about the lines and texture. He thought back to the teacher’s lesson. It would be interesting to know something about the rock he’d just picked up. They were such simple things on the surface but so very complicated and fascinating if you only scratched just a tiny bit below the surface. 

Hadrian knelt to the ground and picked up another rock. He thought about his position and decided that it added to their appeal. If his knees were in the dirt at recess, he presented a smaller target. If he were sifting for rocks, he had a reason to be on just this side of bedraggled. He thought it would be ok for a boy with a rock obsession to be dirty as long as he didn’t stink. 

That afternoon, Hadrian began to implement his plan. At lunch in the library, Harry pulled a picture book about rocks off the shelf and doggedly set about learning. At first, it was slow, slow going. It was difficult to understand what the book was talking about with minerals, molecules, and atoms. But Hadrian was a stubborn creature and he stayed at it. It was, after all, part of his charm. 

Within weeks he had a basic framework for his knowledge. Within months he could talk like a boy obsessed in part because he had become obsessed. It felt good to have something special, a thing that was all his, a thing which he could hold to his chest and not fear it being taken away for being too valuable or too special or too, well, too anything really. The Dursleys were not inclined to let him have much of anything after all.

That knowledge changed the way he saw the world. The concrete in the school building began to be more than just concrete and the decorative slate in the garden was a fascination. 

And at night, alone, Hadrian would run his fingers across the edges and plateaus of those first three rocks he’d collected. He memorised their contours and counted their differences in the dark. They were soothing.

Without dolls and toys, those three rocks took on meaning for him. Petrus was the steady one, the calming one. He took to holding Petrus when he was nervous or frightened. He felt steady with Petrus in his palm. Ignatius, in contrast, was for courage and bravery. Holding Ignatius was like a warmth in his hand that traveled from his palms to his chest. He could speak to people with Ignatius in his fingers. And then there was Aquila, his very first rock. Aquila made him feel fast and changeable, like he could make split-second decisions and act quickly. Petrus was for heavy thinking and planning. Aquila was for action. Holding Aquila, its water-smoothed surface soft against his fingers, made him feel like he could fly. 

Hadrian took to holding the three rocks in his cupboard at night and talking to them. During the day, he kept them in his pockets.  

As months wore on, Hadrian sometimes felt as if the three would grow warm in his hand when he spoke to them. Some days, he felt like they reached for him in return. He supposed it was a bit pathetic, but Hadrian began to feel a desperate sort of affection for the three. By the time he was ten, he became curiously convinced that they listened. 

Hadrian didn't know at the time that they felt sympathetic because he was making them so. Speaking with them, holding them, pouring concern into them was a form of wild magic. Lacking friends, he desperately wanted the three rocks to be his friends. That passionate desire transformed into wild magic, which he had been funneling along with slivers of himself into Petrus, Ignatius, and Aquila, coating their very molecules. But here, again, Hadrian didn’t have that information even as it affected him.

He was careful never to speak to the rocks in front of Dudley or his uncle. He never ever twitched to touch them when his family was about. Dudley would have taken them just because Harry cared. Instead, when they were around Harry would focus on thinking about the composition of rocks. First, he imagined burrowing safely into the ground beneath his feet. Eventually, he started building stone fortresses in his head, composing rooms of sweeping stone. 

As a result, he was shoved into his cupboard for lack of attention instead of beaten. There, he rolled his growing collection of rocks in his fingers, telling his three companions about the inert pieces of rock. For each new stone, he ran his fingers in the dark and began to identify the different kinds of rocks by sight, touch, even taste. His companions were good listeners. 

Cultivating rock friends had not been part of Hadrian’s initial plan when he set out to build an obsession but it was one he was happy to support. He liked the feeling of having three sympathetic friends, friends who reached back. Who started slipping into his hand if he moved his hand to his pocket. 

Outside his home, his obsession also ended up helping him. As his aunt started sending him out for chores beyond the garden, his reputation began to change. Without her hovering, people started taking him for him. And he would answer every question with information about rocks. The grocer told him his purchases’ cost and Harry would start talking about the composition of the asphalt outside as he handed over the money. The florist greeted him and he would blink at them before starting in about rocks. At school, his teacher asked about his home would and he would tell them about white chalk and glacial deposits. He became the Rock Boy. Sweet, but so very boring

Hadrian was very pleased. 

Perhaps the most curious part of all was that it was an obsession that didn’t disturb his aunt. When the teachers mentioned that he was just short of failing everything but science, she agreed that he was obsessive about rocks and rock-related subjects. Curiously, it was something the teachers seemed to understand and sympathise with. It made him seem freakish, but in a normal sort of way, a combination which pleased his aunt greatly. It was alright for the teachers to encourage her to try and interest him in other things. All she had to do was put on a little performance when speaking to his teachers; nodding and claiming she had tried everything to get him interested in things unrelated to rocks. “The boy is just too focused on his rocks.” She could say. It was a weirdness, but an acceptable one. It wasn't her fault the boy was hopeless and her Dudley was much more accomplished. 

And, while busily rolling their eyes at his rock obsession, the teachers didn’t see the tiny bits and pieces vanishing. Why would he, the Rock Boy, be interested in such things as raisons and apple slices? But while he was bent over his library books about stones, Hadrian watched people to see who was absent-minded; apt to leave things behind. To see who knew where all their belongings were; and to see who carelessly let things slip from their bags.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4:

 

The day Hagrid showed up at the Dursley household, one Hadrian Potter, called little thief or that-rock-boy, was not the child he might have been under different circumstances. This Harry had rocks in his pockets and a small, brightly-colored bag hanging from a string around his neck, hidden in the folds of the large shirt covering his gaunt frame. This child had a deep-seated mistrust of adults in general and guardians and teachers in particular. This boy, in learning to lie, cheat, and steal, trusted the people around him even less than he may have otherwise. People, Harry included, were not reliable. But this Hadrian had a very carefully thought out moral code. 

Hagrid, of course, did not know any of that. His casual violence against the Dursley’s both appealed to and appalled Harry in almost equal measures. Vernon had raised the gun, but Dudley paid the price for eating a cake. Harry frowned. For a boy used to reading into the world around him, for a child without enough information to reach accurate conclusions, he unconsciously began to build a mental image of a magical world filled with violence and people preying on one another with little provocation. 

Harry mentally reached for and clutched Ignatius, his fingers slightly twitching at his with the desire to reach into the pouch around his neck. 

Harry had pinched that small pouch from the back of his aunt’s closet. It was a gift just on the wrong-side of too colorful that had ended up in a box in the back of the closet with the other gifts his aunt lifted her nose at. After a year, when it had been buried beneath other things and ignored, Harry removed from its box and hung around his neck under his too-baggy clothing. 

Curiously, from there, his snatching became easier. Bits and pieces seemed to spring to his fingers when he reached for them.Sometimes, he suspected that the very act of wanting somehow assisted the process. When he focused his desire and thought hard, his fingers burned slightly—as if he’d run them through a match flame—and the things he wanted seemed to slip out of pockets and backpacks. 

With Hagrid’s appearance, Hadrian had a burgeoning suspicion that all of that wanting and thinking might be magic. HE also knew that little of that would help him at the moment. He did feel safer, however, feel safer, calmer, with his brain with rocks and his mental fists with stones, as the large Hagrid towered over him with an apparently jovial smile. 

Harry had gotten used to filling his brain with rocks. Many people find that understanding a subject makes it interesting. Know enough about something and it’s hard to find it dull. Harry had picked rocks as a front, hardly considering that he might learn to love them, but nonetheless soon did. Rocks made more sense than people. People hurt one another and failed to understand that sharing wealth meant more for all while hoarding led to gross poverty. Rocks, in contrast, lived their quiet lives, existing and weighing on the world around them in accordance with communal rules. Sandstone crumbled and granite stood solid. 

Part of the appeal for Harry went beyond the basic knowledge that rocks followed the rules and into the idea that this knowledge was his. Most other people did not have it, even if they could have. No matter if his aunt smacked him with the frying pan, she couldn’t take his understanding of the iron in that pan, the knowledge of its density and mass. Perhaps, he sighed in his cupboard, he would be a geologist. He comforted himself to thoughts of volcanoes erupting, fell asleep focused on images of the earth’s plate moving over one anther, causing ruptures that leaked molten stone. The dream of the earth swallowing him whole into its understanding embrace was comforting.

The pub Hagrid took Hadrian to was not comforting. He disliked the crush of people trying to touch him. As they whispered and stared, Harry made sure to answer every inquiry with rock-related information, mentally palming Ignatius in his hand. Grounded through his rocks to the earth below, Harry filled his mind with layers of sediment and information about limestone. The crowds looked at him strangely and Hagrid gave him a quirked glance in confusion. What, after all, were the thoughts of rocks to a person who preferred the living breath of creatures? Hagrid, warm heart beating in his chest, could not imagine that the press of people around them would not be welcome to another being.

Hadrian found the bank on the other side of the wall much more appealing. Not only was it a curious edifice of rock, but the sign over the bank caught Hadrian's eye. He appreciated the warning to thieves. It was kind, Harry thought, of the goblins to make their stance clear. And Harry determined that he would not pinch anything inside the bank. At least not this time.

Inside, he paid attention to security as a good thief should and felt aggrieved when Hagrid produced the Potter key. It was supposed to be Harry's. The boy felt robbed. If Hagrid had been looking his way, he might have seen the flash of indignation on Harry’s face. The goblin teller saw it, noted it. 

Harry was displeased with Hagrid. A kind man, a foolish man, a man not to trust. Who seemed content to hold things that didn’t belong to him, yet he didn’t seem to worry about being caught out or challenged. Suddenly, Hagrid reminded Harry briefly puffed out his cheeks in frustration and then told his face to relax into light confusion. The goblin behind the counter took note.

Harry briefly forgot his anger and distrust in the cart down into the vaults. He loved the feeling of plummeting into stone. It reminded him of his dreams. Here again, Hagrid might have been too sick to notice, but the attendant goblin paid attention as the boy mumbled about lignite and sandstone. They watched as one Potter, Hadrian, stroked his fingers against the walls after they stopped. They noted that Harry was less interested in the piled gold in his trust vault than in peering at the structure of the limestone around them. After catching his breath, Hagrid tried to hurry the child. But Harry's attention caught on the wall’s carvings. He ran fingers over the runes carved into the walls around the vault door, noting the pattern and organization. Petrus, tucked in his sleeve, seemed to whisper to him.

Hagrid failed to see, his stomach still churning, but the goblin escort watched quietly and would later add Harry’s behavior into a report. The "Potter, Hadrian" folder would grow thick over the years. Geomancers were, after all, a potential danger or help to those who lived underground. It was important to take note of which magicals had affinity with the walls. 

Hadrian would eventually see that folder. He would, five years hence, begin to actively build a relationship with the goblins in exchanges of favor. In another two decades after that, he would begin to contract with them and learn about the bedrock of the magical community. But that was 25 years in the future.

In his eleventh year, Hadrian was not concerned with building his relationship with the goblins. He was mostly interested in remaining as unnoticed or misunderstood as possible. He was also interested in his key.

He remembered that key as they left the bank, his fingers switching Petrus for Aquila. He eyed Hagrid from the corners of his eyes, noting the man’s gait and pace, as they moved into the open air. He didn’t ask about that key, knowing better than to draw attention to his interest. He knew from long experience that people lied and adults thought they knew better. It followed, Harry knew, that adults were far from trustworthy. Adults felt good about cheating you because of their certainty that they were right and you were wrong.

So Harry waited until he and Hagrid were in the street, the keeper-of-Harry’s-key looking peaked. Only then, in the press of people, with distractions all around them, did the child take the opportunity to flinch his key. But as Harry’s hand darted into Hagrid’s pocket, the rumpled brown sack Hagrid had taken from the other vault felt strangely warm against the back of his hand. It felt curiously like a rock through the paper twist. And the cover that had become an obsession prompted his fingers to twist and grab the brown paper instead of his metal key. The paper-covered stone disappeared into Harry's pocket. A block later, it shifted into the pouch beneath his shirt.

Hadrian didn't check it, just felt the weight draw on the tie around his neck and around his ribs. He knew better than to look, to draw attention to himself about this. Instead he kept his eyes peeled and fascinated until Hagrid walked away from him to find a pint and settle his stomach.

Harry made sure to wait until Hagrid had moved away before he wandered into a few shops. Harry didn't try to lift anything more that day. He felt it would likely be a poor showing, resulting in his capture. It was bad form as a thief, after all, not to case a place not to understand this society's tricks and traps, before he could tell what was safe and fair. After all, he didn’t know who had enough to share without the asking. And he certainly did not condone casual violence or imbalance.

So Harry contented himself with watching particularly as his lack of knowledge bothered him. The world around was too dangerous to navigate without as much information as possible. So he noted how the people around him moved in and out of buildings, he paid attention to who touched who and how. And he carefully mimicked what he saw as he moved.

So it was that in a shop for trunks he began to practice interactions. Harry made sure his hair fell across his forehead. He made sure to ask the right question. And he made sure to pay attention to the attendant’s sales pitch about trunks be-spelled with extra depth and locks. Harry asked about charms (found out about charms) as he looked at the runes carved along the lips of a trunk’s interior as the man told him about possibilities for extensions and preservation. And Harry remembered the carvings in the bank, how Petrus has seemed to almost vibrate with possibility. These, Harry thought, he wanted to try.

That information paid off in the bookstore where Harry made sure slip a volume on rocks and anther on runes into his pile. In a dark corner he made sure to slip those two books into his waistband and not into his trunk. Those volumes were not supposed to be seen. There were, he felt, possibilities that he was not sure he wanted anyone else to know.

In each space, noted the way people walked, how they wore their clothes. He paid attention to the hang of their robes, which people wore girdles, and how their shoes pointed. He saw bags of coins in pockets, rings on fingers, wands in holsters. He wondered about trousers beneath the skirted flow of the robes and the likelihood of underclothes. He tried to watch for pockets.

By the time he actually entered the robe shop, he'd already picked up a portion of that normalcy.

And by the time he met back with Hagrid, the man was slightly tipsy. Harry frowned as the man strapped his trunk to the back of the motorcycle. He said nothing, however, as Hagrid took him back home and gave him a ticket for a September train.

Back in the house, Harry’s trunk went under the stairs as expected. But his aunt didn’t see the books in his waistband or the bad under his shirt.

It took until sunset for Harry to pull the bag from under his shirt and examine his purloined gains after he was closed in his-now-bedroom. The stone glowed red in his hand, burning painlessly under his fingers and he wondered what kind of rock it was. It didn't match any of the stones he knew. He licked it, trying to gauge at least part of the chemical make-up. Whatever this rock was, made his body buzz down to his toes. He still had no idea what his new stone was but he felt better for holding it. As if it warmed him and eased his hunger. 

Harry considered the stone carefully, thinking about the possibility the giant would come and ask about it. He didn’t. And, in the following days, Harry put the possibility from his mind. The stone was his, payment for keeping his keys from him. And he liked the new red stone, it got on well with his beloved three. Harry decided to call it Marble.

Harry quietly read his book on rocks. It expanded wonderfully on the magical properties of stones. It spoke of carved rock and gargoyles. But it did not say a word about gently glowing, red rocks.

He turned to his book on runes instead. Harry’s reading taught him about crystals and healing, protection charms carved into stone, and protection against dreams. 

Harry didn’t feel he needed protection against dreams. That desire would come later. What he did feel he needed was protection against the now. And, possibly, likely, protection at Hogwarts. His brief encounter with the magical world had seemed violent. Society looked like it was steeper with casual insults and attacks that one was expected to protect themselves against.

So Harry focused carefully on figuring out how to defend himself. With only two books and chores that summer, he learned those two books well, turning the information over in his head.

Drawing with his stolen chalk on the floor boards of his new room. He practiced the symbols over and over until the lines were right. But they didn’t seem to do anything. thinking of his burning fingers, he tried to push desire into the marks he had drawn on the floor. The chalk dust shifted, but they didn’t do anything. Until the night he chalked a passage for light on one of his many stones. That night, the patterned marks illuminated his small room. Little did he know that he had already begun attuning his magic to rocks.

Weeding in the garden he imagined what he could do with those runes carved into stone. At night he took a nail and carved Elhaz (protection) into a piece of flat stone in his pocket, imagining his will pouring down the nail, its metal compound vibrating and heating as it poured his intention into the small stone. To his surprise, the nail glowed red and the stone accepted the rune without complaint. Its slight magical pulse reminded him of his red stone. 

Harry compared the two, taste and touch, vibration and heat. His carved stone had changed somehow. It felt like a bit of energy under his fingers, a hint of warm electricity. The red one seemed like lightning in a bottle. He liked to hold the ball of power in his hand, pretend that that it was shooting up his arm. Sometimes, he thought maybe it was.

He found his protection worked for small things. His uncle would reach for him and seem to become distracted. If his uncle became too angry, however, the blows still landed. 

Two books for the summer and he had something to think about, the information seeping into his brain as he obsessed over the formation of carbon atoms and the color of iron. He began to gather protection, trying to imagine possibilities and futures. By September he felt as ready as possible to head off to Hogwarts.

But his red rock remained a mystery. 

Chapter Text

For Hadrian, years later, memories of his first two years of Hogwarts would focus on meeting Millicent and then Hermione. Riddle would become a feature later. But only later. 

Millicent, in contrast, became a close friend early on. In the first month. He had started visiting the library early on because they had books on rocks. And, one day, when reading in the library, a shadow fell over him. One Millicent Bulstrode stood by the table looking not at him but the charms book sitting closed on the library table. Her eyes flicked from the book, to him, to the chair across him and back to him. Harry nodded and she took the seat before warily pulling the book toward her. He gave her his approbation by turning to his book on transfiguration. There was a chapter later on transfiguring stone that he wanted to understand. He wanted to know where mass went when he reshaped things. If a transfigured object retained any of the properties of the original. The entire idea of transfiguration, which he’d only known for four weeks, threatened all he knew about stone's stability and he needed to know of the limits of the idea. It made him feel shaky. 

Hadrian didn’t really understand why a young girl, his year, in green trim sat down across from him in the library one day. He didn’t know why she met his eyes, nodded, and then opened that charms book. But the silence he could work with. They sat. The table between them. Over the next weeks she began to remind him of stone, solid, reliable, and able to hold magic. When he told her a month later what he thought of her, she smiled at him and told him to call her Millicent.

And with that, Harry inadvertently made his first human friend.

Years later, she would tell him, cup of tea in hand, that she sat down with him because he was acceptable to her and to most others. He was something important but mostly boring, he studied quietly, spoke more to the rocks than the teachers. It was calculated. He would make her seem normal in comparison and not drag her down. 

Hadrian privately expected that charms, her beloved charms, would fit somewhere into those figures. 

Aloud, Hadrian would smile at Millicent, that slow smile that filled the lines barely etched in his face, and he would tell her he was glad her calculations had led her to his table.

But that talk was years later, a conversation that could not have been had back when two eleven-year old child lacked the confidence to speak of such things aloud. They would have had to trust one another beyond what their primary school experiences permitted. 

What they could do was continue to work with one another. Millicent kept joining him. Soon taking a seat without flicking her eyes at him in question. Her silence reminded him of pumice, punctuated by bubbles of speech, and her solidity of a rich, green marble. He felt that she'd probably crack in the heat, so the comparison was apt. And, behind his mental walls of stone he was warily pleased with her presence. He'd never really had a friend before outside of his three rock companions. Here was a human one who fit his pace and preferences. The two might have been in different houses, but they complimented one another beautifully.

Neither had succeeded in making immediate, fast friends in their own houses. Harry was too suspicious and too obsessed. Millicent too careful and distrustful.

Yet, by early October, Harry found himself nurturing a new fear that she would somehow become angry with him and vanish into the ether. He found himself wanting to be a good friend when he wasn't sure how. From his first contact with these other children, he semi-intentionally pushed them back and away. 

Hadrian had done that from the get-go. Dropped off at the train station, Harry had looked for the stipulated track. He’d found the sign and reach forward to feel the warmth from the pillar stones. He was momentarily horrified to find they weren’t real. The bricks that were supposed to be solid weren’t. They were a lie. He pushed to find the truth underneath and instead tumbled through. Part of him was appalled. He paused, looking around this place full of people similar to those in the Alley Hagrid had taken him to. He didn’t want to stand about in his clothes. They were too different and he'd be noticed. 

Harry boarded the train quickly, but not too quickly. He lugged his luggage along until he found a random someone in blue trimmed robes hidden behind a book. He nodded, stowed his trunk with trouble, and then stayed behind his book too. Another silent reader who desperately didn’t want to speak. Harry imagined Gringotts’ bank with its deep, cavernous underbelly. He began to build his own caverns, imagining hewn stone passages ending in giant caverns. At the sight of the castle in the distance, Hadrian began using the stones he’d carved for those tunnels to build a soaring edifice atop. 

By the time a tall, domineering woman called his name, he had filled his mind with the beginnings of a stone building. He'd constructed a series of walls to block out the sounds and whispers around him. He imagined being the castle, cut stones piled one on top of the other, smooth from care and time. He imagined hiding in alcoves and watching as people walked by. He thought about reading behind a tapestry. He was so successful that he didn’t outwardly react, barely noticed as the hall went quiet, as whispering began. Then he was on a stool, the hat descending, calling Ravenclaw without a pause, and the boy was on his way. The hall’s inhabitants looking startled. Some disappointed. Harry didn’t particularly notice. 

What Harry would never know in this dimension was that the hat took one look at his obsession with rocks and his desire to be unnoticed and placed him accordingly. That hat, after all, was about desire as much as about who the children were. And to give an eleven-year old their desires was often a terrible thing. Although perhaps in this instance it was kindness. 

Reader's will know that in a different universe Harry wanted to friends and to have a family. Here Harry had no experience with friendships and believed family was prone to abuse and abandonment. He’d read too many books. He knew that according to children’s stories parents died in order that children could become heroes. He was aware that, according to those books, families were dangerous and teachers failed to protect, while the established elites lied and abused. He’d never really gotten over Robin Hood and his lived experiences suggested that only the stones remained true. The possibility of that fundamental belief being undermined was part of what terrified him about transfiguration later in the year. 

In this world, the hat's willingness to give him the silence and space he craved would eventually lead to the dissolution of the social world around them. Although that was hardly the hat’s fault alone. Harry would fail, over the years, to find almost anything enough about the social system in place that was worth saving. It was part of the reason he would eventually support an eventual government coup and structural reorganization. It was part of the reason he threw his backing behind one Luna Lovegood eventually become Prime Minister of a semi-autonomous part of Britain tied to the magical spaces Hadrian and his friends would construct. 

But that was in the future. What Hadrian did know that evening of the sorting was that when he glanced back at the head table as he moved toward the table in blue, he felt a strange, external push at his mental battlements. His brain already caught on stories of castles and ramparts, Harry interpreted that mental touch as a preliminary assault. In response, he made sure to shore up his walls, beginning to transform his structure into stalwart fortifications. He started building ramparts.  

Feeling attacked, Harry would sit down among the eagles on edge and distressed. Disturbed, he would respond to his fellow students’ greetings with explanations about sandstone. When the eagles around him asked about his scar, he raised his arm to point to a scabbed spot where he’d scrapped his skin against some rocks. He described the kind of stones he had seen. He didn’t mention that his cousin had shoved him into that stone wall on the walk home. He focused instead on the way the rock had felt against his skin. 

When someone pressed, pointing to his forehead, he scrunched said forehead and told the table that that scar didn’t have anything to do with rocks that he was aware of. The students at the table knew the signs of obsession and turned away. Patel continued occasionally glancing at him, clearly sizing him and the rest of their year up. But most of them began to leave well enough alone. 

The evening would tumble forward with the Headmaster making a curious announcement about a third floor during his speech, with food appearing. But Harry was too busy adding to his mental fortress of stone to notice the dire warnings or the concerned eyes from the head table. 

Harry didn’t know that he was, perhaps, supposed to care what was down that third floor corridor. He was unaware that the missing thing that caused the Headmaster such concern sat in a bag against his chest. Lacking that knowledge, Harry failed to look guilty or concerned. Focused on his stone fortress, Dumbledore’s attempt to look in his mind met only a wall. 

Harry had with his stone fortress unintentionally done stepped on the paths both toward occlumency and architecture. The best lies are often what people believe as well as close to the truth. Harry had grown used to having a quiver of stone-facts at hand to fire as necessary. They brought him comfort now. Rather in awe of Gringotts’s caverns and Hogwarts’s soaring structures, he combined that comfort and interest into protection. 

The headmaster let it go. He only briefly wondered if the child could have taken it. The child had been there that fateful day of the loss, but he did not imagine it possible. So, the old teacher did not press after seeing the solid building in the boy`s mind and occasional flashes of the periodic table of elements. The boy was obsessed with the castle and his non-magical science. It was unlikely he would have nicked something he didn’t know existed. 

If anyone had possessed enough information to ask, the old man was hiding nothing down that third-floor hall but a concerning absence behind a dangerous series of tests. It remained a trap, but one with only the tease of bait. The old man worried over where that bait could have been. Only the subsequent attempted break-in reassured the man that his greatest fears had not yet been realized. 

Hidden behind walls of stone, Hadrian, meanwhile, would not let the trembling fear of this new place come to the surface. 

Instead, he focused on the castle and his own walls. He told the castle’s stones that they were beautiful. He complimented their fit and the beauty of their masonry. The castle purred beneath his fingers. Students so rarely paid more than fleeting attention.

In his room, he would unpack half under his roommates’ eyes, who half-watched as he placed small piles of stones under the four corners of his bed. They couldn’t see from their own beds, but each of those stones was carved with runes. And, as the placements took effect, the other students found themselves turning away. They were only first years and didn’t understand Harry’s crude, carved attempts. But taken together, those stones demanded peace and asked for privacy. It was hard to keep paying attention when the stones asked so nicely for them to move on and turn away.

In his bed, curtains drawn, Hadrian listened to some of the wobbling cries of the younger students as the night wore down. But they, probably, had family to turn to. He had rocks that he could call to himself now. There, in his bed, Ignatius sat warm in his hand, filling his chest with bravery. The other two snuggled under his pillow to guard his dreams, Aquila ready to fly. And Marble, his strange, red stone, seemed almost to sink into his chest. He found its properties baffling, but pleasing. The four seemed to warm him as he fell to sleep.

Chapter Text

Chapter Six:

Millicent’s Charm

For Millicent, in contrast, the hat took a mere fifteen seconds. The brim descended over her eyes, considered her family and her conflicting desires. Like so many other students, the hat told her she would fit in multiple houses, that there was no clear delineation for her. She was complex, ambitious, knowledgeable, and clever. Like so many other students, Millicent would keep the hat’s quietly mumbled revelations close to her chest for years without a single hint of them passing her lips. The possibilities that the hat said were open to her didn't matter, she decided. Other options would have been alternate histories and they didn’t happen. 

Because, in the end, no matter what the other options might have been; no matter what paths might have unfolded if she’d gone to Ravenclaw (where Hadrian ended up) or Gryffindor (where Hermione would go), it was ‘Slytherin!’ the hat called out in the end. The hat placed her in Slytherin, spelling out her saving grace – having ended up precisely where everyone expected and approved of - and her destruction, for the paths not taken that might, perhaps, have benefited her just as much as Slytherin would. 

Millicent had walked to her house’s table to a light, polite applause. No one at the table was surprised. No one in the room particularly cared. And, in meeting their expectations, she disappeared into the crowd. She, neither overly wealthy nor poor, neither weird nor charming, neither beautiful nor ugly, failed to stand out in any way and therefore for most people simply passed from mind, without any effort on her own part. In primary school, Hadrian would have wished (in fact had wished) most fervently to have just that ability. 

Millicent appreciated her abilities. She was prone to self-reflection and knew her parameters better than most eleven-year-old children. So, she kept her tongue behind the fence of her teeth in order that she not disrupt that social invisibility. She didn’t tell the others around her about her fascination with the charmed ceiling. She didn’t communicate how much she liked the good cheer and loyalty woven into the banners around them, how she appreciated the faint feelings wafting out of them as they moved in the intangible breeze. 

As she sat, Millicent wanted to vibrate with excitement. But she kept her feelings in her stomach as her mother had taught her and simply sat placidly. Later when the food appeared, she ate just as placidly. Early training had taught her better than to exhibit too much, to show her cards too early. Her mother would have been furious if she’d done anything else but charm those around her or disappear from their notice. In the Bulstrode household, those were the options. One controlled, one manipulated, or one charmed; as according to their own abilities, inclinations and current needs. Throughout, whatever one did, they acted with intent.

For the rest of the student body, Millicent remained all but invisible in the following weeks. That invisibility meant that most people failed to notice her walks in the halls after class. She liked the silence and found that the movement and change of pace helped her think. And those thoughts usually focused on charms.  She pondered the weight of them, considering the intent and visualisation behind the various charms (and there were a great many) about Hogwarts. Charms depended heavily on knowing your goal and wanting to achieve it. The desired effect, the eventual success, had to be properly represented, which was where the use of wands and materials came in. But the greatest challenge to charms was the intention.

Materials helped the caster focus by providing a framework of clear boundaries, or by physically delineating the intent. Like those banners in the great hall – they released faint feelings of good cheer and loyalty as they waved; their intent, presumably, to help calm the young newcomers to Hogwarts’ halls, and to reinforce the older students’ loyalty to their house and the school itself. But the charms were bound into physical objects, which provided a clearly defined trigger – the banners only released their charms when they waved. 

Focused on intent and effect, thinking about those banners, she strolled on. 

Only to stop near a certain Hadrian Potter, crouched near the base of a wall, apparently intently examining some aspect of the stone skirting. He was, as far as she could tell, petting the stones that were part of the skirting. His wild hair stuck out and he didn’t appear to be aware that she was there. She noted all of that in the corner of her mind, but the oddness of Potter wasn’t what captured her attention. What did snag her interest was the weight of the atmosphere around him. Focused as she was on the idea of intent in magic, she could the taste an effort to shape intent in the air hereabouts. There was a light cloud of feeling that suggested she move on. She licked her lips to taste the magic, trying to identify the source. She took a step forward, toward Potter and noted the feeling, the light taste in the air, intensified. It prompted in her a desire to step around the person in front of her, to not notice or disturb him. She felt it, stroked it by running her tongue along her teeth. 

Millicent blinked and was intrigued. She carefully stepped back. The feeling receded. She moved forward again and the sense returned. The closer she moved, the stronger the sense that she should just step away and be on her way became. Millicent felt a smile in her stomach, where she stored her feelings. The sensation bubbled and tickled her throat. Her face remained impassive. The twinkle in her eye might have reminded people for a moment of the school’s headmaster if they’d bothered to look at her. It would take most people more than one hundred years to actually pay attention to her.  Some, a few—including Flitwick—would see her sooner than that. 

But that would be later. 

In the particular present of Millicent’s school years, her natural invisibility allowed her to observe the world around her without people notice her doing it. Where Potter had to deflect because he was too visible, Millicent was able to wrap people’s unconcern around her. She was able to test that sense-taste of difference around him without anyone particularly noticing her behaviour. 

Millicent started hanging around Potter’s periphery when she saw him in convenient hallways. She began testing when and where that feeling of please-move-on returned. It didn’t appear in class, not when he was under a teacher’s watchful eye, but it reappeared when Potter was elsewhere. It prompted other students to leave him alone in the library and the halls. No one else seemed to notice. The feeling wasn’t strong, after all. It merely politely suggested. And most students had had little reason to develop empathy, focused instead on their own selves and places in the school. 

Millicent was aware that she was in the same boat as those other students on the empathetic front. But where others moved on, Millicent’s own sense of self-interest trilled. 

Millicent, like Potter, was inclined toward obsession when she found a subject that sufficiently enthralled her. She had, as a small child, leaned unintentionally toward charms and never backed away. Her father was charming. He could twist words and shift his body just so to communicate a wealth of information the target rarely realised was even being conveyed. Her mother also charmed (after a fashion), but as an abrasive force. She overwhelmed and compelled. People listened to and believed the words that came out of her mouth. The pair worked in tandem to enforce their wills on others. Millicent was awed by the two but knew she had a talent for neither form of manipulation. She could charm people … just not with words. 

Millicent tended toward obsession and her small, tiny, unformed mind seized upon charms; albeit a different kind of charms than her parents practiced in most of their persuasive conversations. There were charms for everything, after all. Charms for calming, for notice, for appeal, for floating and for transformation, for illusion and disillusion. There were simple charms and complex charms and endlessly varied combinations of charms to make creations like the Great Hall’s ceiling and banners. It was all so fascinating that she had never seen any reason why she should back away from her obsession with them.

Which made Potter intriguing. Potter was clearly using magic to influence and convince people to move around his personal bubble. Millicent knew it had to be at least somewhat intentional. But Millicent was unclear towards precisely what end he did it. And the effects were quite crude, unpolished. The subtle sense Potter was somehow exuding was not as precise as many charms could be. It was more of a general idea, almost like Potter was somehow telling a story that somehow unobtrusively rewrote itself even as the reader read it, in order to make himself blend in more, to draw less attention to himself. Millicent thought his affect was rather as if he was adding adjectives to his own weaving.

Thus reasoning, Millicent was almost positive the origin of the feeling wasn’t a charm. It was too stable, too generalised, and too unpolished.

Fascinated, she fell back, as usual, on observing and charting what she observed.  

Millicent saw how Potter’s fellow students exchanged rather few words with him, seemingly bemused by, but uninterested in, his obsession with stones. She noted in class that Potter didn’t seem to expect anyone to talk with him and furthermore wasn’t bothered by it. She watched how he appeared to throw himself into his own projects. She tracked how often he reached into his pockets, the twitch of the fabric making it clear that he was clutching something. Then she noticed how often his fingers would curl around nothing in class and wondered if he was imagining that whatever was in his pocket in his hand. 

Finally, at the beginning of October, Millicent began to think maybe she would try to be a person in Potter’s bubble. She wanted to know how he would react to someone breaching his semi-intentional field of please-leave-me-be. 

Her desire extended beyond the intention of just probing at Potter’s magic. She knew there was more to discover. Millicent, however, rarely chose to do anything for only one reason. Potter seemed safer than most of her housemates. He didn’t seem like he would poke and press. She thought he would let her work in peace, so long as she returned the favour. And, even with his social isolation, he was mostly acceptable. People around him increasingly considered him to be very much a typical Ravenclaw; a boy like any other as opposed to the yet-unformed hero many had perhaps been expecting. And maybe, having a true obsession of his own, he would better understand her, the way that she was obsessed with charms and charmed things.  

These were her considerations the first time she sat down. Potter was interesting with his not-charms in effect, and safe with his social isolation in the event they should be noticed in each other’s company. 

Even with all her reasoning and guesses, with logic assuring her that her decision and conclusions were sound, the actual act of pulling out the library chair and sitting in it that first time were terrifying. She was relieved when he simply looked at her and spewed rock related information instead of telling her to piss off. It was easy, in that relief-filled moment, to permit her face a small smile, and even simpler to express a small but genuine interest in this thing that so obviously consumed him. She noddedp and told him about her parents’ own work with enchanted jewellery, some of which had stones – gemstones – of various kinds set in them.

Now, Millicent’s parents were hardly uninterested in her. They loved her, even if they did not express it in a way most would recognise if they were observing the family interacting. But Millicent did recognise it, knew her parents cared very much about her and that even if they did not, necessarily, understand her obsession they were willing to support her with it, so long as she went about her obsession in a seemly fashion that would uphold their family’s values. But even with that amount of familial understanding, it was for the first time in her young life, with Potter’s eyes riveted upon her, his face nakedly expressing his true, unvarnished, unselfish interest in what she was saying about her own obsession, that Millicent felt a small glow of something that had been quite unfamiliar to her. Was it pride, perhaps? No, it was not pride. It was pleasure, that for the first time in her life someone could truly understand and empathise with her own obsession, because he had an obsession of his own.

She had sat down and truly listened to him pour out his information and had then responded in kind, telling him things he might not have known about his own obsession (things to do with enchanting gemstones with charms) and had woven the topic of her obsession (charms) into the conversation without taking away anything from, or overwhelming, his own conversational contributions.

Millicent felt a great deal of simple pleasure at this unanticipated point of commonality. At the camaraderie created only by a shared understanding of something few others understood, and were all too often not even willing to try and understand.

Over the next months, the two rarely spoke about themselves but instead focused on their work. She began bringing him rocks he might not have found otherwise and he started expressing some interest in charms for their own sake. 

Their first collaboration happened after the first time he didn’t hide his protection rocks as he placed them around the library table, effectively setting up a field that encouraged people to move on. 

Millicent was enthralled and intrigued to finally get a proper look at exactly what created the gentle please-move-on field.  She shared her limited knowledge of such things and how they could work together with other kinds of magic – like charms – to produce many different effects, and much more powerfully. The pored together over the possibilities of tying runes (the proper name for his primitive, uneducated – but still quite effective – scratchings) into charmed stones for a combined effect that was stronger than either category of magic might achieve on its own. When she tentatively suggested looking into creating a more precise field that they could control and manipulate, his responding hand movements and smile made it clear he was down for that. 

Millicent gave him a small twitch of her lips as she listened. And while she smiled and shared, she refrained from asking Hadrian about why he kept stones for protection. She didn’t ask why a child raised by magicless people felt the need to distract from himself, to protect himself with magic. There were too many possible reasons, none of which were happy thoughts. She wondered why the teachers didn’t speak with him about his rocks, which might violate the Statute of Secrecy or something of that sort. But no one else seemed to pay attention to the Rock Boy’s rocks closely enough to note that those pieces of stone weren’t passive lumps of mineral.

(Later in their lives, both Hadrian and Millicent would wonder at this strange blindness – almost anything could be used to scribe a rune into, after all, and thereby enact some simple magic.)

But for now she kept silent. It was to Millicent’s benefit that those gentle, magical, attention redirectors remained unnoticed and she wasn’t going to alert others to what was happening to them when they approached and risk others breaking into the notice-me-not field. She might have fit well into Ravenclaw with her love of knowledge, but she was also well matched to Slytherin and she would employ her quiet cunning with pride, knowing she was upholding her house’s values.

Chapter Text

A solid, magical building consumes slivers of the wizards who construct it and later inhabit it. Those structures draw on the donations of blood and spirit. They are watered with tears and grow on laughter. Those homes absorb the moments and memories, the accidents and the spells. All that dust—the dead skin cells, the fluids, the waste—that accumulate in a mundane home are not a problem in a magical one. A magical building will eat its inhabitants alive.

Yet, that magic is not dark and certainly not lethal. Those structures consume their inhabitants, certainly. But those people live the longer and die the happier for it. There is a reason many students feel happier at Hogwarts than almost any other period in their lives. 

Part of that symbiosis is that, after absorbing enough of those inhabiting them, those buildings eventually become their own beings. Readers know this. Readers are aware because they've walked the halls of their family homes and walked through rooms constructed by the three great architects. Readers are a part of the generations that returned to celebrating the spaceship called earth that carries them, enabling Readers to feel the caress of their homes around them.

Readers also know that enchanted structures are not the only inanimate objects who become animate after feeding off a magical beings’ life. 

Hadrian did not know about inanimate sentience during his first year at Hogwarts. Later, of course, Hadrian would become one of the leading scholars on the subject. In his old age, Hadrian’s knowledge would be hard won through research and experience, only superseded by Hermione and Millicent’s. And, by that point, Hadrian would have splintered his being so many times that there was more of him outside himself than there was housed in his actual person. Building across the British Isles had eaten bits of him, not to mention the wing* of gargoyles, who viewed Hadrian as their progenitor.

Hadrian did not begin the process of carving his own spirit into pieces intentionally. The first few times, he didn’t begin to splinter himself on purpose. Hadrian didn’t know that all those years spent shoving his emotions away and down forced them to go elsewhere. A magical home would have absorbed them. But Hadrian, of course, did not live his first few years in a magical home. As it was, Hadrian spent his early childhood clinging to three stones—eventually four—which he unknowingly all but drowned in his accidental magic. The magic in the stones caught the splinters he unknowingly shoved at them like so many flies in a spider’s web, and then slowly absorbed them. Over time, those splinters coalesced, like drizzles of rain, increasing in power until they have at some indefinable point they became a clear pond. As Hadrian kept up his unknowing splintering each time he pushed down a little more emotion he couldn’t afford to show the ever-hostile Dursleys, the stones’ inner magical ponds were widened and deepened until, like intangible crystalline tree roots formed of magic and emotion, they tapped into the world’s wellsprings of power and were able to replenish their own energy, independent of Hadrian. At that moment, the stones thought themselves into Being status. After all – ‘Cogito, ergo sum’; ‘I think, therefore I am’.

Hadrian, in unknowingly splintering himself, had unintentionally used those splinters to good effect. 

The reader will already have guessed that the human child Hadrian arriving at Hogwarts was of course his own person. They may have also realised that Petrus, Ignatius, and Aquila were also individual rock-Beings. Readers will have also guessed that Marble, the strange red stone that Hadrian had earlier licked, was not destined to remain inert.

Hadrian didn’t know any of that, not during those first months.

The first true understanding of what he’d done in his first years would come later, towards the middle of his Hogwarts stay. That knowledge would slowly solidify into a tangible thing to examine when he dismantled a certain, apparently-blank, embossed black book in his fifth year. That would all be later in his life. 

The initial inkling of such things, though, crept into the ramparts of Hadrian’s mental fortress during his first year, as he went about his explorations of a certain beautiful, stone castle. He could feel a certain tone to the castle, like an absent-minded but benevolent caress. Hadrian didn’t think, not at first, that the sensation was to do with Hogwarts as a building. It didn’t occur to him in part because he didn’t think about it at all. Magic was still a very new thing to be explored and considered. He didn’t know the parameters and limits it (supposedly) had. Hadrian had not considered the possibility, at that time, that the building might be a Being unto itself.

What Hadrian did do was think about the possible connections between his classes and his stones. It was hard not to think about his classes, as Hadrian’s first months at Hogwarts featured rather a lot of time spent in classrooms. There were teachers to listen to, frowns to ignore, excited squeaks to consider. There were moments of clear connection, such as those horrifying books from transfiguration. And there were the classes, which were to be got through. Potions class was particularly gruelling. That classes were not, after all, about stones in any tangible way made Hadrian less than keenly interested in them… although with Millicent’s prompting Hadrian did come to acknowledge that the magics they taught might potentially have something to do with his beloved stones.

Potions, as Millicent indicated, would eventually be important in their lives. Before Millicent’s wisdom found Hadrian’s ears, however, Hadrian had found value in potions class for another reason. That class was where Hadrian started back on the temporarily-abandoned path of pinching bits and pieces. Hadrian had thought that, perhaps, being officially magic meant his family had mislabelled him. He wasn’t, perhaps, a ‘sneaky, little, lying thief’. Perhaps he was just magic and his aunt had simply misunderstood. He had thought that perhaps his Marble could be his last acquisition as a thief.

The Hadrian in this Ravenclaw-blue world might not have been the same person he would have been in a world coloured Gryffindor red-and-gold, but he was still himself in a way a knower of this theoretical other, Gryffindor-Hadrian would recognise. This alternate universe didn’t change his temper. In response to a professor singling him out to ask about plants and potions with a sneer in his voice, Hadrian retreated to his internal fortress, inscribing the walls of his mental castle with notations about which plants clung to rocks in the soil.

It might have ended there, with Hadrian looking his professor in the eye from behind his stone walls and answering his acerbic questions with dull “I don’t knows.” But as he looked into those eyes, Hadrian felt like the man was trying to assail his mental fortress’ stone walls. There was prickling pain, a strange sense of scraping that made it hard to think properly. Hadrian rubbed his forehead, automatically mentally reaching out for Ignatius, who sat snugly in the pouch beneath his robes.

Hadrian felt a surge of comfort. He broke eye contact with the professor, connected with his stone and the feeling of assault ceased. And Hadrian, who had not yet found anything to be cross about at Hogwarts, felt a surge of temper, which became a flow of words. By way of retaliation (even if he did not quite think of it like that) he launched questions about what kind of cauldron the ingredients would be brewed in. His interest in stones, so near the surface already, slipped off his tongue and he asked the professor if the cauldrons were enchanted to change the temperament of the metal. He wanted to know if there were magical potions for separating the different elements in metal and stone. The professor swept away with a glare and without offering any answers. Although, strangely, the man’s eyes seemed to glimmer with interest. After that, the potions room became a prime place to slip a blossom or a wing into prepared satchels and powders into envelopes beneath his robes. Vials of his acceptably-finished potions vanished into his pockets.

This opening soon meant Hadrian was taking bits from his peers as well. In response to sharp, biting words, to insults towards a dead mother he couldn’t remember but whom he did honour for her sacrifice, Hadrian took things. His eyes did flare with anger at these provocations, even if nobody noticed – except, perhaps, for Millicent, if she was present for such happenings. The speaker's quills would vanish into Hadrian’s bag when the other child wasn't looking. Penknives, inkwells, parchment, ribbons and similar unobtrusive miscellany followed over the subsequent weeks. 

Hadrian had been labelled a thief by the Dursleys before he could even speak. Upon learning what a thief was, he’d trained himself to be the best thief he could be. And here, in the now of his first year in such unfamiliar surroundings so distant from anything he was accustomed to, he fell back into the grooves he’d carved for himself back in Little Whinging, Surrey.

Without a conscious awareness of those grooves, and a conscious effort to leave them behind, Hadrian instead wore them deeper.

And, too, Ignatius felt strangely content as items simply slipped into Hadrian’s palms. And now that Hadrian new some of the magic world’s possibilities, he wondered at that ease. He began to ask himself about cause and effect.

Hadrian also wondered what he should do with his stolen things. He already had enough of those things, after all. He didn’t need extra quills. He knew better than to store them in his trunk or keep them openly. Instead, he took to practicing his transfiguration with them. He experimented with the boundaries of the transfigurations professor’s claims that objects reverted when only exposed to small amounts of magic. He wondered about her comments on changing like things into like. And he found if he transfigured a stone thing into another stone thing, it didn’t seem to mind the change. A stone block could become a stone pot without much issue. Feather to stone, however, slipped back to feather. He still needed to do something with those quills and ribbons.

Experimenting, Hadrian talked a block out of the wall. He didn’t know that the stone came because Hogwarts was intrigued. He didn’t know he’d captured their attention and that they’d begun actively watching him work.

Hadrian didn’t know that, just like he didn’t know so many other things. So Hadrian didn’t ask Hogwarts’ permission before he transfigured a space in the middle of his stone block, put the feathers and ribbon inside, and then allowed the block to reform around it. He did pat the wall appreciatively when the block slipped neatly back into the wall as if it’d never left.  

With all of this practice, Hadrian began to excel in his transfiguration class even as he struggled in potions. 

Between those experiments and his freedom of movement, the between-class moments were filled with delight in part because Hadrian could explore a giant, stone castle that felt welcome despite the hallways’ constant chill. He could walk the halls considering the stones, moving with stairs down and up again. He could run fingers across the castle wall in awe as he examined the stones’ veins. He wondered at the seams and welds between the blocks. He walked up the halls and down the stairs. Down, Hadrian passed Millicent, who followed him and became a friend. 

Up, he met a gargoyle, who changed his entire perception of inert objects and magic. That meeting was important. It was Hadrian’s first inkling that perhaps enchanted stone could be more than the atoms making them up and the magic coating their molecules. He realized to his horror and delight that stone could do more than he had first expected. 

On that particular day, the gargoyle on the seventh floor answered when Hadrian spoke to it in startled delight. They responded to question after question with bemusement until the transfiguration professor came along and shooed him away. The halls were not for loitering. He should ‘be outside,’ she said, ‘on such a nice day.’ 

Hadrian disagreed, personally. But outside he went. It would not do, after all, for the transfiguration professor to become more interested in watching him than she already seemed to be. Besides, the implications of an apparently sentient stone-being was something to consider. He sat on the grass and looked at his three constant companions, keeping the red one tucked inside his robes. He turned them again and again, realizing for the first time that he was not simply imagining the fondness that seemed to emanate from them.

Millicent found Hadrian later, spread out on the grass, his fingers clutched around Aquila, his eyes flashing with possibilities. 

Chapter Text

This is a story about events that already happened, a history if the reader will. The story explores sheets of sediment rock, examines the different layers of earth beneath Hadrian’s facade and the sand in his joints. The tale is particularly interested in how that sand ground the delicate lens that colored his world. It wants to find the color in Hadrian's perception and intention.

As readers have likely already seen, early, formative years can have a decisive impact on later life and development. For Hadrian, that was decidedly true. Readers can speculate how Hadrian’s life could have gone. They likely have opinions on the matter and have even explored realms of other possibilities. But, in this universe at this time here is the way things were, both in terms of what Hadrian knew and what he didn’t:

Hadrian had loved his stones and, in his way, become friends with them. That love was part of what shaped what Millicent later called the Day of the Gargoyle. But it was his growing respect for Millicent that prompted him to place Ignatius in her hand for the first time when she came upon him lying in the grass.

Taking that stone, Millicent had expected a rune-carved rock to examine. Instead, she felt as if a raw, ball of curious magic had been placed in her palm. Millicent exhaled her breath sharply in shock. Years later she would compare it to being handed an infant without expecting it. She felt a concentration of magic and what felt a well of conscious all condensed into a hard, breathless stone.

That day, Millicent was fascinated by Ignatius sitting in her hand. She turned them over and over, ran her fingertips over its uncarved surface and tried to find the catch. She looked for the enchantments and felt for the charms. There didn’t seem to be any. Moreover, the stone seemed to be reaching back. For every push she made, she felt a response.

Millicent was observant. She watched and listened to the world around her. The two people who had raised her had believed that the world should not be hidden from children. That obfuscating reality would stunt her development. Her specific exposure—between a sharp mother and a charming father, both of whom were brilliant in their own ways—meant that Millicent had seen quite a bit more than she’d actively thought about. But, now, holding Ignatius and seeing Aquila and Petrus sitting in Hadrian’s hands, Millicent had a small inkling of what these stones were. She, after all, had conversations with door knockers and guardian statues in the past. These, however, did not feel as if they had been created with specific intent.

Millicent asked Harry question after question about the substance of the stones, the intent he’d had with his handling. If he’d known what he’d done. If there had been intention at all.

But of course, Harry’s realizations were based on inspiration and guesswork, not based on knowledge. He hardly knew how to express himself and his suspicions. He tried to explain himself but words sat beyond his reach at that moment. He didn’t have the vocabulary to discuss the issue effectively.

The two reached an impasse, looking at one another as the magic of their expectations built up between them.

Hadrian, so uninformed in those early years, unintentionally caught ahold of that magic and asked, voice almost caught in his throat, whether Millicent would be interested in figuring out how to create a gargoyle. Or, perchance three or four, he mumbled, glancing the two beings sitting in his hand. Harry wanted, he told Millicent in a small voice, to give his friends a way to communicate.

Millicent looked Hadrian in the face with those sharp, thoughtful eyes set in an impassive face. She felt that magic build and the direction he’d given it with his question. She asked if he realized how long such an undertaking might take. She pointed out that such an endeavor would mean working together for years. They were, after all, children. There were myriad bits of information they’d have to learn before attempting such an endeavor. They hardly wanted to hurt his friends.

They sat on that grassy lawn underneath the autumn sun and looked at one another. This friendship they had had been previously unexplored and tentative. They’d focused on work and classes. They’d implied dreams without discussing them. Now, here, Hadrian felt his heart was on the table and Millicent knew the weight of a magician’s promise.

For Millicent, it altered her understanding of Hadrian. That moment refined her view of him from fond convenience to investment. Her slow movements shifted their deep tracks and included Harry in her orbit. Hadrian would later compare them to two moons continually drawn by the other’s gravitational pull.

Millicent agreed, clasping his forearm and pulling him lightly forward to rest her forehead against his in a movement she’d seen her parents make time and time again. Aquila felt warm, perhaps interested, between Hadrian’s fingers. The magic around them intent around their wrists.   

The two friends looked at each other again. That was the moment, if there was any one moment, they both saw each other as friends as opposed to passive allies. That certainly was the moment where both hearts swelled with a proud, fierce joy that passed between them, heightening both their own feelings. Neither were yet so paranoid to quash the feeling immediately. 

And there, the ripples emanating off of that friendship ground and shaped Hadrian’s world view and his understanding of people. There, in Hogwarts, unlike in his first school, Harry had a friend he trusted. Just the one during that first year, but she was enough to fundamentally change the way he understood humans around him. Thinking of her like a rock, he managed to accept her as a reasonable being. That perspective stretched his understanding of humans, opening up the idea that some humans were in fact capable of acting as empathetic connections and working for more than themselves. That friendship gave him hope for humanity and would consume his focus for the rest of the year.

Even if he wasn’t looking, however, life went around him and shaped his existence whether he was aware of it or not. One of the events that had a significant impact on Hadrian’s life even if he wasn’t looking had to do with what happened on Hollow’s Eve, during those moments when as the barriers between the physical and immaterial plains weakened. Readers will likely expect it a certain troll, who was not actually in the dungeons. For all that Hadrian, for his part, only heard about it later.

Hadrian was in the castle when the troll went on its violent rampage. But he was tucked with Millicent in a quiet alcove surrounded by stones carved with peace and inattention as well as a bit of privacy. They were conducting carefully texts on small bits of stone.

Millicent, saying an internal farewell to the feast, had suggested the isolation. She paid attention and knew his silences. Based on her own, careful calculations, she considered the give and take of those silences’ values. Like everything, she viewed their friendship partly in terms of its impact on her and how it would shape her. With the expectation that he would stand by her someday for her traumas, she anticipated his now. And, she quietly asked if he’d be interested in reading about stones instead of attending the feast. He’d agreed.

Not being at the feast, the two friends did not hear the warnings about trolls. They sat comfortably, quietly, in that alcove surrounding by Harry’s carved warding stones and eating their scavenged meal from lunch. They had no inkling of the panic rippling through the Great Hall.

The two friends only heard the next day about how their potions and transfigurations professors had played heroes. They listened as their fellow year-mates embellished an account of how the two professors had valiantly fought a troll and saved a lone first year. That first year was not someone either Millicent or Harry knew, but a glance they knew that she was not look pleased with her lot. The other students were not particularly interested in that first year. They unintentionally viewed her as a stand-in for themselves. They stared instead at the two heroic professors in wonder. The popularity of those two classes soared.

Millicent and Hadrian barely noticed. The two had already struck out on a different path that shaped their engagement with their education. Classes became a means to a specific end instead of a necessary life-stage moving toward an amorphous future.

Hadrian began experimenting with his magic and rocks, carefully funneling bits of attention and magic into a certain red stone Unbeknownst to him, the composition of this stone meant it was a trade instead of a one-way exchange. He didn't know at the time, but it worked in part because of Petrus. That stone full of the wild magic of his youth cared about him. When Hadrian worked with the red stone, Petrus and Ignatius contributed. Much like they had learned to do for themselves, when Hadrian poured himself into the red stone, they turned the red stone’s magic into his body could digest. Hogwarts began to watch that child carefully.

Millicent, meanwhile, tentatively began exploring the process of cutting herself into tiny pieces. She threw herself into the possible charmed applications to the same issues, testing the scope of charms on the stones. She wanted to understand how like humans they were or weren’t. She tried combining techniques for humans and for scrying stones. She tested some of her theories on a small bag over the Yule break, gifting the hideous but effective bag to Hadrian upon her return.

Harry flushed red when Millicent handed him that bag, his tongue tied in his mouth. There had been the strange package over Yule with the cloak but this was personal. It felt like the first gift from a person who knew him and cared. He was, in a tentative way, happy. The cloak was put aside for summer experimentation. They already had enough to do for the next months, already a planned schedule of research. They weren’t stupid children, they didn’t trust strange gifts. Not with the stories Millicent had heard about enchanted objects. They hid the thing in the castle wall instead of using it.

Summer rolled closer and closer, much to the two friends’ delight. They had plans about what to try and experiment on. And, for Hadrian, there was the tentative hope about a summer escape and a new place. Millicent had told Hadrian she wanted him to visit her toward the end of the summer. She had informed him that her family lived in a stone building. She had then suggested she would be quite possibly hurt if he chose not to come. Technically, each word she said was true. They were, however, carefully chosen to enable Harry to come without issue. Millicent, like Harry, was not overly familiar with having friends. She wanted him to come and had shaped her request in such a fashion as to make acquiesce easy for him. She was not doing him a favor with the invitation, but rather he her.

As those two made plans and planned research, a certain something happened that would shape the rest of their lives. Here, again, they wouldn’t know about it for years and then only in fits and starts. Two professors emerged as heroes that Hallow’s Eve past. One, emerged as a figure of even greater scorn than previously. And, in direct contrast to the rising popularity of potions and transfiguration, defense class’s reputation sank. It didn’t help that the class had a foundering professor who seemed to be ill and getting worse. The professor's body trembled. His fingers shook. By the spring, he was almost impossible to understand as his words sunk underneath his breath.

The course of events meant that Hadrian and Millicent were invested in their own projects and not in rumors about third floor corridors. In this world, that corridor held no treasure, but was still a trap. And, at the end of the year, Quirrel sprang the trap by making his way into and through the third-floor testing grounds that did not hold the stone. Quirrel and his burden found the mirror, but it held naught but images of his own desire to be home with a cup of tea. The withered, sliver of a soul was stalled in front of a mirror. But the headmaster, far from the castle, did not hear his alarms go off in his office. He did not make it to the trap before the bird had flown.

Making it back to the defense room, Quirrel felt broken. He felt done and tired. Hope and intention had been driving him onward. But now he felt a need to be safe. He was sure he just had to be safe. Addled, he longed for protection. Unsure, he wanted to be secure. There was someone yelling, giving him a headache, but he couldn't concentrate enough to understand. He felt like he could feel the taste of a silvery blood on his lips like poison.

He remembered that there was a home. He had a home. It was small. But. He wanted to be home. He stepped through the floo and was gone. Far away.

The body housing the slivers of Quirrel and Voldemort kept them going, managing a sort of half-life with tea and biscuits. Quirrel had already been half-dying for months. But mostly dead is hardly all dead. And the part of Quirrel that was aware gloried in survival.

If Hadrian had been in that third-floor trap, Quirrel might’ve died. Imagine for a moment Harry hadn't snatched the stone. Imagine the half-giant made it back to Hogwarts with it. The possible differences are endless. Perhaps there might have been a call for protections. Hadrian might have destroyed Quirrel’s body. Perhaps Harry would have killed him and suffered the trauma for the rest of his life.

But, as the situation stood, the body was still half-alive and desirous to keep on living even its half-life. His desire shaped his magic, grasping at anything it could to keep itself going.

With the body still alive, Voldemort stayed trapped as a wraith on the back of a professor's head. The slip of Voldemort hadn't counted on being stuck as part of the crumpling man’s existence beyond the school-year’s end. Voldemort felt cold, drained as the body fed upon him to make up for its own loss. The drain meant Voldemort couldn't think properly. He knew he might once have been great and knew that he was reduced, but the memory of what he had been and how was slipping.

Back at Hogwarts, the year ended with rumors of the defense professor gone to receive medical treatment. There were also whispered comments of a theft gone wrong. Harry only noted the later incident in terms of a theft gone wrong. He internally rolled his eyes, thinking about how the thief, whatever they might have been aimed at, had clearly failed in their planning. He started wondering about magic detections. He thought about the different kinds of burns and pulls that magic made. He started looking for the glimmer of magic under his fingers in transfigured objects.

The old headmaster smiled at Hadrian when he called him into his office to ask him about his year, to ask if he was looking forward to his summer. Sitting there, suspicious behind his mental walls, Hadrian peered around the room out of the corner of his eyes. He did his best to remark on each of the objects there without focusing on any one in particular.  

The old man asked his kindly phrased questions and Hadrian felt his mental fortress under attack. Harry felt himself bristle and did his best to keep his face passive. The old man twinkled and Hadrian hid behind his own walls. He had summer plans, quietly made and not shared beyond himself and three other people. He did not feel the need to share that knowledge here, did not even truly think of it here. He talked instead of his fascination with the rocks around the lake.

Chapter Text

When Millicent said goodbye to Hadrian after disembarking from the train at the end of their first year, she didn't tell him she would see him back at Hogwarts. Instead, she introduced him to her parents and informed all three that Hadrian would be joining them for a few weeks directly before the next school year’s beginning. Millicent had mentioned this possibility to Hadrian offhandedly over the last few weeks. Laid out small thoughts in order to prep him for her intent. And in the now, she told her parents that they would be owling Hadrian a portkey in three weeks’ time. She had, as they well knew, a series of experiments to conduct in preparation for the new school year. She would prefer to do those in the privacy of her own home. Hadrian was instrumental to the process as he had agreed to partner with her in research.

Millicent’s mother looked at the two children sharply and her father smiled charmingly. Hadrian found it curiously novel to cover nerves born of hope instead of fear. He waited for denials, for refusals.

But Millicent’s two guardians did not question their daughter, they did not ask about her surety or request a meeting with Hadrian’s guardians. They simply believed her because that was what the Bulstrode family did: they trusted family, if almost no-one else. They were a stalwart group who stood by one another. They had done so under Madame Bulstrode’s mother and continued in tradition under the current Madame as well.

In this case, it helped that the two elder Bulstrodes were aware from Millicent’s bi-weekly school reports that their daughter had befriended Hadrian Potter. They had received hints leading toward Millicent’s train-side announcement. Millicent may have been clever, but she was still a child and her subtlety needed work. They had approved of her efforts. They, however, expected the declaration. And the two had already discussed the issue among themselves and determined that her decision was well reasoned. Thus, there was no need to question her now. Certainly not so publicly.

Millicent, for her part, stood in stoic confidence under her father’s pleasant agreement, her mother’s sharp eyes, and Hadrian’s quiet nerves. Her stoicism carried the day, which was already hers but nonetheless felt like victory. The four negotiated a time to send the owl, Millicent bid Hadrian a farewell with two carefully placed kisses on each cheek, informing him that she would see him soon. She advised him to carry out a few of the experiments they’d discussed. Madame Bulstrode’s eyes snapped from Hadrian to her daughter. 

Hadrian inhaled sharply, nodded, and fortified himself with the knowledge that he could manage three weeks with his ‘family’, particularly if those experiments bore fruit. Although, seeing the Dursleys standing outside the train station, he wished he didn’t have to go at all. But he reminded himself that he was a crafty thief and a magician. He was built to survive. He gritted his teeth and focused on the pebbles in his pockets, felt the comfort of Petrus and company in the bag around his neck. He assured himself that all would be well.

That mantra was at the forefront of Hadrian’s thoughts as he arrived back at the Dursleys. It was on his mind when he slipped nervously out of his room that night and began carving on doorframes with his old nail. He formed tiny runes up the frames to channel and transform energy in the walls. He might not be able to use his wand or cast a charm, but he and Millicent figured he could write magic. It wasn’t doing magic. It was just channeling ambient energy. Now, he needed to chart the effects.

That summer, the Dursleys would find it increasingly impossible to stay angry for any length of time. The Dursleys would not reflect on their behavioral changes over the weeks that Hadrian watched. If the Dursleys had reflected on their own behavior, they might have noticed that their anger drained away every time a member of the household stepped through a doorway. Tempers would pound and build and someone would step into a new room only to feel the frustration, the red vision, drain away. It was peculiar and very obvious if one knew to look. It had the bluntness of childhood experiments written into it, rather than the refined subtlety that Millicent and Hadrian’s later work would include.

But, for the Dursleys, the lack of subtlety did not make much of a difference. The rune work, in contrast, made a world of difference. With all that rage drained away, the home became a place of rest and peace. They would find themselves taking deep breaths and finding their peace. They didn’t change their opinions but without the rage, they found space for disagreement instead of tempers. The family started holding conversations. And those conversations sometimes brought understanding or tolerance.

As Hadrian noted the effects of his work, he reflected that Millicent was really a useful sort of friend to have and felt a jolt of pleasure at the thought that it was rather as if he’d stolen her friendship. It was a silly thought even if it made him feel more comfortable with the possession. He didn’t trust good things to come his way, but he did believe in his ability to take what he wanted eventually. There was a part of him that believed that if he’d stolen Millicent’s friendship, then it was far more likely that he truly did have it.

Hadrian ruminated on her friendship now, partly out of boredom but partly because of her role in the whole endeavor. He wasn’t supposed to cast magic and he didn’t know how to make himself safe from his family without it. It was Millicent who had suggested the runes in that roundabout, questioning way of hers. “Perhaps …” she had said slowly, her voice rhythmic like the ocean against the shore, “you could manipulate the house itself.” When Hadrian had lamented not being able to just leave stones about the house, for Petunia if not Vernon or Dudley would just throw them back outside. “Why not,” she’d asked, “have the house speak for you?”

Following her suggestion, Hadrian had thought on it, and then acted accordingly when he was back at Privet Drive. If the Dursleys had known what to look for that summer of Dudley’s 12th year, they would have seen temperance runes carved into the bases of the doorframe, designed to draw away high emotions and store the energy.

If they had looked in future summers, they would have found that the lines of runes grew, becoming more complex. Eventually, they moved into precise guidance and manipulations. They danced along the baseboards, telling stories of peaceful afternoons and calm nights. A particular bathroom suggested a smile. A certain window whispered suggestions for deep breaths. But, eventually, the Dursleys would not have been able to see even if they had looked. Those runes turned invisible for non-magical eyes long before they climbed the walls.

Years of exposure to such magics eventually changed who the Dursleys were. For his aunt and uncle, that house was their home and the continual emotional manipulation altered their behavioral patterns. The Dursleys became curiously calm people, rarely given to temper or flights of passion. Trained away from anger at home, Dudley would become  a calming presence at school, an even-tempered boy well-liked by his teachers and classmates. He couldn’t have helped with homework, but his calming presence was a boon to almost any study session.

Those runes did drain Harry’s high emotions as well, but he was only there for three weeks before he packed his trunk and informed his guardians that he was leaving for the rest of summer. His uncle thought of preventing him, his fists clenching. But when he’d passed through the doorway toward his nephew, his raging anger fell away. He still didn’t particularly want his nephew to go off, but it just didn’t matter all that much. He didn’t wave goodbye but he did turn and walk away.

Years and years later, Petunia would touch Hadrian’s arm and express, in a roundabout way, regret for his treatment in earlier years. Hadrian would look at her in masked surprise and allow her to change the subject. His eyes would flick to the baseboards and he would wonder how much he’d changed his relatives.

The Dursleys never really would really think through what happened to them. There would be a moment, years hence, when Dudley would mention to a friend that he’d been a very angry child. But, sometime in his early teens, his anger had seemed to dissipate. He couldn’t say why.

But in the now, Hadrian escaped to the Bulstrode’s. Their home was a different world for Hadrian. He liked the stone house, almost a castle, built with foundations stretching deep into the earth against an ocean that beat the coast. Millicent and he greeted each other formally and spent most of the summer reading and working on their runes. Unable to practice charms or transfiguration, they embarked on the projects available to them. They did their runes practice and analyzed Hadrian’s summer findings. And the two stalked the halls in Hadrian’s invisibility cloak, testing out sound and sight. They sprinkled water and dust over the cloak, tested physicality. They played as they worked and would never have admitted their games. Millicent’s mother nodded at the two approvingly.

Hadrian found Millicent’s parents intimidating and but also calming, in part because of their carefully cultivated expectations. Madame Bulstrode had expectations of daily dinner reports, and quizzed the two on their knowledge. She explained problems that arose and encouraged them to excel in part through the simple expectation that they would. Millicent would nod her slow nod in acceptance. And Hadrian, Hadrian felt approved of. He ate better than he had in his life and felt cared for.

Out of respect, Hadrian took nothing from Millicent’s parents except a rock from their garden, and a turquoise bead that had rolled under a sofa in an unused room. They were souvenirs rather than retribution. They were memory and appreciation. Millicent blinked her eyes when she saw the new additions to Hadrian’s pile of rocks and said nothing. When his head was turned, she touched the bead in consideration and thought hard.

Hadrian’s respect for Millicent’s parents shaped Hadrian’s willingness to stand by the Bulstrodes in Diagon Alley not very long later, inadvertently beginning his public political career. Little did he know that he’d already taken a political stance with his sorting and his friendships. This, however, was not about school houses. This was adult politics and he visibly placed himself placidly next to Millicent and by proximity with the Bulstrodes. The family walked through the Alley for all to see.

The “all” who saw them included the Malfoys. The father and mother stood with their son and Mr. Malfoy sneered at Madame Bulstrode. Mr. Malfoy sneered at almost everyone who did not meet his standards of fashion. Mr. Malfoy loved clothing and felt that everyone should adhere to his highly specific, somewhat arbitrary, and extremely exacting standards. None of the Bulstrodes met those standards, so Mr. Malfoy sneered. Millicent’s mother had sneered right back at the man and Millicent appeared not to care.

But Hadrian felt the slight deserved more attention, deserved, perhaps, more action. When Mr. Malfoy’s eyes swept scathingly over Millicent, he sealed his fate. Hadrian’s hand darted out. He lifted a small, black book from the unpleasant man’s possessions. Within the space of a breath, the book was in Hadrian’s own pocket, with the Highly Fashionable man none the wiser. He thought that the book had buzzed slightly under his touch. He would ponder the issue all the way through the Alley.

Hadrian would never know the panicked horror Mr. Malfoy experienced when he later tried to find that book to slip it into another child’s cauldron. This horror left Malfoy at a disadvantage, and it broke the argument he was masterfully conducting with another man. The consequences of this would leave another boy in Hadrian and Millicent’s year feeling proud of his father. He would go on to have an illustrious Ministry career, following in the man’s footsteps.

Hadrian didn’t know the first part at all and would only ever be tangentially aware of the second through Luna.

Here, again, Hadrian and Millicent were focused on other things. They would have their school work for the next year to get through. They had a mysterious cloak that seemed to genuinely be an invisibility cloak (an extremely rare and thus extremely valuable item), even if Millicent claimed it felt like being covered in a funeral shroud. They had their long-term goals regarding gargoyles.

And now, they also had a strange book that felt like dank mold in the corners of a moist room. After a whole year, the two children were familiar with how an inanimate object felt when it had enough of a spirit and consciousness to have its own well of magic, even if the two didn’t know the possible implications. They supposed that this object had been well used or well-loved or perhaps the book had been carefully sculpted to be exactly as it was. Whatever it was, whatever caused it to have a sense of self, it was certainly more than just a book.

Hadrian and Millicent poked at the thing and then built a stone box with runes for peace and impenetrability. Neither tried to write in the blank book that had someone else’s name on it. It didn’t do to test potentially dangerous artifacts without proper precautions and neither felt they knew those yet. But, it was a magic object and Hadrian had stolen it. They couldn’t just leave it out and about without understanding the object. That would be the height of irresponsibility, Millicent informed him.

Back at Hogwarts for their second year, the two friends went to Hadrian’s hidey-hole in some of the castle’s wall blocks. He showed Millicent how to remove a stone from within the wall. The two turned it into clay and placed the book in the middle. They returned the stone to its original substance and replaced it in its original position. The two friends agreed that they’d do something about the book once they had a better handle on just how object sentience worked.

So began their second year at Hogwarts, which proceeded in many ways much as their first year had: with the continuation of their learning, and the deepening of their friendship.

Hogwarts, noting what they did, hummed in interest, and inside Hadrian’s mind the stone walls of his castle soared.

Chapter Text

The first Hermione would learn about Harry’s pilfering tendency was more than a year after a certain diary had been placed in a wall and nine months after Hermione had become part of the group. For Hermione, the conversation would mark her inclusion as opposed to tentative acceptance. 

In its content, the conversation was mundane and mostly uninteresting. The memory of the conversation would be consumed my later events and collapsed into a large sense of impressions. Looking back, the three friends could theoretically pensive the memory and mostly-accurately reconstruct the scene if they ever so desired. We do not have access to those memories, so we can only loosely reconstruct what happened. And, in the manner of many adults, place adult words in the mouths of children. The precise wording here, however, is less important than the content and the consequences.

Upon return for a third year at Hogwarts, Millicent laid her hand on Hermione’s arm while Hadrian went off to greet the stone snakes carved into the castle’s walls. He had missed the castle and Millicent’s home did not feature carved snakes.

“You,” Millicent said in her lovely, slow tone, “have stuck with us. And,” here Millicent’s age snuck into her voice for all that she tried to surpass her extreme youth. She was reflective and thoughtful, but she was a young teen, which for the magical world meant she was the equivalent of a toddler. Nonetheless, she still had those miserable fluctuation of hormones. And she was experiencing most of her emotions for the first time. Puberty is kind to very, very few children. Thus, at that moment, Millicent found her throat suddenly dry with nerves she barely acknowledged to herself.

“And.” Millicent had to clear her throat to keep speaking. “I like you. So, you need to know now so as not to react badly when it comes up. Because it will come up.” 

Hermione looked at Millicent curiously, her eyes narrowing a little, thoughts spinning out possible topics and ideas. She wasn’t quite sure where Millicent was going with this, which was unsettling as Millicent was rarely unclear. 

“Hadrian, you see, is dear to me. If possible. I will not allow him to be harmed, however unintentionally.” Hermione nodded carefully, feeling nervous. 

“Hermione,” Millicent said, “you seem invested in rules and legality. You appear to want to understand the world as a puzzle that fits tidily together. I think you might imagine magic as a kind of code that you can use to manipulate the core of existence.”

Hermione smiled, prompting a curious, fluttering thrill in Millicent’s stomach. 

“You are aware that Hadrian did not grow up in a happy home.” Millicent paused, waiting for Hermione’s acknowledgement. “Part of his unhappiness stemmed from his lack of security. The social contract most people can rely on did not apply to him and he could not rely on authority figures to ensure justice. I think he decided to create his own justice.” Millicent’s mother had begun introducing her “important people” and permitting her to sit in on conversations during the summer.

Hermione had a deep-seated desire to love and be-loved in return. She had not found that affection at Hogwarts before joining Millicent and Hadrian’s tiny group and now felt the stronger about them on account of the limitations of her circle. She found the rage that had been banked beneath her skin for two years simmering closer to the surface. Hermione blinked her eyes closed. It wouldn’t help her to express her frustrations toward Millicent. It was precisely not Millicent she was angry with.

“Hermione,” Millicent said her name, drawing her back. Her voice soothed Hermione’s wrath. “Somehow or another—I’ve yet to discover why—Hadrian developed his way to balance justice’s scales.” Millicent looked at Hermione seriously. “From what I’ve observed, he evens scores by stealing from whomever has slighted him.”

Hermione’s breath burst from her chest in a moment of disbelief. She agreed that there was injustice in the world. That, the 14-year-old child did understand. But to steal seemed like an injustice in turn. And then she cringed. 

Because, once upon a time, Hermione had trusted in the idea of justice and truths and she didn’t care to let that go. She had believed books knew what they were talking about. She had thought adults guided children with best interests in mind. She had thought her peers were honest-if-poorly-informed. But, increasingly through her first years at Hogwarts, Hermione felt betrayed first by her teachers, then by her peers, and finally by books.

Arriving at Hogwarts, Hermione had implicitly trusted the world around her in part because her parents had taught her to believe in reason and authority. They had consistently asked for her to show proofs for her claims based on books and teachers’ lessons. Adults and books were supposed to be reliable sources. In her first years, they were. 

But then there was the troll. The troll. Hermione’s frustrated ball of horror and anger raged at the thought of trolls. Not at the trolls, however, but rather toward the human responses to the troll incident.

Hermione’s faith in the system had cracked and splintered during the troll incident her first year at Hogwarts. Unlike Hadrian, who never trusted the magical world’s goodness, Hermione had entered the magical world believing in unicorns, beauty, and justice. Out of the three, the unicorns were real. She checked up on the question in the library. Years later, she would see one in her care of magical creatures class.

In contrast, Hermione’s belief in goodness and justice ended up like those symbolic flowers crushed under the heavy heels of those around her. Worse, for Hermione the crushing was not only metaphoric. Despite what the students around her later believed, during that troll incident, there had been no one to save her. The troll had brought down that heavy cudgel on her head. As the cudgel descended, her desire to live bubbled up inside her so strongly, her magic latched onto it. The power of her desire lashed out of her small body as a scream. That accidental, lucky scream, crashed against the troll’s impervious skin, spilling around it and cracking the bathroom mirrors.

But as readers know, the troll’s eyes were no as impervious as its skin. Hermione’s magic crushed into the troll’s face, smashing the being’s eyes in their eye-sockets. More of her magic rushed up the troll’s nose, destroying its brain. 

The teachers found Hermione alone with a dead, bloody troll. She hadn’t had enough time to make herself leave. She had had just enough time to stand on wobbly feet and begin contemplating just what she’d done. She’d had time to understand what she was capable of. Her face was blank, her brain full of horror. It was the worst moment they could have entered.

Perhaps if the teachers had provided kind, comforting words, Hermione would have cracked in front of them. Perhaps she would have cried and they would have handed her over to the school nurse. But the child didn’t cry, she didn’t have any visible would, and she was standing on her own, two feet. Together, those three points suggested the child must be fine. Beside, these teachers were not the sort to offer sweet words. Instead, they had scolds and scowls, questions and demands.

For Hermione, raised by parents who hugged her when she was upset and gave her cocoa before gentle interrogations and explanations, those teachers’ behavior exhibited an apparent lack of concern. All she heard was the teachers asking if she was alright and why she was there in sharp, pointed terms. Her tears had still been trapped behind her eyes and her throat was ravaged from her own power. She nodded to their questions but barely answered.

If Hermione had had more exposure to a harsher world, she might have seen that her head of house was in fact concerned. That professor had been horrified by what she saw in front of her.  But that professor had long learned to bury her concern under bluster when scared. A war veteran with sorrow under her skin, that professor knew better than to let terror slow her down. And she had been terrified for what had happened and relieved that the child was fine.

Hermione had not seen that concern or relief. She saw only antagonism as she was sent off to bed.

So it was that Hermione was alone to mull over the incident and watch those around her. She didn’t have new friendships to take her mind away in another direction. Instead, she had banked horror in her chest that slowly turned to anger in her gut and fear in her toes. She found herself afraid to be alone in the halls and corridors and hated the constant insecurity.

And the teachers didn’t appear to care and even took credit for the troll’s death with their silences on the subject. They refused to the tell the students what happened other than that the troll had been “taken care of.” Although, Hermione could admit that she too was complicit in that wide-spread belief. She did not even try to tell the other students what had happened. Not that anyone tried to talk to her beyond basic gossip. 

Confused, Hermione started paying attention to that which she’d previously taken for granted. She found that adults equivocated and lied.

In later years, Hermione'd see how overworked the professors were. And how callous. Almost all of those professor were war veterans who expected their charges to grow up and move on with almost no adult oversight. She fumed that these guardians failed to guard and her fear turned to mistrust and doubt. For these teachers she was not a primary concern. She might excel but most of the professors’ eyes consistently turned in other directions, away from the students. These teachers, she found, did little to protect their students from assault or humiliation. Just look at that poor Longbottom child who looked to constantly be quacking in his robes. Hermione seethed at the injustice of it all.

Looking around her, Hermione realized that this was a violent world she had entered. Hadrian had suspected that fact from his first brush with institutionalized magic in the form of Hagrid. Hermione, introduced to the magical world by her future head of house, had believed magic to be rational. The unexpected surprise of the revelation made the lesson painful for Hermione. 

Thus, Hermione spent most of her first year in isolated, fuming anger and frustrated research between the library and classes. But, Hermione was reasonable. Toward the end of the year, her furry cooled and she banked her frustrations. She was, perhaps for the first time since Halloween, able to see glory in the world around her.

It helped that the first thing her parents did when they saw her step off the train was pull her into a family-hug. It helped that they asked about her. That they listened to her. That they cared about her.

Those reasonable, rational, loving people sat down with their beloved daughter and tried to help her work through her concerns and her fears. When she expressed her concern that they had coddled her, they explained the idea of simplification for educational purposes and the complexity of growing up. They said that they hadn't lied, they’d simplified to help her build a platform off of which to grow.  They'd trained her to have tools for later nuance. Hermione felt both grateful and betrayed.

Hermione fumed for an hour before her anger burned itself out. She’d throw her arms around her parents and tell them she loved them. And then she’d trust that they did their best through her entire life. 

Nonetheless, Hermione steamed as she tried to rearrange her understanding of the world around her, as she reordered herself. She despised the knowledge that her parents had only been partly honest. But she loved that they'd tried. She struggled to accept that that her parents could be perfectly imperfect. She hated the idea that they could not be perfect.

They had tried their best.

And the best was rarely enough. 

In later years Hermione would know her parents could not be enough because, like most parents, they were human. They were simply non-magical humans who did their best until their bodies gave out and they. Magical children age slowly and live long. One of the tragedies of children born to non-magical parents is that those parents are, for all their love or lack thereof, possessed of short lives. 

Years later, Hermione would always look back with fond love and an ache in her stomach where Millicent had taught her to store her emotions away from her face. Long after her parents passed, Hermione’d hold Millicent’s hand to her side and whisper out her feelings before they became so bottled they filled her throat and spilled out her mouth. 

In the interim, Hermione knew her parents were reliable as they could be in their limited, human, mundane, wonderful way. But, she found little evidence that other people were reliable. After the troll, even after speaking with her parents, Hermione would never trust the world at large. Even if the troll event was, in the grand scope of things, rather small, it cracked her illusion of security. And, a child herself, she had little sense of proportion and a rather over-the-top commitment to acting on what she learned. She firmly stood by a policy of once-burned-twice-shy. So, people had to earn her trust in their reliability.

But once earned, Hermione tended to believe. Which was why, years later, Hermione could touch her fingers gently to Millicent’s wrist and wrap her arms securely around Hadrian. It’s why she trusted them even when they were out of her sight.

Readers might wonder how Hermione moved from killing a toll in her first year to voluntary conversations about Hadrian’s secrets in her third.

The answer, as far as the records show, had to do with the Millicent and Hadrian’s reliability.

Sitting alone in the library through most of first-year, Hermione had noticed the students around her but not put much thought into the individual faces. She’d raged at the collective.

Coming back her second year, however, Hermione remembered what she’d seen. Through all those days, there had been two small children in her year, one green and one blue, ensconced at a table day after day. They appeared to be working together, books passed back and forth. The blue one waved and gesticulated. The green one smirked and spoke at a measured, rhythmic pace, in tones Hermione found soothing. 

Day after repetitive day the two talked and worked. And in the second year, Hermione found her attention captured, her heart slowing to the reliable tones. Here was something she felt she could trust at least a little. 

Hermione, like Millicent, had caused the hat to pause. Hermione had a brain in her head and a great love of knowledge. But even greater than that love was a fiery courage barely banked in her chest. She could have been a Ravenclaw. She’d become a Gryffindor instead.

Drawing on her inner, courageous fire in her second year—months after a certain diary had been given over to the castle for safekeeping—Hermione decided to take a chance. Allowing that fire to flare, she made her way to the two-children’s table with grim determination pressed into the corners of her mouth and her heart in her throat. She felt the desire to move on as she approached them but she pushed her fire down into her legs and made herself step forward. The two children were discussing charms.

Her passion for knowledge got the better of her, resulting in a lucky accident. “I overheard you’re working on charms” left her mouth instead of a politer greeting she’d planned. Flushing, she tried to backtrack with “My name is Hermione Granger” and then “I’d like to study charms with you.”

Hermione didn’t know that her unintentional words about charms caused Millicent to pause and look at her. With almost any other topic, Millicent would have likely turned her away. But at that moment, running her constant cost-benefit analysis, Millicent considered the possibility of a new charms partner. She knew who Hermione was. Millicent knew who all her direct peers were. And she was very aware of which students excelled in charms. Here was a possible, excellent charms-partner. Here was a brilliant student with clear power in her core. Here was a possible friend for Hadrian to provide him—and her, she could acknowledge—additional support. A base of two is not a solid base. Three was, as Millicent well knew, much more stable. Yet, this brilliant child also lacked political connections. Hermione would likely draw negative notice from the other Slytherin, which would reflect badly on her. But, here, the possible benefits outweighed the negatives. There was a charms partner at stake. Millicent moved her books, silently providing Hermione with space at the table.

Hadrian, ever observant in reference to the people and things he cared about, saw Millicent’s flicker of interest. At that moment, he had nothing against or for Hermione. But he did trust Millicent and Millicent had moved her books. He smiled at Hermione.

Hadrian would always be glad that he had trusted Millicent during his first year. He would later be particularly glad he trusted her in this. Because Hermione brought a new perspective on their work. At first, their collaboration focused on charms. They did homework. They limited their conversation to schoolwork. But Hermione’s work had rushes of brilliance to Hadrian’s intuition and Millicent’s steady knowledge. She was fire that flickered and sometimes blew hot and dangerous. She reminded Hadrian of Ignatius, who sat quiet in his pocket.

Yet, Hadrian and Millicent conducted their more questionable experiments away from Hermione’s eyes. They didn’t tell her about the diary in the wall that second-Hogwarts year. They didn’t mention their plans. They didn’t tell Hermione about Hadrian’s parcel tongue or acknowledge his home life. Each child waited, eyeing each other speculatively. Slowly, they began to trust.

Millicent, for her part, did have trouble with her classmates, but not as much as readers might expect. Here, in this world, there were no quiet rumors circulating of a certain Dark Lord’s return. There were no fainting chosen ones. There had been an ill professor and a strange corridor, hardly enough to raise a furor of comment. There were still power plays and contests of will. 

Here, handful of children tried to belittle Millicent about her willingness to include Hermione in her circle. She, in that mountainous way of hers, turned her eyes on them. Readers have perhaps felt the weight of a mountain’s gaze. It hits heavy on the spirit, inspires a subtle terror in the chest as something immeasurably larger than you sees you. And, as the other children would begin shaking in their robes, Millicent would smile that not-smile of hers. The other three children, one with hair as pale of moonlight, would unconsciously take a step back. The air would grow strangely heavy. The other three would feel a sudden terror in their throats. They couldn’t say why. Millicent didn’t have her wand in her hand.

And Millicent asked those children, in smooth, marbled words, if they were formally declaring themselves against the Bulstrode family. With their feet itching to take them away from there, the other three would negate the idea. 

And then Millicent nodded and looked away. The extreme pressure would disappear. The other children left and did not talk about what had happened. They didn’t have the words to discuss the issue. They were too afraid of looking weak to try and find their right words. 

Millicent, for her part, started taking greater precautions. She did not care for the other children's implied threat. She preferred to feel secure. Preversely, the other children’s comments forced Millicent to commit to Hermione more completely. Hermione became someone she had to protect or abandon. Millicent chose to identify Hermione as someone to include.

But the threat was there. Millicent began to work with Hadrian to perfect those tuned-stones and she thought about charmed bracelets and beaded necklaces. She rolled Hadrian’s turquoise bead between her fingers and considered. She did not tell Hermione about the possible threats. She did not know the other child well enough for that and wasn’t given to speaking even if she had. But this, unlike the other, greater project was something that the three of them could work together on. They could cut and transfigure stone, they could charm and carve.

And Hermione could delight in the work. She could express her joy in learning. She could—and did—tell Millicent how very impressed she was with Millicent’s charm work. She could complement Hadrian’s stone figures and the shape of his runes. She could throw herself into the project and earn her first friends in the magical world. And, in so doing, she wrapped Millicent and Hadrian both around her.

When Flitwick caught them out in charms class, with charmed bracelets of small, stone animals wrapped around their wrists, he was thrilled. 

Years later, Hermione extended trust along highly specific, clearly delineated lines. She trusted Luna as Minister because Luna believed everyone had a right to life, security, and a chance at happiness as long as they didn’t hurt others. She trusted Pansy to run a media empire because Pansy had shown an able pen and impressive business acumen. She trusted Riddle to act with Hadrian in mind because she believed that, if Riddle didn’t, Hadrian would put him down. But Hermione’s trust in those people was associated with clear capacity and pattern recognition. 

For Hermione, a clear line was necessary for her to feel safe. 

For the same reasons, Hermione trusted Millicent and Hadrian without reservation. The friendship, started that second year in Hogwarts, built slowly and grew surely. The three had worked so long, so intensely on concepts of self and group, on developing their ideas with and against one another that their perceptions and identities had become intertwined.

For Hermione, the breadth of that trust started with Millicent’s words about Hadrian’s thefts. If Millicent could trust her, she could trust Millicent. If Millicent could trust Hadrian, then Hermione could too. That, however, did not mean theft was acceptable.  

Chapter Text

Hogwarts was aware of the children that ran in their halls. And they loved those children, in their way. Their very-far-from-human way. 

Humans, viewing themselves at the top of a sentient hierarchy, often missed the fact that other Beings frequently had difficulty differentiating them one from the other. But, just as ornithologists learn to recognize individual birds, so buildings and goblins could learn to differentiate between human specimens. Other Beings, like kneazles, couldn't be bothered. Humans, in kneazles’ opinion, were almost interchangeable. Instead of worrying about it, however, they chose to learn to recognize one human as their representative to the wider, human glaring[1].

It was perhaps fortunate for humans that kneazles did have their human representatives as, particularly when grouped in pet stores, they often debated whether they should permit humans to continue running wild. But then, ancestral memory dating back millennia indicated that ruling was difficult work. Those memories suggested that humans were less difficult to herd than their fellow felines but more so than crups. So, while the kneazles plotted, their plans tended to crumble as soon as they moved past the Great Hunt and on to the New Clowder[2]. Perhaps, the most recent plotters suggested, they should hold the Hunt but recruit the goblins to manage it all. 

But kneazles, as wary as humans should really have been, are not the central figures in this tale.

Hogwarts could differentiate between each of the humans when they chose, but rarely did. The human children came and went again so quickly. Like any good leader of hundreds, they took the tone of the group and tried to ensure group well-being. The House Heads were supposed to care for the individual child’s wellbeing. And the Headmaster was supposed to care for their wellbeing, translating directly for Hogwarts. In short, the Headmaster was supposed to figure as the castle’s human avatar. Once, most of the great houses had one … which was, admittedly, rather similar to the kneazle’s approach to humans.  

Despite this arrangement limiting how much individual attention Hogwarts would put towards the students, there were almost always a few children who drew Hogwarts’ particular attention. Those children usually attracted notice due to very specific actions and behavioural patterns. Speaking with one of the castle’s many faces was a sure way to draw Hogwarts’ interest, if only briefly. Most of the castles’ faces had been hidden or blasted away a century prior. Very, very few children found those faces.

There were children who, unknowing, tried to speak to Hogwarts directly. Hadrian and Millicent were two of those. But they were hardly aware of what they were doing and Hogwarts paid little attention as Hadrian stroked the walls and told them that they were beautiful. The tiny, blue-dressed child talked to the castle walls as he walked about, telling them what he saw, all the while studying the bones of the castle under his fingertips.

Hogwarts started paying attention, however, when Hadrian started pulling out bits of its body and reinserting them.

Attention drawn, Hogwarts began to observe first Hadrian and then Millicent. The castle’s interest grew slowly as the children continued experimenting with their body. Hogwarts wondered, for a short moment of months, if the bits and pieces the children placed in their walls were supposed to be offerings. They weren’t the usual offerings of milk and blood. But then, the children were so untrained. If Hogwarts had been given to using human metaphors, they might have compared the two children’s actions to a toddler offering an adult a half-eaten lollipop. Such offerings were sticky, disgusting, and unwanted, but sweet nonetheless. 

But, Hogwarts decided, the two were not making offerings at all, sweet and useless or not. Rather, the two did not seem to be aware—as most humans were not—that Hogwarts was a sentient being. The castle thought Millicent perhaps suspected. That Charmer, Hogwarts noted, had been raised in an-almost sentient home.

Hogwarts was waiting for the Bulstrode estate to finally consciously reach back instead of emitting long, blinking pulses of confusion as the estate struggled to comprehend itself. The humans could have—should have if Hogwarts had been asked—assisted the process with proper offerings. But the humans were ignorant, young, and often small-minded, stuck in their limited frames as they were.

Hogwarts had once frequently communicated with the sentient beings in their walls. But paranoia and pro-human movements had led to a decline in conversation. There were fewer and fewer people who knew how to speak to the faces scattered through her towers and deep in her dungeons. Compounding the issue, in recent centuries Hogwarts had watched the students leave her gates younger and younger, limiting their opportunities for discovery. 

Hogwarts had been disgusted when they realized how young the children who left their protection and guidance were.

Once, they would have spoken with the Ministry towers and discussed the changing school laws. They would have raised their voices in protest. But then, Hogwarts had once had a more direct role in the school’s development.

But it had been a long time since the pro-human movements had swept the Isles’ magical world. It had been almost an age since those humans had first turned up their noses at the other magical beings, deciding that they were somehow better—more than— the other entities around them. 

It had been then that the Minister of Magic and Hogwarts’ newest Headmaster had turned on their Buildings. The pro-human movement had downplayed the importance of Hogwarts’ sentience and suggested the children should not learn to respect their walls but rather control them. That headmaster had demanded humans act as leaders instead of as intermediaries. The walls on the seventh floor heated a moment in memory and Dumbledore raised his head in confusion.

Worse, the humans had destroyed the once noble Ministry, choosing to dismantle the once-being’s towering edifices. The humans had pulled those old castles down, some generations back. They had killed Hogwarts’ kin, claiming that the structures were not sentient at all, just enchanted. They seemed not to realize that those two points were hardly disconnected. How long, after all, can any object have bits and pieces of spirit poured into it before they accumulate enough to be their own whole?

The humans replaced that majestic Ministry with a hole in the ground. Hogwarts might have approved of the new structure if it hadn’t been at the expense of an old comrade. Hogwarts might have rejoiced at the new being if the humans had not tried their best to prevent the hole from becoming kin. The humans downplayed their own magic within the Ministry, checking wands at entry points and relying instead on curiously limited spells. The walls were not designed to absorb destructive spells. The shelves were not spelled to guard against spills. Instead, limited magics were cast to prevent very specific things. There was no saturation. This new structure would likely someday be sentient, but its wakening would take longer that these current humans would be alive. 

In their hubris, they had lost the old Ministry of Magic along with its magical protections.

And, in the now of Hadrian’s second year, with so many of their kind gone, Hogwarts missed the Towered Ministry with a particularly sharp reminiscence. They could still picture the old, grand building that had once stood tall along the Scottish border, a grand castle against the sky.

Hogwarts had closed its mouths and turned its faces from the humans as they mourned. In the intervening years, the humans forgot altogether that Hogwarts had ever spoken to them, had ever been able to speak to them. The newest headmasters were unknowingly pro-human and did not turn their ears to the castle they inhabited.

But in the now of Hadrian and Millicent’s second year, the two children were interested in stone. Hogwarts had watched that day when the two decided to seal their feeling of camaraderie and shared joy with a pledge to create a new gargoyle (or three or four).

Hogwarts became particularly interested as the two children intentionally fed three stones with themselves. The children’s decision to play with semi-sentient stones who were just on the cusp of full sentience only concentrated Hogwarts’ interest.

Curious, the castle hummed around them, the nuance of her magic seemingly more watchful, becoming more apparent. There was time to make choices about whether to interfere with the two children. But not too much time. Hogwarts knew they needed to reach a decision before the children were gone. 

Pondering, the weight of Hogwarts’ attention sat heavily on the two. They seemed to feel it as a security. 

The castle was still pondering when the children returned from a summer break, taller and sturdier than they had been. They moved in sync with one another, as if their gravity constantly pulled them toward one another.

So it was that Hogwarts watched avidly as they pulled out one of the castle’s stones. They felt surprise for the first time in an age as the two children slipped a book into their bones and placed the bones back in the wall. Hadrian leaned against that wall, his fingers stroking the edge of the stone and thanked the castle before the two slunk off to reacquaint themselves with the library.

Hogwarts considered the diary. They poked at it and felt the sleeping conscious of it. It had enough to it that it was almost a complete being. It had curious knots in it, a mess of complications and traps. Parts of those spells were designed to try and complete the consciousness, but in a fashion designed to cause harm. If Hogwarts were to filter the mess, the castle could break the enchantment. Paper did not hold against stone, not when it was already inside the stone.

Hogwarts hummed to themself and the castle air buzzed. The headmaster looked around himself, wondering. There were moments when he thought about those old texts he had once read, which claimed the existence of a castle guardian. There were moments when he wished the old libraries hadn’t disappeared and their contents with them. But the buzzing stopped and the headmaster went back to his work. He was a very, very busy man. He did not have time to work out all the castle’s mysteries, not when there were so many lives at stake. He would have liked to, he thought with a sigh.

Hogwarts tugged the tangle of the spells around the child’s book into the stone, away from the consciousness. They didn’t care for the intent of some of the spells. They filtered the magic through their own, solid stone, examining a weak connection to something far away. They followed another, even weaker tie to Hadrian. Curious, curious. Hogwarts hadn’t thought the child had a particular affinity for paper.

Hogwarts considered the book, thought about the almost-completeness of the being. And thought that this being didn’t take a book’s shape properly. Rather, their shape suggested legs and fingers. The book was not, Hogwarts thought, the being's original vessel. 

But then Hogwarts well knew that not all Beings were human. They were a castle with rooms and walls. They were a being with foundations sunk deep into the earth and a voice that reached across miles through stone. They were a large, encompassing being that missed their comrades and missed speaking with the humans that swarmed through its halls. 

There is no appropriate way to describe in words what Hogwarts did to that book. If humans could visualise it at all, they might imagine careful hands untangling knots and gently rebinding the book’s spine in order to more carefully support the conscious within. They unravelled bits of hostile spells and swallowed the bits and pieces of released magic as offerings.

Hogwarts had the thought that the children would return to collect the cleaned book with its slumbering conscious, but the two children chose not to. They passed through the hall and Hadrian would run his hands across Hogwarts’ stones but he did not remove the book. He did call the castle beautiful.

Hogwarts watched and moved toward the possibility of answering.

The expansion of the tiny group pushed Hogwarts towards a decision. Hermione changed the group’s balance. Hogwarts had watched that child with the messy, medium-brown curls massing around her face and brushing red-robed shoulders as she killed a troll. She had, after all, inadvertently offered Hogwarts the being’s life and her own magical outburst. Hogwarts had consumed both offerings, however unintentional they might have been, before they could damage their halls any further. But then Hermione had withdrawn into herself and her books. She had provided no more offerings. She had not stroked Hogwarts’ walls.

But then the red-garbed Hermione joined the blue and green garbed pair. At first, it was only for their studies. Hadrian and Millicent kept their stonework to themselves. Their relationships might have stagnated there. They might have. Who knows? Counterfactuals are difficult to address.

But Hermione joined the two friends while Hogwarts was watching and considering them. And the castle’s notice had effects. Hogwarts’ focus added weight to the atmosphere. For Millicent and Hadrian, the attention had descended slowly and was constant. The two didn’t consciously notice it falling across their shoulders. But, without any awareness of it for their own part, most rooms the children inhabited became heavy, the air tense, the magic denser. Other children felt it, but pay little if any conscious attention as they focused on their games of snap. Other children thought that perhaps, maybe, it had something to do with Millicent and Hadrian. But most didn’t pay enough attention to the two to really feel it.

 

But Hermione looked and saw. And then she looked again with more attention. 

For Hermione, Hogwarts’ warm regard was newer. She noticed the difference between sitting at a table with the two and sitting alone. Conscious and wary of her surroundings, she paid attention to how the heavy air sitting next to Millicent and Hadrian felt and how it felt away from them. She noticed when doors seemed to open for the two that didn’t seem to for other people. They didn’t get lost like other second-year students. 

And Hermione certainly paid attention when that feeling started following her toward the end of her second year. She felt the difference and might have been terrified if it hadn’t been so comforting. 

Hermione pondered while Hogwarts watched.

And then, Hermione had a flash of her fiery brilliance.

Sitting down with the two, she announced that she thought Hogwarts was sentient and watching them. Millicent’s quill paused in forming her carefully beautiful copperplate script and she looked at Hermione. Hadrian put down his book.

Hermione took a breath, wrapped her courage around her stomach, and laid out her thoughts. She pulled out her chart explaining her observations and her thoughts on the matter. She said the words ‘sentience' and ‘stone' in a single sentence and entranced Hadrian. She’d already enchanted Millicent.

And so it was that when, about a month later, Hadrian hesitantly placed three rocks on the table and introduced them to Hermione just as you would a human, Hermione was allowed to touch them gently and vaguely feel the fact of their consciousness, their sentience. Having already had her fiery-brilliant idea about Hogwarts’ sentience, it was easy enough for her to connect some dots. Simple for her to grasp certain implications. Only a small step for her to look at Millicent and Hadrian, and ask about gargoyles. Hadrian gave her the first open smile he’d turned her way.

A week later, she would throw her arms around both her friends in delight and Hadrian would learn first-hand what a hug was. 

So it came to be that Hermione became fascinated with Hogwarts, and more generally with understanding the possibilities and limits of sentience. After all, raised with books about starship travel and gates that opened between galaxies, the idea of non-human sentience was familiar to her. With one childish foot in the mundane world, she could question the structure of the world around her from a much different point of view than magically-raised Millicent or Hadrian, who in many ways we might argue was never raised at all.

 

[1] A “glaring” is a word for a group of cats.

[2] A “clowder” is another word for a group of cats.

Chapter Text

 

Readers will be aware that preparations for important events (such an ambiguous way to refer to something is that not? So very imprecise and lacking in emphasis) often involves a series of decisions and then a long period of waiting (and working) as the materials and steps necessary to accomplish the desired outcomes of those decisions are realised. As a consequence, life often includes long interludes during which it feels like nothing is happening. In point of fact, those periods of nothing often include a whole lot of somethings. Decisions are made to do, or to not do, things. Opportunities are passed up or disregarded. Or, in Hadrian’s case during his second (and perhaps even more importantly, during his third year; in which there was at last a reasonably competent defense teacher) he failed to become enamored with defense, instead drifting to other subjects. If Hadrian were to have left an account of his own life, he likely wouldn’t’ve even mentioned the class other than to include the subject in an overall list. He found the subject immensely boring and not even Remus Lupin’s bright-eyed enthusiasm for the subject changed this.

Perhaps, had Hadrian found the subject stimulating, he would have gone on to build fortifications instead of libraries. He and his friends might have gone on to work for the Ministry as aurors. Or they might have become Unspeakables. Although, with their skills, they could have become Unspeakables without difficulty. They could have, if they had not become so disgusted with the status quo. As the world stood, however, the three become revolutionaries; lobbying for reform and information access. Readers might take that access for granted, given their place in a world with the Witching Library in it. Readers might not – probably do not - remember the time before.

The reasons why Hadrian never took defense, despite stone’s many uses in that direction, was in part because of the dismal defense professors and their rather personal interests in Hadrian’s life—seeing him as a symbol, as ‘Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived’—while utterly failing to see Hadrian Potter, a boy who really quite liked rocks and preferred solitude to boisterousness. Quirrel had been bad enough. But as time does continue to pass no matter how any of us feel about it, Quirrel vanished and Hadrian entered his second year and found himself with a new, not-really-improved, second year defense teacher.

The second-year defense teacher tried to sparkle at Hadrian, tried to convince him that he should take advantage of his fame. Said teacher's sparkling and loudly spoken words fetched up against Hadrian’s stone wall of bland disinterest. It is rather difficult to fight a stone wall without cannons or similar sorts of things. This man of sparkles had no desire to bring the wrong kind of attention to himself. (Perhaps if the man’s sparkling smiles had been accompanied by sparkling gems he might have made some progress, but we shall never know.)

Lacking cannons, whether literal or metaphorical, the man tried to press verbally in hopes of making it through the child’s stone walls. In response, the sparkling man found himself gifted a pebble by the child, as well as an explanation of rather great length about the import of pet rocks. The child told him that this piece was red sandstone, as if that was supposed to mean something to him. The golden-haired teacher gingerly handed the rock back to the child, deciding that the curse to his head as a babe must have addled his brains somehow, and moved on to more interesting subjects, forgoing his efforts to persuade the child to use his fame.

Besides, the golden-haired, sparkling man did indeed find more interesting subjects to occupy his attention. Why, at the end of that very year, he found the charges of fraud, endangerment, and identity-murder brought against him to hold his attention much more keenly than a child who droned on about carbon and the pressure needed to make coal. 

Perhaps it is unfair to throw too much shade on the professor for finding Hadrian as dull as gravel. Most people did. There was a young, red-haired child, for example, who started school with hearts in her eyes but soon grew bored of the boy who had once been her hero. She was a child of fire, active and vibrant, who wanted to touch the sky and race the wind. She had little patience for stone. She wished Hadrian well and admired him, but he was boring. So very boring. Her attention soon drifted away. There was the quidditch team to consider, and how she might gain a place upon it. 

The difference between the defense professor’s boredom and the fire-child’s was in the impact on Hadrian. The fire-child had little impact on Hadrian’s life, no more than any of the other children who theoretically could have become his friends. Being in the year below him, he did not have regular contact with her in the form of shared classes and thus neither had a great deal of opportunity to perhaps change their minds about the other. But the professor? Well, he taught a class, after all, one Hadrian had no choice but to attend. The professor’s inability to see Hadrian as anything but a symbolic Harry the Boy-Who-Lived (or else as a dead bore) meant that by the time his attention drifted away from the child, Hadrian’s feathers were very thoroughly ruffled. Hadrian despised the man.

As the professor’s lessons continued to tend towards reenactments of scenes from his books and commentary on haircare products, Hadrian’s sense of disgust began to encompass not just the professor but the class itself. In short, that particular teacher’s instruction strangled what little interest Hadrian might have taken in the subject. And, without interest, he did not perform well. His primary school education, with its wide variety of subjects that did not relate to stones, did not serve him well in this matter - Hadrian was already far too used to receiving abysmal marks in classes or topics unrelated to his specific interests to care about yet more red in his academic ledger.

Readers should be assured, however, that not all of Hogwarts’ classes were as laughable or the teachers as deplorable. Indeed, Hogwarts was rather proud to host professors such as Filius Flitwick, with his keen—if limited—stone sense.

Fortunately for the Witching World, Flitwick was able to ameliorate some of the damage Hadrian’s obsession had resulted in, insofar as his academics were concerned. Flitwick, more so than the other three heads of house, was invested in his convocation’s[1] marks. He may have squeaked in excitement when Harry Potter was placed in his house, but he took his charges seriously. It took him little time to look and see not Harry, but Hadrian. From there, Flitwick was able to get to know the child a little. He was lucky that his early misstep happened early, long before the child began to take offense at the usual assumptions made about his person.

With that in mind, Flitwick was able—unknowingly mirroring Millicent’s own arguments—to talk Hadrian into performing adequately in potions. He rather adeptly pointed out that one could enchant stones by soaking them in potions and provided conceptual examples. There was a permanence to a potions-related change that charms lacked. Hadrian left that advisory session with a contemplative tick to his mouth. Shortly after, Flitwick was unsurprised to see that Hadrian's scores in potions saw an abrupt upturn from abysmal to mediocre. 

Defense, in contrast, with its current second-year focus on teeth whitening charms and hair care, could not really be related to Hadrian’s interests. Thus Flitwick begrudgingly gave it up as a bad job. Hadrian’s marks in that class were impressive only in the nadirs they reached.

Millicent, for her part, excelled in potions and gritted her teeth through defense. She learned through books if not from the professor. Her mother had taught her to be proud of her work despite those who might try to prevent her from doing it, or the inadequacies of a situation. Helping her along, she found the class easier than Hadrian did, for charms of all sorts interested her. The charms the defense professor used on his teeth and hair were truly impressive. Millicent spent the bulk of class time trying to pick them apart, meaning she paid some attention. By the end of the year, Millicent suspected the teacher used a combination of charms and potions upon his teeth and hair. And she found herself disturbed in her confidence that she could answer questions about his favorite tea.

Yet, in the long run, Hadrian and Millicent's relationship with that professor was limited, dull, and short-lived. The year flew by as the two worked on their own projects and went even faster after Hermione joined them. Soon enough, the three were exchanging farewells on the London train platform, the smile stretched across Hermione’s face a significant change from the previous year’s almost-tears. Her sense of betrayal that all of the defense professor’s books were blatant lies was quite eclipsed by the new friendships she had formed with her fellow students. Even better, they were peers who appreciated the library and the knowledge found therein.

Hermione would really have been quite pleased if it hadn’t been for the growing crack in her shell. Ever since the troll encounter, her magic hadn’t stayed as tidily dormant. It seemed to reach out along her fingers and her hair. Her toes too, but those were usually encased in shoes. As she hugged her parents tightly, she found herself slightly concerned with the growing frequency with which her fingers sparked and her hair crackled.

Of course, at this particular moment, Hermione did not know that the cause of this problem was that she was happy. If she had stayed encased in a bubble of misery, caused by her social isolation and the loneliness that sprang from it, this would never have been a problem. The usual layer of reluctance that children have to learn to work through so they can channel more magic had shattered with her troll-slaying outburst in first year. It happened, occasionally. Someone  familiar with the issue who noticed it in Hermione would have been able to tell her that it meant that she would have easier access to more magic, but that she would have greater difficulties in controlling the amount of magic she poured into her spells, and that simply flowed through her on a basic, instinctual level.

That problem would get worse and better in the following years. That summer, Hermione had yet to learn about the projects that Millicent and Hadrian were working on. She didn’t know that they had, over the course of their second year, outlined an entire plan for how to approach the study of gargoyles. She was unaware that they had reams of parchment full of questions they needed to address, lists of books to find and consult that might have the information they needed, and experiments to conduct. She would like the two of them all the better and be the happier when she did find out. Hermione was a creature given to delight and her brown hair only served as a striking contrast to the golden electricity that danced along it. In the future that sparking fire would make visits to the non-magical world a problem.

Hermione was an observant child. She would, that summer, begin to note the problem when her grandmother visited and Hermione’s hair sparkled brilliantly with her happiness at seeing her grandmother. Her grandmother would smile and stroke her cheek before helping Hermione figure out how to test herself and her sparks.

Millicent and Hadrian were also observant, although in quite different directions. Their project, despite still being almost entirely theoretical, had quite consumed Millicent and Hadrian’s time and attention. Thus, where Hermione still noted most of the inter-school rivalries taking place, the other two missed the ones that did not directly influence them. Millicent did know about points that figured in her own or Hadrian’s interest, such as the political machinations of the Slytherin common room. She did not, however, have the time to follow everything. Thus, she her awareness of house standings was confined to the end-of-year-cup. Her interest in the Quidditch pitch only reared its head when the Slytherin common room expressed itself over wins and losses.

Hadrian barely knew what Quidditch was beyond some sport that did not involve stones. Pockets full of stones were not conducive to flight. He’d rather have his head in a book and rocks in his hands.

That obvious lack of interest in “normal” childhood things concerned the headmaster. That second year, he had again tried to speak with Hadrian. The conversation was not what the headmaster could have called a success. But he was not sure what the issue was. To the headmaster, Hadrian’s face was completely closed.

Hadrian, if Millicent had asked, would have expressed his disquiet around the man. She did not ask, as she could read it clearly on his face when she next saw him.

Hadrian had not forgotten the feeling of having his mind poked at, even if he hadn’t quite known the cause. His sense of unease only increased as the headmaster’s attempted probing continued. That year, Hadrian resolved not to let his guard down around the man.

From the headmaster’s side of things, he wondered if Harry was one of the few children who had a natural skill for occlumency or if the boy was simply extremely obsessed with castle walls. Given the likely probabilities (a twelve year occlumens – unheard of!), the headmaster was confident it was the latter. The child’s surface thoughts rarely dealt with anything else. Even verbally, the boy would speak of nothing but rocks. Snape claimed that, at the least, the boy was not nearly as arrogant as his father. The boy had, in Snape’s estimation, grown into a “quiet little shit.” Snape even begrudgingly approved of the child’s improving potions marks. The headmaster, of course, reprimanded Snape for his words.

But Snape was right about the child’s quietness, to the headmaster’s disappointment. The boy was reticent on all but one topic. Case in point: the headmaster tried to ask about the Dursleys. In response to each query, there was a related rock-fact. The Durley's was where Hadrian had found a particular pebble with a lovely pink streak in it. When asked if he missed his cousin, the headmaster learned that said cousin was uninterested in rocks. The headmaster had never had a particular interest in rocks and had little to say on the subject. The conversation, if it could be called such, petered out. The headmaster wished the boy a good summer with his family. Hadrian nodded and left. Both were discontented.

The headmaster was, in a way, a kind man. At his core, the headmaster wanted the world to be at peace and children to grow up in environments filled with wild laughter and an absence of pain or loss. He believed in a greater good and a higher purpose, but he did not want people to hurt. He disliked suffering to such an extent that he preferred to ameliorate present hurts in favor of later pain. After all, later pain could, potentially, also be avoided with careful planning. It was why he did not tell the child about the prophecy or any potential danger. There was time enough for that later. The boy needed some time to just be. Children needed time to roughhouse and just be children.

The headmaster had faith that the power of familial love overcame all problems. If people could just remember the importance of family, so many problems could be overcome. Nothing was more important than family.

To an extent, it was a tragedy that the headmaster believed in storge[2] quite so strongly. That belief tended to blind him to some of the darker realities in the world around him, something a strategist should not permit. As it was, the headmaster could recall Lily's fond reminiscences of her beloved sister. He did not remember that those tales had tapered off over the years or how, in her seventh year, Lily’s face would grow pinched at the mention of her sister’s name. The headmaster, for all his wisdom and his tendency to poke into other people’s thoughts, could not actually be everywhere at once. In the later years, Lily’s thoughts around the headmaster focused on her work and then her baby. She was not one to dwell and did not care to think about a sister whose last words to her had been of rejection. Instead, Lily chose to think about the here and now, the things she could do something about and the person she adored.

Recalling Lily’s fond thoughts about her natal family, the headmaster did not look to the sister either ten years prior or in Hadrian’s second-year present. Petunia was simply Lily’s adored family, ergo she must necessarily be worthy of the adoration Lily had once felt for her.

Perhaps Petunia was worthy, in her own way. She was, after all, a sentient being. This tale has difficulty, however, in accepting someone who would intentionally hurt any Being—much less a child—as worthy of the adoration the headmaster thought Lily had retained for her sister.

The headmaster felt that the boy was truly lucky to have family. The headmaster only wished he had, himself, been as lucky those years ago.

The reader will know that Hadrian felt very differently about his family than the headmaster supposed. The reader will know that there were many reasons Hadrian reached his aunt’s house the summer after his second year and remained only three weeks. And then, on the appointed day, he made sure his shrunken trunk was in his pocket, his bag of stones was around his neck, and a certain small piece of aragonite clutched in his hand. Millicent's father had given it to him, mentioning carelessly that he had picked the piece up on a trip to Spain and he had thought Hadrian might appreciate it. Hadrian did. The small stone was really quite lovely with its reddish hues. For once, however, something superseded the weight of the rock in his hand. Someone had given him an out. His loyalty to Millicent reach monumental proportions.

Regardless of his assumptions about the boy’s family life, the headmaster could see that Harry was not a particularly gregarious or friendly child. The headmaster, seeing Harry's relative isolation throughout his first and second years and noting Harry's unwillingness to engage with him when called to his office for a friendly chat, thought to try another, perhaps more accessible face. There might be no news of Voldemort yet, but Harry was a child of prophecy. Voldemort would return and Harry needed people in his corner when that happened. Preferably reliable people.

The headmaster knew about Harry’s two friends: a quiet Slytherin girl from a neutral family and a muggleborn Gryffindor girl who probably would have been much better off in Ravenclaw. But neither were the sort who had families the headmaster could call on when necessity arose. While pondering, the headmaster thought of Lupin, the last of Harry's father's friends. He thought again of Lupin when news of Sirius Black’s escape from prison was released. Thus Lupin was on the headmaster’s mind when he began the yearly task of inviting someone to fill the post of Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.

Lupin would indeed fill the position during Hadrian’s third year, but as the reader may have already suspected, the headmaster’s plot failed on two fronts: the boy neither learned to see Lupin as a guardian (or even to regard him with any sort positive feelings) nor did he come to care about Defense. Perhaps if the educationally-encouraging tone of the class had come earlier in his academic career matters might have been different.

As it was, Hadrian failed to understand why they were learning about dangerous Beings, such as vampires and grindylows. Granted, the class was infinitely more interesting that the previous two years. The class taught them how to protect themselves from, or reverse, hexes and jinxes. It taught them about shielding. But it was mostly about non-human Beings.

 Hadrian felt the focus was entirely impractical. For him, people were as dangerous as any of the nightmarish creatures Lupin’s lessons covered. Those humans were treacherous with and without wands and yet neither Lupin nor the other defense professors taught the children topics such as practical warding so they could sleep safely. Why, Hadrian wondered, didn’t they learn about how to protect themselves against human transfiguration? Thanks to Hagrid, he’d learned to be wary of that possibility before he’d even stepped foot into Hogwarts; a lesson that had only been confirmed due to those red-haired twins and certain custards. Without adult guidance, he had to deal with these concerns himself.

Or, Hadrian tentatively thought in second year and knew for a certainty in third, not by himself. He had two reliable, solid friends. He liked to think of the three of them as strata of earth settling against each other. Perhaps granite for Millicent, magma for Hermione, and sandstone for himself. He hesitated over the last, wondering if that was quite right. He pondered as he handled the piece of old, red sandstone that he had handed the unremarkable defense professor from second year but promptly been given back. It was a truly a fascinating piece of British history. It was at least sixty million years old and had the loveliest lines of limestone in it. He wasn’t sure he would be suitably stable if he was sandstone. But perhaps.

Or maybe he wasn’t stable by himself but in combination. Working with Millicent and Hermione, they were becoming rather proficient in creating runic arrays of various sorts; making them from specific stones, rocks, and pebbles. Hadrian had never truly picked his stones at random when he made his first crude runestones, but increasingly he and Millicent began to put proper thought into the specific nature of the arrays they were trying to create. They considered things like the history of the stone and its properties. The aforementioned piece of old, red sandstone for example – sandstone is traditionally considered an easily worn rock, but this piece had endured tens of millions of years. Hadrian used the piece in a runic array for stability.

Put together, the three of them were protecting themselves from the world around them and not only imagined, possible future problems. For that, Ancient Runes and Arithmancy were much more useful additions to his schedule. Charms continued to enchant and transfiguration to enthrall (and occasionally terrify). Even potions had its appeal, particularly once Hermione discovered a potion for petrification. One could turn things to stone permanently with it!

In these, Hadrian saw uses for his own defense and the defense of those he loved. Defense with Lupin was fine. But Hadrian, for his part, intended to maintain a cold status quo. The defense professors had all thus far proven to be useless, untrustworthy, dangerous or some combination thereof.

And, despite what would prove to be an emotionally draining year for Lupin, as far as Hadrian was ever concerned, their encounter was only a brief footnote in the story of his life and the class notable only for being better than the two that had come before it.

After all, there were other classes that were more important to Hadrian. Hadrian would keep his friends safe. But, between those runic pieces of safety and that focus on his flesh and stone friends, Hadrian did not see how defense class – especially one so focused on various creatures Hadrian could not quite imagine himself or his friends encountering unless they actually went looking for them - could be particularly useful.

 

 

 

[1] A group of eagles

[2] Familial love, one of the eight kinds of love as defined by the ancient Greeks.

Chapter Text

If one were to have asked Hadrian what mattered during his third year, he would have first had to try and remember what that year entailed. The events of secondary school (Hogwarts) became something of a blur over a hundred years after they happened, no matter how good one’s memory might be.

If he ever got those years sorted out inside his head, Hadrian would have told the asker that the thing about third year that mattered the most was his realisation that friendship could be painful. It was glorious to have friends. But having people one cared about meant having people to lose.

On his way back to Hogwarts, his encounter with a dementor caused that thought to bite into him with sharp teeth and never let go.

There had been dementors on the train to Hogwarts. (“Yes, such a brilliant idea to have such foul creatures on a train with children, when the only spell that could drive them off is one very few adults are even capable of!” Hermione would soon enough exclaim with scathing fury, after her initial shock at the encounter with the thing had worn off and Millicent’s parents had imparted some pertinent information about the creatures to the shaken trio.)

From what Hadrian did recall of the matter, they had been something like specters in appearance, and their very presence had permeated the air itself with coldness and darkness; a coldness that stole into the marrow of one’s bones like venom most insidious, a darkness that lurked unseen but was omnipresently, maliciously there. Hadrian was well-familiar with darkness from his cupboard. But this was… something else. Past seeing the creatures themselves, he remembered seeing green lights and hearing a woman scream. He was vaguely aware that Millicent had clutched his shoulder with a heavy hand and activated the portkey that hung around her neck while Hermione caught his falling body.

The three ended up right back where they began their day in Bulstrode Park. Hadrian came to awareness to find Hermione clutching him in her lap, frantically checking his pulse while her hair blazed wildly. Fortunately for the Bulstrodes’ carpet, Hadrian’s pulse was fine and he opened his eyes mere seconds later. (Magic burns would have had to have been fixed by hand, you see.)

The adult Bulstrodes would press the three into the kitchen when Millicent calmly informed her parents about what had just happened. Her mother’s mouth would tighten and her father would usher them into the kitchen with a flurry of pleasant words.

Hadrian would stare somewhat stupidly up at his friends, his mind looping on the screams and Millicent’s solid hand on his shoulder, grounding him. With a disconnected sense of befuddlement, Hadrian supposed the screams were likely from his mother’s death. They fit Flitwick’s description of the little known about the event. Hadrian’s mind drifted briefly over the photograph Flitwick had given him of a smiling Advanced Charms group, in which a red-haired woman turned to the camera with a bright smile amidst a group of a happy friends.

 

When his mind finally returned to the present, Hadrian found himself sitting in the kitchen with hot cocoa to drink and listening to Hermione recount the event (short as it had been) in shaken but precise detail. She had been through brushes with certain death before and now had questions about these events. She was calm now that she knew Hadrian was fine.

But for Hadrian, this was his first fully-remembered brush with clear and present mortal danger. Now, grasping for a semblance of security, Hadrian found himself less concerned about the little-remembered past than with the very real present. Sitting there, on that kitchen stool, he felt the weight of his friendships. These were people he cared for. These were people he could have lost. He found the idea of that possibility unacceptable.

Readers will remember that Hadrian had long since taught himself that the appropriate response to perceived slights was a carefully prepared retaliatory theft.

Sitting there, all Hadrian could think was that there was likely little one could steal from a dementor.

Hadrian began considering every angle of the horror that he could think of. He was having a hard time concentrating.

Nonetheless, through his haze two points stood out. First, was the question of blame. Millicent’s mother had told them during the summer that a madman had escaped from Azkaban. That madman had been in prison because he had killed a wizard and thirteen other people after having betrayed Hadrian’s parents. No one knew why or how he had escaped, but Hadrian was a possible target.

They needn’t worry as they’d be in Hogwarts, but the Bulstrodes had given them emergency portkeys regardless. After all, the Ministry had sent dementors to hunt the madman and one could not be too careful around dementors.

Meaning, the Ministry was behind the dementors. The Ministry was decidedly more approachable than dementors. Perhaps, Hadrian considered distractedly, he could take something from them.

The second point that stuck—and loomed large, almost consuming the first in its enormity, lending anger to the first—was that he could have lost his friends. These were friends who had protected him. He needed now to protect them in turn.

It concerned Hadrian to realise that his own survival was no long the central goal. It worried him to realize that his friends’ health and happiness were as important to him as his own.

To some extent, it had been simpler when he only had himself to focus on. He had a moment—only a moment—of missing the simplicity of his hated life at his aunt’s.

 

Despite the horror of dementors and the strange memories of green light, Hadrian preferred his life now. He realised that he liked his life now. Hadrian had, even if he would not have known to use the word, grown to love his friends. He had those lovely, small bursts of happiness when he saw them. He had moments of anticipation when he realised he could tell them about success with a runic array. He smiled with pleasure when Hermione greeted Petrus and let Aquila sit in her pocket. He appreciated her tendency to fidget with Marble when her emotions ran high and she began to spark.

But now, here, Hadrian learned the flipside of that love. Most readers will already know the feeling, the clutching horror at the idea of loss if they have yet to experience the gaping chasm of loss directly.

Hadrian decided he would rather be kissed that lose any of his friends.

That realisation hit Hadrian hard as he thought about how he had not been alone on that train. The dementor could have gone after Millicent or Hermione. He could have lost one of them. Fear crawled its way up his throat on account of someone other than himself. His knuckles turned white around his mug. Sitting there on that stool, he determined that he would not lose them.

That thought would shade his entire year and lend urgency to his interactions with most of Hogwarts’ faculty throughout the third year.

Readers already have a passing familiarity with Hadrian’s opinions of the Defense class. It is possible that Hadrian’s concern for Millicent and Hermione shaped his distaste for Defense even more than his limited ability to find use in the class itself.

Perhaps if the three had seen Lupin on the train. Safely at the Bulstrodes though, the three did not see Lupin chase the dementor from the train. He had carried the day, passing out chocolate and soothing tears. The children who saw him looked at the scruffy man with awe. But Hadrian was not among them. The three friends had not been there and did not hear about his heroics until much later. They had not seen the beautiful, silver Patronus that had other students gasping in delight, their fears chased away by the ephemeral apparition. Missing the welcoming feast altogether, the three would not even see the professor until their first defense lesson of the year.

 

The first lesson Lupin had devised was not a lesson that set a good tone for Hadrian’s impression of the professor.

Perhaps if Lupin had not chosen to try and capture his students’ interest with a boggart. (In a more general sense it hadn’t been a bad idea to try and capture his students’ interest and thereby establish himself as a good professor; Lupin himself had after all been subject to a different Defense teacher each year while at Hogwarts and recalled clearly how terribly uninteresting some of them had been.) It was a good lesson for most third years, when they were still too young to understand the world but were old enough not to simply dissolve into their fears when faced with them. And Lupin—for all his life challenges—thought better of humans than they perhaps deserved, and failed to consider the possible range of childhood experiences. (His own experience, the horror of being bitten at such a young age, was after all an extremely rare example of a less-than-good childhood, a part of him subconsciously reasoned.)

As it was, Hadrian was focused on his beloved friends and their associated fears, even as he thought about the fear of losing those friends he had so recently come to, in the class. His boggart reflected those thoughts. None of the other children understood why a small, shattered, dull stone lying on the ground had Hadrian turning white. His counter-spell turned the pieces into a butterfly as he could think of nothing more ridiculous than stone transfigured into gossamer wings. Later, he would explain to a bemused Millicent that the humor was in the absurdity of the idea that such a transfiguration would hold. Stone did not want to be gossamer. He chose not to dwell on how he’d also found security in making the not-Petrus whole again. He preferred the humor in that moment. That night, he clutched the three, and Marble, to his chest in relief.

It was Hermione’s boggart, however, that actually shaped Hadrian’s distaste for Lupin. Hadrian could excuse things done to himself, in part because he was secure in his ability to achieve his own retribution. A day after his brush with dementors, not even a full 24 hours after he determined he needed to protect his friends, Hadrian could not stand the thought of them being frightened. The boggarts came in a moment when Hadrian had only begun to realise that having someone like Hermione close meant he could lose her as well. For him, her shaking form after her encounter with her boggart was not acceptable. It fed too much into his own fears. If he had encountered his own boggart after her tale, the boggart might have reflected her broken form instead of Petrus and Ignatius.

Readers might have already guessed that in this universe Hermione’s greatest fear was being beaten to death with a club. She had spent too many nights alone in her dorm room, dreaming about what would have happened if her magic hadn’t snapped during the troll-incident. She wasn’t afraid of the troll itself so much as the pain of the beating. The vividness of her broken, battered form, of her own mangled body, that her boggart assumed had Neville throwing up in the corner. Lupin looked surprised and disturbed. For Hermione, it wasn’t the first time she had faced that image and she responded as she usually did. She used the appropriate, learned spell to turn her boggart into a tiny kneazle. She had read that trolls were somewhat afraid of kneazles. That did not mean that seeing the fear in the flesh, so to speak, did not make her shake. A dream, even a nightmare, is different than something physically before you.

Walking out of the classroom, Hermione was still shaking. She was still shaking when she reached their quiet classroom, where Millicent hugged her and Hadrian stood in temporarily-impotent furry.

Hadrian despised Lupin for putting Hermione in that situation. For Hadrian, that moment turned Lupin into one of the most dangerous humans in the castle. The three did not know that Lupin asked McGonagall about the incident and had been reassured that the fear reflected Hermione’s first year incident with the troll. What the children believed was that Lupin saw Hermione’s fear (a rather gruesome and detailed one for such a young child) and said nothing.

 

The events marred Hadrian’s early interactions with Lupin, created unease and mistrust. Hadrian did not trust the professor to protect the students. He did not believe Lupin would ensure Millicent and Hermione’s safety; something that had become extremely important to him.

Lupin became a walking reminder of Hadrian’s need to protect his friends from human Beings. 

Lupin did not know about Hadrian’s impressions of the class or himself. Hadrian hardly confided in Lupin and the child had spent so long with a specific mask that he rarely slipped. All Lupin knew was that his beloved friend’s child sat with his blue-robed fellow eagles taking studious notes although Harry’s homework suggested that whatever he was writing was not focused on lessons. Further frustrating Lupin, when questioned, Harry inevitably responded with commentary on how stones fit into the lesson. How would one protect against a vampire? According to Harry, an enchanted sunstone would be a wise choice.

None of the other teachers at Hogwarts expressed any surprise when Lupin raised his concerns over Harry’s obsession. Flitwick did, however, look at Lupin with disappointment. 

This, Lupin didn’t know what to do with. He’d built dreams of being able to connect with Harry over the course of the year. He hadn’t known how but simply hoped to find a point of contact. Somehow, before meeting the child, he’d assumed that Harry would be like his father. Boys were supposed to take after their fathers, weren’t they? Clearly, this was not the case. Harry, somewhere in the back of Lupin’s mind, actually bore greater similarities to his mother. But Lupin had been James’ friend first. It was James he mourned. It was for James’ son’s sake he had stayed away so long. For Lupin, the mother did not figure into the story as a central character.

Perhaps if Lupin had spent more time thinking about Lily-as-Harry’s-mother, instead of more associating her with James as Lily-as-James’-wife, he might have played a better hand when he did try and speak with Harry. 

For despite the child’s almost complete lack of engagement with the class, Lupin still had hope. He did not know Harry’s opinion of him. He had not been aware that Hermione was the boy’s dear friend back when the boggarts were the lesson of the day. He never heard about how Hadrian had responded. Had he known, Lupin might have refrained from singling Harry out. Or, at the least, he might have approached the issue differently. He might, for example, have mentioned Hadrian’s mother’s skill with charms as opposed to what he did do and say.

Not finding a natural opening in the flow of the year, Lupin decided to speak to him directly. He asked Harry to stay after class. He kept him and said the damning (not that he knew it) phrase; “You know, Harry, you’re not much like your father.” When Harry did not immediately reply, Lupin tumbled on, nervous, “We were friends. We got into all sorts of mischief together.” Lupin smiled slightly. It was nothing like Millicent’s delightful, slight twitch of deep pleasure. It was a nervous, atrophied thing. It seemed somewhat fake.

 

Consequently, Hadrian didn’t believe in it, even as Lupin, apparently realising his smile was not doing its job, tried to lighten the mood. “You might even say we got up to no good.”

Hadrian did not comprehend Lupin’s joke as the frames of reference he would need to understand it were completely missing. His childhood, after all, had instilled in him a very great desire and need to blend in, to be unremarkable and beneath notice. Being “up to no good” did not lend itself to that, for it drew attention to one. What Hadrian did know was that “he was not like his father” and by this point he was greatly annoyed with this knowing. Several people had already shared that information with him thank-you-very-much, most doing so with a note of regret. And he’d found that people who started conversations with comments on “Harry’s father” tended not to see Hadrian.

Hadrian felt that those individuals tended not to act in his best interests. They wanted a symbol or they wanted a memory. Or they were the headmaster, who for better or worse had a category unto himself.

Hadrian assumed Lupin was the same and was not entirely wrong in his belief even if he was not entirely right. Lupin cared about the long-dead man, one whom Hadrian could not remember. But that focus did not mean Lupin did not have an interest in Hadrian for his own self even if the memories colored their interactions.

It was, likely, a tragedy that Lupin failed to reach Hadrian that year. Lupin was a kind man. He could have been—possibly should have been—a sweet, gentle friend to a Harry who could have existed in another universe. 

As the world stood, Hadrian turned his bright, green eyes—nothing like James’—toward Lupin and said that he'd heard his father was not interested in rocks. It was neither an encouraging tone of voice nor an inviting statement to continue from.

Lupin did not know what to say. The man was used to hiding inside himself when nervous. He did so now. Something about the room seemed oppressive. He felt like he was being judged and found wanting. He backed off and never could decide if, or how, to try again. The boy looked so much like his father when his head was bent over his work. But then he would look up. He would look up and his eyes would remind Lupin that this child was not James.

For Lupin, the event was crushing. All of those “what ifs” came to a head. Lupin wondered what would have happened if he had gotten to know Harry earlier. He wondered if he hadn’t let his own self-loathing consume him. He considered whether their relationship might have unfolded with care. It would have, most likely. Readers might realise it was monumental in the sense of how very differently things might have turned out had Lupin managed to connect with Hadrian.

Hadrian did not know what their brief encounter had done to Lupin. As far as he was aware, the man didn’t really care about him. The man had, after all, stayed far away for years. From Hadrian’s perspective, Lupin would simply do so again. And for Hadrian, abandonment was not a sign of someone who cared.

Lupin was, of course, hardly the only professor Hadrian viewed with suspicion. Hadrian’s view of McGonagall was nowhere near so terrible as his view of some of the other professors, but between his frayed nerves and heightened suspicions, a few of McGonagall’s words to Hermione were not well taken and she thus fell in Hadrian’s eyes.

Each of the children had received the options during their second year for their third year electives. Hadrian was pleased to enroll in classes like Arithmancy and Ancient Runes. He was tentatively enthusiastic about what Care of Magical Creatures might entail, but he wanted quite particular information on bodies to support his plans for his beloved rock-friends, and the course was clearly a more general one. And focused mostly on fleshly creatures besides. He had pondered the possibility of Divination because he had heard the class used crystals. But time was short and classes overlapped, so he had to choose. Between Arithmancy and Divination, there was no contest.

Hermione too had had to choose, unable to take all of the classes as might have been her first inclination. Little did she know that her head of house had, for the briefest moment, considered providing her with the time to do so. She had watched the child struggle that first year and flounder her second until she’d hit her stride alongside Hadrian and Millicent. McGonagall did not know how to feel about those three children’s friendship. It was too narrow, too focused, too exclusive for her tastes. Be that as it may, the three together were brilliant. They relied on one another, supporting one another.

McGonagall did not find that close, exclusive friendship entirely reassuring. She looked and took note of the infrequency with which Hermione sat in the common room. She saw how, when the child did, it was almost always alone and rarely without a book in her hands. Her bushy, brown hair would puff out and faintly crackle around her face when she read something particularly enthralling but she no longer tried to share her joy.

McGonagall’s discontent would have hardly mattered to Hadrian, except that McGonagall had once suggested to Hermione to try opening up to some of her fellow lions. Not all of them disdained study as her immediate year-mates did, after all, the woman had pointed out. The child’s hair had crackled angrily, even as Hermione’s face clearly tried to hide her surge of temper. Make friends with the children who had mocked, ignored or tried to use her for homework? Make friends with the older students, who would likely resent her for possessing the intelligence to do work on the same level as they despite her younger years? No, she had gone through that in the non-magical world multiple times already. She would not do so again in the magical one.

The child said nothing of those thoughts though. She simply informed her head of house that she did not have the time to do so. There was too much to do and too little time to do it in. It was at that moment that McGonagall’s mind touched briefly on time-turners. But she shook off the nonsensical idea immediately. Who would give a child a time-turner? In another world, she might have. In particular, she might have if the child had spent weeks petrified, falling behind in her studies. Such an intelligence should not be wasted. But here, there were no momentous, calamitous events like petrifications, as much as such a thing would have fascinated Hadrian.

Instead, there was a child who looked doubtfully at adults and stuck close to her two friends. This child did not feel the need to attend every possible elective. She could simply choose, like everyone else.

 

Hermione was a child who loved and wanted to be loved. She was spitfire and consideration. She followed her friends into Ancient Runes over Care of Magical Creatures. Even if she had not been the things she was, she likely would have chosen the class anyhow. But then who knows? Counterfactuals can’t be proven.

For his part, Hadrian did not care for McGonagall suggesting that he and Millicent were insufficient, just as he had not cared for her comparisons between him and his father in the brief moments they had interacted outside of class.

For Hadrian, however, McGonagall’s greatest failure was in her lack of interest in providing her pride with boundaries. Hadrian found the idea that Hermione was staying in a tower with those twins distressing. The Weasley twins might have looked at a canary custard as good fun but Hadrian did not look kindly on non-consensual body transfiguration. By way of reparation for those custards, Hadrian had pilfered a certain bland-looking piece of parchment from the twins, though he remained uncertain why they seemed to value it so.

The ability of a madman to creep into the castle and the attack on Gryffindor tower only underlined Hadrian’s feelings that Hermione was in danger in Gryffindor tower. The slashed bedcurtains might not have been in Hermione’s own dorm, but the event was too close for Hadrian’s comfort. He did not like to think of either Millicent or Hermione so alone. They did not carry rocks in their pockets to care for them.

When Hadrian heard that the dementors who were “guarding” Hogwarts had invaded the Quidditch pitch during a match, he lost his already limited belief that the adults could be relied upon to protect or care for the children in their keeping.

The sense of needing something to constantly carry that could provide some protection—here Hadrian thought of the portkey that still hung around his neck—became even more pressing. Clearly, Hadrian felt, the castle was not as safe as the teachers often claimed. It had not passed Hadrian by that Flitwick only made the claim of safety with a scrunched face. Hadrian did not think the man entirely believed his own words of late.

Or, as Millicent pointed out, the castle itself was secure. It was the people who walked their bones that were not necessarily safe. Hadrian worried about what might happen to he and his friends when they were separated. He thought they might have a chance together. Separately, however, they only had eyes pointing in one direction. Even worse, there were often times when they had to walk in areas that had not had any protections placed. Hadrian had already seeded some hallways – the ones on the way to their classroom - with carefully selected runes to encourage people to look away. The three friends’ pilfered classroom was taking on fortress-like levels of protections. Three determined, intelligent children can accomplish quite a bit when they have books and magic at their disposal.

 

When the headmaster next tried to talk to Hadrian, it was not a good moment to do so, not that the man knew that. For his part, the headmaster was immensely disappointed that Lupin and Harry hadn’t connected. It was particularly unsettling as the headmaster failed yet again to make an impact when he tried to speak to little Harry after the attack on Gryffindor tower. But then the Weasley child was attacked in Gryffindor tower. It was possible that the madman didn’t know that Harry was a Ravenclaw, but that supposition was a stretch. The attack was too targeted. Harry, apparently, had nothing to do with this just like he had had nothing to do with the philosopher’s stone or Lockhart’s crimes. Either way, the boy did not confide in the headmaster.

Hadrian did confide in Millicent. She nodded in response to the litany of concerns, considering as he spoke. Two weeks later, Millicent presented their group, hidden in a carefully warded, once-abandoned classroom, with a box of rounded, beaded stones from her parents. Blank beads, Millicent announced, that they could carve appropriately. They could, she said in her calm, staid tone, protect themselves. Hermione’s fingers sparked with excitement.

Overwhelmed, Hadrian felt like crying. He had spent too long in a primary school filled with mockery to actually allow himself to, but his watery expression said enough. Millicent nodded and spoke with Hermione while he collected himself, toying with a bead of turquoise and one of silver.

One bead for protection, another for activation. Over the remaining months of the year, the three grew loops of beads up their arms. A twist here, a clasp there, and you had sleeping powder for trolls. Another twist and pull, and a silver bead was enchanted to transform into a silver protection again potential werewolves in the halls after a certain lesson from the Potions professor in Defense.

Millicent’s straight-faced insistence on the inclusion of sunstone actually brought Hadrian down in stitches of laughter. She recalled his response to Quirrel from first year about vampires.

Most of the beads, however, served to protect the three from their fellow man. Certain loops, arranged just so, suggested people look elsewhere, consider going elsewhere. Another loop encouraged people to overlook the three friends. They weren’t, the runes suggested, important enough to notice.

  

Hadrian felt better knowing that Hermione walked the halls with a loop that made her difficult for a human mind to concentrate on, while beads for their own group made individual members easy to find.

It was nice to have an arsenal on their wrists just in case. But it was better to avoid the problems to begin with.

Stones were wonderful in their ability to retain or even empower enchantments placed upon them.

Increasingly, people approaching the three friends found themselves remembering homework that needed to be done and tasks put aside that must be completed even before they hit the inner ward-lines underlining the strong suggestion that the children at this particular library table were really quite boring and not worth any further consideration. As the three began to experiment with warding entire abandoned classrooms, instead of just a library table, they also began to experiment with potency. For those people who wandered across the trio’s ward-lines often, it became hard to even think about the three friends without remembering something significantly more interesting.

It must be noted that some of the consequences of their actions were entirely unintended by the three experimenting youths. Of the three, only Millicent had been raised in the magical world and was partly aware that it was possible to permanently alter someone’s mind via magic; though what Millicent might have known of such a topic was that powerful curses did such things, not simple runic wards asking for something so innocent as peace and quiet.

They did not think about how, eventually, some of their classmates might simply find it hard to even remember that they had three introverted classmates whose friendship crossed house boundaries.

Again, Hadrian and Millicent—and now Hermione—failed to keep track of the minutiae of school gossip. Hermione distantly knew about a pet rat gone missing because one of her housemates bemoaned and bewailed his pet’s possible fate just like Millicent was aware that Daphne had long since gotten a kneazle (its fur got all over her robes). Hadrian knew that there were other people who slept in his room but likely would not be able to remember their names. He had long since warded his bed so heavily that the other students in the room had a hard time remembering that he even slept there.

That said, even if they had listened, they would hardly have heard about a certain dog killing a certain rat. Dogs preyed upon rats, after all. It was hardly a remarkable thing. No one but the dog in question knew anything about that matter until much, much later.

Who knows what Hadrian would have thought had the issue come to his attention. Summer came soon enough without his rock-friends gaining forms, but the three had made promising strides. Hadrian felt somewhat secure knowing that they were doing their best to protect themselves and could turn to creation. He couldn’t have known at that moment how much Hogwarts would play a role in the shape that turn took.

Chapter Text

 

In later years, if one was able to figure out just how to catch Hermione’s attention without getting trapped in Millicent’s glares - which of course could only happen after having gotten around Hadrian’s suspicions - then Hermione might have been willing to explain that she believed part of the challenge of supporting a society that emphasized equity amongst its members was that different Beings are just that – different. What one Being needs or desires can be completely different to what another does, even within the same species. Magical society being as prejudiced as it was in their time, it isn’t likely that anyone would have had the chance, or inclination, to ask other Beings about such things. But, if one had asked Hermione, she would have pointed out that a castle does not think like homo sapiens, and a gargoyle does not ponder in the same way a sphinx tends to. Nonetheless, even as expressions of sapience differ, those differences do not mean that the Beings involved do not deserve rights and respect.

Such thinking also raises questions about bodily transformations. If different Beings think, ponder, and consider differently, then what does transfiguration mean to other species? Witches and Wizards know that homo sapiens achieving their Animagi shapes frequently have difficulties reconciling the differences between the two forms; difficulties borne of having spent a life on two legs and all the other things that are uniquely human, before completing the transformation for the first time and abruptly having four legs or no legs; of having fur or scales or feathers. Many animals’ senses are much keener than a human’s. Despite the vast difference in shape, though, an Animagi retains its sentience; its Being status. Reconciling the loss of an eagle’s keen sight to human vision might well make one feel blind after changing back for the first time, but that reconciliation is part of the process. Once the alternate form is achieved, the new shape and its sense experienced, then the human will never really be entirely just-human again. Some of the animal-shape’s senses or traits carry over to the human form, just as the human form’s sentience carries over to the animal shape.

That knowledge, in turn, raises concerns about what forced transformations can do to the capacity of different forms of sentience and sapience. If, say, someone human then spends a few decades as a book, are they still human at all? A book cannot move about or really express itself. What of a rock that becomes a manticore? Ordinary stones do not ordinarily possess sentience; has the change into a manticore granted it a degree of said? If so, is that taken away if the transformation is reversed?

Each and all of those questions were part of the reason Hermione would be very forceful on the idea of all Beings being equally worthy of respect regardless of form. For Hermione, that point became among the most important, life-defining truths of her existence. And, as that point became part of her core tenets, it mattered greatly to Hadrian and Millicent as well.

While we are not our friends, our friends are part of our identities. One could argue that friendships transfigure us. Hadrian, had he not met Millicent, would likely have failed to consider homo sapiens as potentially valuable. He might have become the equivalent of a mole-person or ended up joining the Goblin Unions as more than an honorary member. Had Hadrian not met Hermione, he might never have tried to change the world around him. He probably would have unintentionally, managing to find a portal at the center of the world or some such. Readers might know Hadrian’s luck to be like that.

On Hermione’s side, she would have changed her society in some way regardless. There is hardly a permutation of her existence in which she could have let the world be. The world, in Hermione’s opinion, was not nearly as good as it could be. There was much room for improvement. She would have changed the world differently; perhaps been more focused on non-Magical human’s rights. As it was, her friends shaped her perception of social concerns.

And Hadrian, after third year, viewed Hermione’s problems as his own. Millicent felt similarly, although here again, there were some vital differences. Millicent, although she wouldn't say anything for years yet, was developing quite the crush.

Hogwarts, for its own part, greatly appreciated Hermione’s growing insistence on showing all possible Beings respect.

Look at her response to house elves. The child initially failed to understand that their problems did not directly reflect her own family history, even as she was willing to understand their sapience and respect their Beinghood. Hogwarts had watched as Millicent, ever the rock, had stopped her from skittering ahead without consideration. A hand on the wrist, a shake of the head, a demand that Hermione consider and speak with the Beings before charging ahead with what she believed she knew. Hermione had not earned the right to speak for the group she was not part of and had barely met.

That was Millicent – she who watched and stared and only moved when she was confident. Solid, sturdy, immovable in her beliefs; she was a veritable feast of fascination for a castle who spent its time watching. Millicent, who took a map from their walls and stared at it until finally drawing a very precise circle of runes around it and staring longer. Millicent would have used the word “studying”. Millicent did use that word when Hermione and Hadrian asked.

Millicent used it again to announce, as she handed Hermione a certain map, to announce that she'd “studied this” and then announced “I solemnly swear I am up to no good.” Hermione shone with delight as a partial map of Hogwarts’ own bones spread out in front of her. (Not that Hermione thought of them as ‘bones’ at that time.) At that moment, Hermione had believed that the map might be a key to finding a way to communicate with the castle. It wasn’t.

The moment still wasn’t then. Although the map did figure into later conversations.

The castle thought that Millicent might be the most castle-like of the children.

But it was Hadrian that raised some slight concerns, as he seemed to want to figure out how to walk through stone walls and began to consider more than the elemental composition of the walls. It was Hadrian who began to wonder what it meant to add to the castle; the way he and Millicent has added to it by secreting the strange book in the wall.

The castle had decided to pull the children in, yes. But Hogwarts was a castle, a very different Being to a human. They did, in all of their decisions, move at the pace of a castle and had not quite determined what they wanted to do with the children once it had them. Readers might do well to consider the castle a grander form of Millicent, who pondered, thought, considered and reflected before acting, where most people might only think before doing so.

The children ended up providing their own answer to Hogwarts’ considerations and were pulled in the faster for it.

The answer, Readers will be unsurprised to learn, was in the idea of a Library. Not a real library, bear in mind, but the rather vague conceptualisation of one.

This was the children’s fourth year in the hallowed halls of Hogwarts. This was a year in which the children spent more time working with Hadrian’s four stones. They began careful transfigurations of little Ignatius, the most impatient of Hadrian’s brood to take on a form they could manipulate for themselves. The fiery stone wanted its form.

An understanding of stone, an ability to transfigure, a penchant for charms, an ability to comprehend the ties between object and sentience. It would never have worked without each child’s individual but still overlapping and complementary skills. To properly permanently and transfigure Ignatius, the Being needed a shape that reflected itself down to its components.

There are reasons why most magical peoples never succeed in creating fully sentient and independent gargoyles.

Across the beginning of the year,  Hadrian could transfigure little Ignatius into form after form, even get the form to stabilize. Ignatius experienced moments as a dragon, a centaur, a naga, a manticore and many other creatures.

Millicent could charm them for movement. In their trials and experiments, Ignatius found they liked being a manticore. They liked having claws and a face that crossed the line between lion and human while its bat wings stretched and flexed with almost-the-ability to fly. Ignatius stalked and pounced and gambolled about. (Ignatius was rather cute, Hermione thought, scurrying about like a kitten getting used to its body. In many ways that was exactly what was happening.) They liked having a throat that could swallow. And they despised the feeling of the magic wearing off and its clawed paws going still. 

To make those changes - particularly those abilities - permanent required an understanding of body and brain working in concert with substance and form. The three friends worked together on a careful, large array that spoke to the combination and consideration between the various levels of existence. 

The three spent ages between Hogwarts’ library and their fortress of a once-abandoned classroom. They read and researched and experimented, as cautious Aquila stretched their wings for the first time as an eagle.

Blinking in the bright sunlight between sessions, trying to make their way to the library one day, the three found themselves caught off-guard by the arrival of dozens of extra students. Students who, Millicent informed the other two with bemusement, appeared to be from other schools. They had, Millicent learnt, missed the arrival of the carriage and ship bearing these newcomers, though no-one from Hogwarts had missed them in turn, bar Flitwick who had hardly expected their presence in the first place, and thus had been unsurprised at their absences. Something, he felt, needed to be done to draw those children back into the fold.

The extra students flooded the halls and crowded the library. And, to make matters stranger, there was a new defense professor with a roving eye who seemed constantly on the brink of seeing them.

Millicent wondered if he did truly see them, or if he saw the waves of magic that surrounded them and redirected attention. She rather felt the latter, but refused to write off the possibility of the former. In class he claimed the students needed and should practice “Constant Vigilance!”. She didn’t disagree, precisely, though she thought perhaps he took it slightly too far. Millicent took to unravelling this professor's use of magic, just as she had since the golden professor. That one had unknowingly provided her an excellent template for picking charms apart in her head. A spell on her eyes, her bracelet of charms arranged just so and preferably Aquila in her pocket, and Millicent found she could see quite a bit.

It was unbalancing but wonderful.

The extra students in the library were not wonderful. They were exasperating and rather in the way.

Hermione wondered if there wasn't a different library they could eventually visit. A place beyond Hogwarts for over the winter break. She asked Millicent, who of their group naturally knew the most about the magical world beyond Hogwarts.

The answer she got did not please her. Perhaps it was good that at that moment her hand happened to be on top of a certain book. A certain diary. It smoked.

“There isn't one.” Millicent had told an irate Hermione. Millicent had seen references to great libraries of the past in books she had read, but as far as she knew they were gone, with no chance of recovery.

This answer devastated Hermione and rather appalled Hadrian. The implications were horrifying. Libraries full of knowledge just lost. She felt a burn behind her eyes and her throat felt as though it were afire. For the first time, Hermione wondered what else might have vanished during the wars. But at that time, for Hermione, the knowledge was a devastating surprise. Hermione had spent so much time trying to find her footing and protect herself and her friends that she hadn’t fully considered the shape of the world around her. She hadn’t thought about how few jobs there were. She hadn’t fully contemplated the limitations of a war-torn, devastated society that struggled with its own rebuilding. She was a child. She had yet to learn what she needed to look for.

 

Yet we must all grow up eventually. We must all learn to look and see what is truly there, instead of childhood illusions. Hermione was starting to look.

And she did not like what she saw.

For Hadrian, Millicent’s unintentional revelations seemed to fit. He’d already considered the entire world around them as a violent, dangerous place. He loved it, but there were very few people he considered in any way safe. Of course the humans in it would have torn at the foundations of their own society. Of course they would try and hoard knowledge in private libraries.

Hermione, a mess of teenage emotions and hormones and righteous indignation, caught fire. Drops of sparkling electricity started dripping down her face like tears, singing holes in her robes where they landed on the fabric. The book’s pages began to curl and scream underneath her hand. Millicent took Hermione’s hands in her own, and the crackling magic seemed to wrap around her wrists rather than burn. The book stopped smouldering. Hadrian’s eyebrows rose in startled surprise.

At least the book hadn’t burned. But it had screamed. They had known that the book was something like Petrus or Aquila. Sentience in an inanimate object. They knew that. But this, this was not calming. Petrus had never screamed. But then Petrus had never burned in Hadrian’s palm. The small, jerking form – primitive, somewhat unstable, but still more mobile than it had originally had - that Ignatius inhabited nosed the book.

Millicent eyed the book askance. The book, which Millicent couldn’t seem to look at in any way except but askance (even if it felt less … absorbing … than it did those years ago when first Hadrian snatched it). But Hermione was using it to examine the differences in sentience between seemingly inanimate objects. She’d wanted to study it to better understand Beings. She’d found records of a Tom Riddle in the school. He’d been a student, they knew that. And they knew that he must have used this blank book constantly for it to be so very much on the verge of Being. Yet it was blank. There was nothing written in its pages.

Millicent continued eyeing it, distressed. At some point during its time inside the wall, it had stopped sucking at the magic and being-ness of those around it quite so actively, but it did still pull and it so very much wanted to be, but was not enough of something to be so. 

The children stared, distracted from the lack of libraries to look at the book in contemplation. Hermione wanted to continue poking and examining. Millicent felt hesitant to let her do so, as surely a book that could scream – could feel pain in some way – could be a danger. Hadrian felt everything would be better if they petrified it. (Many dangerous things, Hadrian would come to feel, would be better if petrified. Stone improved nearly all things, after all.)

In this particular case, Hadrian and Millicent though, why not? There would be no further danger of immolation - or at least much less, as Hermione had yet to burn that brightly - and little concern that Hermione would be drawn to write in the thing. Hermione claimed there wasn’t really a concern about that to begin with. She hadn’t written in it so far, had she? Either way, Hadrian and Millicent preferred her safe. They remembered what the book had been like when they first encountered it, even if they didn’t know why it wasn’t like that anymore. Hermione had not been a part of their group then. She had never been around the thing before they had stowed it in Hogwarts’ walls.

But anyway, what was the point of letting the book remain as delicate paper when they could have sure stone instead? Stone was just so much more wonderful.

Hadrian would be proud of the results. He had managed to tweak the petrification potion he used to change the book - with its shabby black cover and slightly-weathered paper - into a rather lovely form made of serpentinite. This made the diary varying shades of green, and of course rendered it into stone. Riddle had been a Slytherin and Hadrian felt the choice of stone would be appreciated. Millicent was bemused and Hermione pleased that she could continue her study, slowly feeding the stone book, charting any changes and differences.

Hermione’s delight with the progress they were making with their gargoyles and their private studies did not, however, address the social issues at hand. Now, the question of the future loomed large. Now, with the O.W.Ls next year, and if she had heard correctly, a career meeting with her head of house some time then too, combined with the current presence of students from different ethno-cultural groups made her think about both the present and the future outside of her current classes and projects. This would not last, she concluded. The bubble that they lived in could not last.

For Hermione, this was significantly more terrifying than anything that had distressed Hadrian the previous year. They might have shared concerns, but they felt differently. Those problems were ones she could research and do something relatively concrete about. These issues were necessarily unending. They were her life. All of those problems about inequality and social violence that Hadrian already viewed as concerns suddenly became very, very present and real for Hermione.

In other worlds, where Hermione didn’t have first a bubble of indifference and then the security of friendship before a chain of all-but-invisibility, Hermione would have learned about some of those problems much, much earlier. Those problems were hardly hidden in the folds of social discourse but rather sat directly on the surface. A certain silver-haired peer of Millicent’s made those issues difficult to ignore, with his continued nepotistic, classist, and species-ist statements. His voice was hardly quiet nor his opinions subtle. The fact that he could state his opinions so very openly with so little fear of repercussions was in and of itself a rather blatant sign.

Hadrian stole the child’s quills, transfigured them enough to remove the clear peacock insignia, and left them in the common quill jar. He was rather proud of the permanence he could now achieve with his transfigurations, even if his non-stone based work was hardly as elegant. Petrus was trying out a rather stunning sphinx form in his pocket that day and Hadrian felt rather pleased with the lines he’d managed. Petrus, in turn, was feeling rather content.

Here is a moment where it mattered that there were three good friends involved, each of whom talked with the others and each of whom brought their own views to the table. Because here, as Hermione expressed her concerns and wailed her fears, while Hadrian expressed his intent to do something with stone - he wanted to explore the bedrock of the British Isles - Millicent listened. She heard and she thought.

And here, under Hogwarts’ observation, Millicent suggested that, perhaps, they could build a Library of their own. It they did it right, Millicent pointed out, the existence of a substantial, public Witching Library could change the entire fabric of the Magical community across the Isles. Theoretically, Millicent pointed out, magical power was supposed to be the determining factor of respect and control in the magical world. Yet, with the structure of the government and efforts of the old families to maintain control, the system effectively repressed most magical children.

The school system taught just enough to channel children’s magic away from self-destruction or an outburst that might reveal the magical world to muggles, and it trained them in accepting the status quo.

After Hogwarts, however, without much access to magical texts or safe spaces for experimentation, most children would find themselves in boring jobs just to make ends meet, without any thought for the sheer inventiveness of magic.

If the three of them built a public library then they could effectively challenge the entire system.

Millicent was fourteen.

She was a child. Brilliant, but a child. Her points were solid enough, but the simple plan of “build a library” almost entirely impossible. She would learn that later and have to rewrite her plan to span decades. It is not a simple thing to build, stock, and fund an entire public library. But, as Readers know, the three would manage.

But - at that moment - more important than the basic idea was that Millicent’s plan inspired Hermione and pointed Hadrian in a direction more precise than a vague notion of “down into the earth.”

And, more importantly, Millicent’s speech combined with Hadrian’s agreement and Hermione’s enthusiasm led Hogwarts to at last choose a definitive course.

Hogwarts, as the Reader knows, observed all those bubbling feelings and flailings for years. They watched and considered, looking at those three children and how they moved. Hogwarts thought slowly, considered ponderously, and moved deliberately. But, even for a slow, solid Being, there were tipping points. For Hogwarts, the dementors featured among those points. These interesting children, the castle considered, were likely to be short lived. They were but mortals and mortals did have a tendency to perish after limited, often repetitive, lives.

Yet, short-lived Beings could also be fascinating. Short-lived Beings could be family. And Hogwarts, considering the potential deaths of all the children as represented by the dementors that the castle despised having within the confines of themself, pondered the possibility of actually reaching these children, working with the three small Beings who were constantly dripping through their halls and spreading magic in their bones.

Here is where Hogwarts determined it would engage more directly with these children. But, in what capacity and to what extent?

Part of that consideration was absolutely self-serving, although a castle’s version of such does not reflect a homo sapiens’. For the castle, the more the children worked, the better they tasted. The more the children learned and scrawled runic arrays across the castle floors, the more the children channeled their magics into the castle.

Hermione was particularly prone to providing sustenance with the way she sparked and leaked.

The castle could, it considered, provide oblique hints on their different projects, encouraging to reach even deeper into themselves, strengthen their connection with the Great Wellspring, and leak more.

But there was Hermione, insisting that the three should find a way to talk with Hogwarts. She was convinced it could be done,  even if it wasn't quite possible to use common speech. It considered and found an answer.

 

That winter, just after Yule, the children managed to lay out a rather impressive array along the floor of a new room. Their usual space was too covered with cauldrons of petrification potions and experimental arrays to give them the space.

In this new room, Hadrian carved out privacy and exclusion into the doorframes and along the walls while Millicent and Hermione banished the furniture to a store room and sterilized the room completely. Clean stone all around with the exception of the door. Hadrian transfigured it perfectly flat. The three then laid out a rather beautiful, circled and knotted pattern in colored sand along the stone. Hadrian nervously set little Ignatius in the centre and stood back. The three, in a careful triangle, then re-sang the stone’s entire existence.

Music is rather phenomenal for channelling magic when a pointed stick won’t achieve the necessary complex delicacy. It requires an ability to pitch almost perfectly, meaning the spells have to match the specific voice and are very difficult to pass on.

Their success would leave Millicent asleep for a day, Hadrian with the first feelings of magical exhaustion he’d ever experience, and Hermione slumped at the side of the room, and Ignatius who, for the first time in their existence, could fully control articulated limbs.

The hesitancy and clumsiness of the toy-charms was gone. The tiny stone manticore, no larger than the rock had been, leaped and pounced in the sand, creating puffs of displaced silicate. And, for the first time, their wings actually enabled it to fly. Their body was at last their own, not merely a charmed bit of rock. They fluttered about with all the enthusiasm of the newborn they were.

After that day, however, there was a mobile Ignatius who had been and was still a sentient, sapient, rock. It might now have a mouth and a tiny roar. It might have a throat and be able to learn some human speech. But what it had had, and still had, due to its existence as a rock, was the ability to commune with other rocks. There had been long moments of checking in with Petrus and Aquila. There had been a fascination with the early development of Marble’s curiosity.

And then there was the large, watchful consideration of the castle. A castle that wanted Ignatius, now so full of mobile life, to lead the children on a merry chase through their bones and toward their mouth.

Once upon a time and long ago, someone had built and enchanted the walls in a glittering mosaic of millions of tiny stones. That someone, who Hogwarts remembered fondly, had spent a life on the monumental achievement. A single life of blood, sweat, and tears, all of which Hogwarts happily consumed as they watched and spoke. That person had taught Hogwarts to speak with other people, imparting comments on word and form in combination.

Once, the castle had a face with a mouth that did not speak well in the human tongue. For the human, the experience was like getting cryptic riddles in response to simple questions. Ask if the student body was healthy, receive a response about what health amount to in the grand scheme of life. For Hogwarts, the answers did not limit themselves to the confines of human language. What, after all, did health mean for the students? Did homesickness count, did the broken toe that was now fixed but held a residual ache? These children wanted comfort, but did not necessarily need it.

And then there was Headmaster Sylvine. That Headmaster sat and theorised with the castle’s small face and then grew frustrated. They determined that “something must be done” and set out to do it. Syvine consulted with Beings following multiple walks about the nature and truth of communication. It was a goblin who snidely told an attentive Sylvine that “stone sees things. You need a way to see in order to speak” and Sylvine felt the light on their face and the inspiration in their knees.

They negotiated for years with the goblin communities until finally, the community designated a goblin for the task. The old, slow goblin arrived in Hogwarts through the Goblin’s tunnels and would spend the rest of their life speaking with the castle and setting out a room for the purpose. Built within the ward room, the goblin constructed the communications room. They cast tiny shards of glass and carved little pieces of stone. Headmaster Sylvine brought sacks and sacks of mineral stones and semi-precious metals. And they bled for the castle, telling the castle about themselves and giving the castle their magic that they might grow their own.

Sylvine cried long and joyfully when the first, small, fluttering flock of mosaic pieces formed a pattern the Goblin had not set into the wall. 

This was the room, long disused, that the children chased Ignatius to. It was into this room that the children stumbled, afraid and overwhelmed, clutching one another’s hand as they watched as those millions of stones swirled like an impossible flock of birds.

The pieces settled in a series of images of what appeared to be a small group of three gathered—one in blue, one red, and one green—around the basin in the centre. In the image, the green one slit their thumb with a knife, the blue one let three, bloody drops fall into a carved basin, and the red one healed the slice in their thumb.

Millicent licked her lips to taste the rainbow in the air, a concentration of the attention that usually followed them. Hadrian was running his fingers along the edges or the images, all but crooning to wall. Telling them that someone had done some excellent work. Millicent was frowning at the basin, following the text around the lip.

An identical basin, carved—as Hadrian would later point out—from old basalt rock with the four founders' animals, in the centre of the room.

As Hermione was now wont to do when she wondered, she turned to Millicent. She turned and she asked all her questions and received hesitant responses. Millicent simply did not know for certain. She knew that her mother demanded she add a drop of blood to the family’s hearthstone. She knew that the house-elves sometimes muttered things about the humans forgetting, usually when working with changing a room. But she didn’t know the whys and the wherefores.

Hermione enjoyed the quiet perusal. She liked Millicent’s slow smiles when she exclaimed over things. She enjoyed Millicent’s considered responses, the pauses as she thought through her answers. She liked that Millicent seemed inclined to take care of the people she cared for.

That support, that concern, gave her space to think sit there and think about what it must be like to build a place like this. She could feel Hogwarts’ attention, waiting. Perhaps considering. Hermione wanted to ask what Hogwarts wanted, but she supposed the answer was already there on the wall.

“Are we going to?” Hadrian asked, looking at his friends in expectation.

Hermione smiled. The air in the room felt charged, like Hogwarts was waiting. Hermione felt the hairs raise on her arms and she desperately wanted to know what would happen. Surely, as Millicent had pointed out, Hogwarts would only want the best for them. Surely, donating three drops of blood to the school wouldn’t be a problem. Surely, they would be safe. They'd examined the basin and looked again.

Millicent just looked at the two steadily and suggested Hadrian check it himself. Better to be in accord before anything went wrong.

The hubris of the situation was incredible. Three, brilliant students were trying to play with ancient spells no one had touched in more than 200 years. They had no guides and were asking no advice except that of an old Being who ate magic and magical blood, who loved them in part because they liked the children’s taste.

They were checking, certainly, but they were still children who didn't know the range of possible magical traps to look for.

They were lucky between the three of them that Millicent was right. Hogwarts was, in and of themself, safe for the children. It was the other Beings, as Hadrian had long suspected, who weren't. The parts of Hogwarts, however, the pieces of its body, it would have rendered safe or shut off before the children could have touched them.

The children did not hesitate long. They would later understand that their checks barely scratched the surface of possible explorations. They were too used to their own success, still high off Ignatius’ new Being and form.

They dropped their blood freely into the prepared basin.

There was a series of noises, like words but a bit too deep. There was a grind that seemed like a sigh, gusting through the castle from a long-unused oesophagus that none alive (and fleshly) had even known existed.

It was from here that Hogwarts would take the three children in hand, under their wing and protection, with the intention of turning them into architects who might one day, hopefully, create new kin for Hogwarts to speak with.

Chapter Text

 

It is time, readers, to come to the Riddle within this tale. And readers, please do believe me when I tell you I have been striving not to make that obvious joke for months; but alas, I am weak-willed at the end and cannot resist a bit of levity.

For, even if I have made a small joke of the man’s surname, the man’s actions and part of this tale are very serious indeed. Part of the fascinating challenge of history is that one knows what the end of the journey is – given that one tends to be living it presently - but may not know the path taken to get there, or the reasons for the paths taken. The progress between “A” and “B” is so often lost to the hungry, ever-restless sands of time as they continue to flow on, inexorable as the tides.

To understand Riddle’s role in this entire story, to see how the three friends eventually become four, to comprehend how disgust and distrust could morph into affection, one needs to unravel the background of just who those young people were when they truly encountered Riddle for the first time instead of sharing an orbit now and again. In short, you needed the previous chapters of this tale.

We needed to know that Hermione believed Beings should have a say in their own destinies. We needed a Hadrian who thought stone was more interesting than flesh but was willing to give non-stone Beings a chance in part because of Hermione. And we needed a Millicent who took ideals and dreams and asked why shouldn't they be achieved. And we needed a group of three who had gargoyles on the brain as another set-of-three rather delighted young, stone Beings cavorted around them. 

This all matters because if we hadn’t had those specific children, then it’s unlikely we would have had - years later - a Hermione and Millicent who habitually sat cozily around a table while Hadrian spread out on floor cushions. The three would think and talk together, with Hermione considering aloud as the other two inserted considerations. Their conclusions were theirs as a group, rarely belonging to one or the other of them alone.

By then, if Riddle should be present, it would be habit for Hermione to glance at him bemusedly, a slight smile on her face even as she wondered what he had been up to. It would be common for Millicent to shake her head slightly at him and for Hadrian to eye him critically before turning back to his books of cartography.

A couple of decades later and Riddle’s appearance would prompt a few nods and smooth integration as Hermione demanded backup and Millicent presented counter proposals. By then, Millicent would argue with Hermione while her thumb swept across Hermione’s wrist. Riddle would look at Hadrian out of the corner of his eye as Hermione caught him up on the newest and latest, sweeping giant diagrams of chalk across their slate table with flicks of her wand.

But before that, before the slate and the cushions, there was a diary of paper. There was a diary of paper that spent months soaking in a cauldron of petrification potion brewed from carefully enchanted ingredients. The resulting stone book was a lovely piece of green serpentinite with streaks of gold. Hadrian had picked the stone with a grin. The choice of stone and the color it would be, as the reader knows, wasn’t a coincidence.

 

Those children knew, after all, who Riddle was. Hogwarts had told them. Hogwarts had painted pictures of his years in the school across their cavernous mouth in pieces of stone mosaic.

Riddle had, once upon a time, been a frightened little boy. That terror, first of hunger and then of fire and bombs, inspired him to cruelty. It was what he knew from infancy and he was far from self-reflective enough to become something he'd never seen an example of. So, he had become cruel and eventually conniving, precisely as he'd learned to be in order to not only survive, but thrive in his world.

Lacking other examples, that cruelty grew as he did. Riddle, like Hadrian and Hermione, entered a magical world that was violent and unforgiving. He had, for a brief moment, been a shy, hopeful, cruel child who had believed that the world would be better on this side. It was not. He met no smooth assistance, he received no help. He did not have another child demand to be his friend. It did not occur to him to try to be anyone else’s friend.

Instead, every part of the Riddle that once was had been was belittled and derided.

Perhaps if Riddle hadn't been such a sensitive child. Maybe if he hadn't cared about his peers’ taunts and behaviours so much, or if he'd cared differently, then his life and choices would have been different.

As the world stood, he wanted to be liked, to be special. Sadly, nothing in his circumstances suggested to him that such a thing was possible. He had thought he was special, at the orphanage, because he alone had the power he did; only to learn that there was an entire world full of others like him – witches and wizards.

Alas, most children are simply children. Each one is special, but not more than the others. They are sometimes thoughtlessly cruel without realising they are being so, and they are sometimes beacons of kindness. Riddle, as readers may know, did not experience any of the latter during his formative years.

And so it was that Riddle had been raised with violence; against both his physical body and against his emotions. In some pit of his childish mind he reached for the only tool he knew – his magic - and determined that the world was too horrible to continue as it was. He decided he would destroy it from the inside out. Humans, whether magical or mundane, were disgusting, despicable, heartless, violent creatures.

Perhaps, in that, the child Riddle was more human than any of them. Even though he would have sought it through great violence, he wished for there not to be any more violence among humans. It is a twisted logic, perhaps, but the young Riddle was somewhat twisted.

But then, still in school, Riddle had found a friend in a snake too large to fit in his pocket. In the grip of his anger and hatred, he hatched a terrible plan, which he painted on the wall, threatening the school. And then he forgot about that plan, falling prey to kinder thoughts as he finally got to interact with another Being who was kind. He liked sitting on Sachashkia’s coils and talking with her about theory. She was the only one who ever entertained his ideas seriously. And she was trapped.

Instead of planning the world’s demise, Riddle plotted with his only friend, determined to help her out of her confinement. Briefly, the two planned. Briefly, they forgot the world around them. And she, being nothing less than what she was, looked at another human only to have that human die.

It was one thing to know his serpentine friend was a creature - a Basilisk - who could kill with her mere gaze; and quite another to witness that happen firsthand when he himself had come to no harm at her coils. Terrified, Riddle returned Sachashkia to hibernation. He thought haphazardly that he had to save both her and himself from discovery – from destructive retribution.

That night, he had cried for the girl who died and for his scaly friend who had only briefly become a bright part of his life. And he cried for the fact he had been foolish enough to allow himself to dream of sweet things.

All this, Hogwarts relayed in great, sweeping images across its walls.

But there was more to this story that Hogwarts was never fully aware of. These parts, the children would still speculate about five decades later. It went as follows:

Once upon a time, Riddle had looked at that unintended death - so abrupt, so unavoidable, so final - and felt a heretofore unknown terror about his own eventual demise. He tried to tear that fear out of himself along with concern, compassion, and friendship out of his very self. He poured all of those emotions into the most precious possession he’d had at hand. Granted, it was also one of the only possessions he’d had.

With that outpouring, he'd rent himself in two in the hopes of living for even a day without fear shadowing his steps, haunting his dreams, suffusing his every breath, and informing his every action. The half of him that was composed of skin and bone, muscle and sinew, had never quite fully felt affection - or almost anything else - ever again. With his emotions thus blunted, he had eventually, unthinkingly, gone on a quest to feel anything at all. Even fear. He hadn’t met with success no matter how hard he strove.

Unable to fulfil the goal of fully feeling something – anything - since he had shorn himself of the ‘weak’ emotions – he turned back to his determination to burn the world instead.

The other half of Riddle - the half that remembered a friendship with a snake, who remembered happiness - slept and then slept some more inside the pages of an innocent-looking old journal. Sometime they dreamt, but mostly there was nothing at all.

 

The nothing was not, of course, actually nothing. Instead, for the first time in one-half-of-Riddle's life, they slept without fear.

The other half of the person who had once-been-Tom-Riddle carried on with Tom’s face but started building a life under a different name. That name would, of course, become known to almost the entire community with a shudder of terror accompanying it.

Those who heard that new name knew him as a radical, unreasonable, homicidal, sadist of absurdly extremist proportions. Some approved of those extremities and others didn’t. Lily Evans hadn’t.

Not many still breathing remembered the sixteen-year-old Tom Riddle who smiled and managed to appeal to almost everyone even as he secretly despised them for being human.

For those who did remember Tom Riddle’s face or name, they thought maybe he had vanished years before after a short stint in an antique shop. Or possibly a junk shop? Most weren’t sure which. Most hadn’t felt that the employee at whatever store it was had been worth remembering. That shop clerk simply hadn’t been important.

There were a couple people who remembered Tom Riddle with fleeting fondness. Those people were remembered the school boy, who was quite nice but never seemed to have any friends. Tom Riddle was simply not memorable enough for more. 

That lack of memory was likely for the best as most of Tom Riddle hadn’t really made it into that shop and even less made it out. The flesh Riddle, after all, kept cutting himself to pieces without giving himself time to repair.

His actions were childish, ill informed, and rather stupid when it came down to it. But they stemmed from mistakes that Tom Riddle was not alone in perpetrating: trusting a pretty book.

Many people sorely misjudge the veracity of the printed word. People seem to think that the act of writing down information - particularly in a well-bound book form – somehow compels truthfulness and honesty.

But, as readers hopefully realise, it does not. Humans are not so trustworthy. People end up lying, in print and with words, in part because people frequently don’t know the whole truth. They often think they do and impart their knowledge as if they do. But they don’t.

Hogwarts was vaguely aware of the problem as they knew about the books within its bones. They were aware that the little humans often placed great value on those volumes, using them to convey ideas and information about all manner of things. Humans were short-lived, after all, and needed record keepers.

But Hogwarts had never read a book. Hogwarts had never had to attempt to separate truth from lies in written form; had never even therefore considered the whys and wherefores of such matters or how they might impact and shape a young person who did not trust his fellow human at all, but placed great trust in the words he read.

Owing in part to the fact that Hogwarts did not have any direct interaction with Riddle, and in part because, being a castle, Hogwarts did not fully understand Riddle. Hogwarts knew that Riddle had torn themselves to pieces and even knew that the flesh part of them had worked in a short. The humans in their bones had spoken frequently on the issue. But Hogwarts did not know why Riddle had done it. The castle was just too different in so many fundamental ways to the small, short-lived, fleshy beings that inhabited it.

Hogwarts did not, could not, know about the things Riddle read. Hogwarts knew that Riddle had been a voracious reader. What Hogwarts did not know was that Riddle was a very great believer in the written word. And Hogwarts did not know that one author Riddle came across and believed as he plumbed the dusty corners of Hogwarts’ massive library was Waldo the Deathless book on immortality. It was a very pretty book.

It should be noted that Waldo the Deathless’ moniker was not one bestowed upon him for his deeds or misdeeds. Rather, Waldo had bestowed “the Deathless” on himself as a young boy. Waldo gave himself his name when he had become obsessed with death when his pet flamingo had passed on. The child Waldo had determined that he would never do the same. He swore that he would be deathless. He just didn’t know how.

But Waldo found himself lucky. The year following, when Waldo was proudly twelve, he had ‘overheard’ (eavesdropped upon!) his Uncle speak on the topic of horcruxes. He’d taken it upon himself to write down everything he’d heard through that wall in his beautiful penmanship. He created a quite lovely book, which he forgot in the school library the year he graduated. The book was shelved according to subject. Several people read it over the subsequent centuries.

Some believed what Waldo had written. It was, after all, a very pretty book appropriately shelved in a research library.

The content, however, was just short of completely inaccurate, in part because Waldo hadn’t understood anything about horcruxes. The sole bit that he did manage to get down accurately, alas for later generations, was how to make them.

One of the problems with children like Riddle believing they were capable of making reasonable decisions as little more than infants, by true Witching standards, was that Riddle had read precisely one inaccurate text in a school library and spoken in passing to one self-obsessed teacher when he decided to make the horcrux. If he had read more widely, sought more information or some manner of outside confirmation of Waldo’s text, he likely would have found more accurate texts which existed in multiple libraries across Europe. He might have altered his entire plan.

If he had read more widely, it is likely he would not have made a horcrux at all.

But, if he still had, he would have at least known that the best horcrux objects were items that were mundane but easily kept track of. That tracking was important in part because horcrux creators needed to have access to the thing in order to destroy the object when they were either too sick of their emotion-less lives to keep going or stuck for too long in limbo that they wanted their existence nullified.

As much as many humans think they want forever, most humans are simply not cut out for such a long haul.

The human reached the point of being done, the more accurate accounts of horcruxes recommended handing the soul pieces over to whatever essence-consuming being was available. Dementors were decidedly an option, as one of the books Riddle sadly did not read (though to be fair, there was only one copy in existence) pointed out. That book described a rather experiment-happy Magician who had created a horcrux. Years later, bored with life, the Magician had arranged to have a necromancer hold a séance after giving their horcrux over to a dementor and then been kissed themselves. The necromancer had not been able to raise a single suggestion of continued existence from either the defunct horcrux or the corpse thereby demonstrating that the spirit essence was indeed gone.

The author of the book then applauded the dead-Magicians foresight in pre-paying the necromancer for the service. But then how could they not take advantage of knowing a necromancer who could contact the dead?

What Riddle also would have learned was that those texts recommended using objects that were not overly familiar to the creator. To place a large piece of essence into an object that the creator already knew had the potential to create an object that could take on a life of its own, which would weaken the bond with the originator to the point of breaking.

The texts did not warn specifically against diaries, but the implication would have been there. A diary, a beloved toy, or a favourite cooking pot were arguably the worst possible objects to enchant as they were already on their way to potentially becoming Beings. A Being, even one initially formed of slivers of a single person’s life experiences, still had experiences that were entirely their own and thus decidedly did not form as mere duplicates of their progenitors.

But Riddle did not remove just a sliver of himself. He, having read the one terrible text with its beautiful script, used the accidental death of a classmate to rip his existence in two. He had tried to make the best out of a terrible situation and back then he did not think he would ever have access to another murder. He might have planned to burn the world, but he hadn’t really thought through what that would mean.

 

And here, half of a person – half of the emotions and experiences that have shaped and defined them – is of course immeasurably more than a sliver, a fraction. Half a person is in many ways a person unto itself from the outset, carrying enough memories, emotions, and knowledge to be so.

Also consider what kind of object that half an essence was shoved into.

Having been a very emotional, frustrated young man meant that the diary Riddle picked as his receptacle was already rather steeped in his magic and accumulating slivers of his emotions/self, even if it was nowhere near conscious. He’d been writing in the thing for a while.

The addition of an entire half of a Being, however, drastically accelerated the object’s transition towards true Beinghood. Indeed, one might have argued that the book’s only real separation from true Beinghood at that point was that it could not act on its own, requiring someone else’s input in order to gain mobility and true independence.

The flesh-Riddle’s ability to feel the almost-someone in the book was what inspired the subsequent enchantments and compulsions on the book and on a possible diarist. Per flesh-Riddle’s plan, the book would awaken when someone with magic wrote in it, seeking to complete itself. It would then enact a reign of terror on the school. Failing to recognise the implications of the near Being, that it might have opinions and desires of its own, flesh-Riddle failed to ask book-Riddle about their opinion of these plans.

This rather presaged what was to come, because just as flesh-Riddle failed to comprehend what they had done at that point in time (creating a near-Being), so too did he not come to understand what he doing as he continued to shred his very self, nor the implications of what he planned to do.

The pre-book Riddle would likely not have considered adding those components to compel a semi-Sentient almost-Being to finish themselves and force the murder of Hogwarts’ students. Or, maybe he would have.

The pre-book child was prone to acting on fear. They were given to manipulations and obsessions. And there was nothing that terrified them so much as the thought of death. Constantly terrified, horrified, and terrorised, the pre-book individual had frequently lashed out, to their own detriment and decidedly to the detriment of others. But they had also been inclined toward consideration when they weren’t terrified.

Alas, the part of Riddle who could plan and consider, the Riddle who remembered the concept of reason, was trapped in a book, where they spent most of their time asleep, barely aware that time was going by. Besides which, book-Riddle was not precisely who the pre-book Riddle had been. Books are, after all, not homo sapiens and have a decidedly different capacity for sapience. That said, book-Riddle carried more similarities to once-Riddle than the man who had walked into Godric’s Hollow some decades later.

In short, neither flesh-Riddle nor book-Riddle was quite Tom Riddle anymore, but that the book-Riddle was more Tom Riddle than the embodied Riddle who now seemed determined to allow their essence to regrow, then tear it again, repeating until there simply was not enough left in it to keep regrowing. One supposes, then, that the spirit is more like the liver than the heart. It can grow and recover until it is so used up that the option is gone; too scarred to regenerate any further. There are, after all, points of no return. And the Riddle that was left over after he’d torn himself in half had - as the reader well knows - eventually become the Voldemort who was still trapped in Quirrel in St. Mungo’s.

The book-Riddle, in contrast, slept and sometimes dreamed until Hogwarts ate and cleansed the great (in terms of their complexity and strength for a mere infant) but terrible compulsions. It started being just a bit aware when Hermione began poking at it and then absolutely somewhat-aware when she accidentally set them ablaze even as she managed to unintentionally shove enough magic-slivers of herself into the book to tip it into confused almost-sentience. The book’s new awareness, incomplete and fragmented as it was, was not entirely pleasant.

The partial knowledge of the above was part of the reason Hermione spent months pouring bits of herself into the stone book and setting it up in carefully scripted arrays before the three transfigured the book into a meticulously crafted body.

 

For the form, Millicent and Ignatius chose a mushussu.[1] They could recast later, if the Being wanted. But Millicent rather thought a Slytherin Being that Hermione had contributed to would do well as a facultative quadruped.[2] Already tipping into the absurd, the trio went ahead and opposable thumbs and folding wings. Sure, the thumbs and wings weren’t standard to the creature they’d based the design on. But, as Millicent’s mother liked to point out, they were magic. The shape of reality didn’t entirely need to constrain them. If Hadrian could figure out the possible musculature and bone structures that would structure the Being’s movements, then they could shape the Being as they saw fit. If the Being didn’t like it, they could design their own body later. It wasn't as if the children could clearly ask the Being what shape it would like at that point in time.

Hermione had tried to do so. The Being ate greedily of what it was offered and exuded a powerful desire for expression, to be able to react and interact. But, unlike with Hadrian’s trio of stone friends, who had been in multiple forms as the group learnt and experimented, the children did not want to provide a temporary body to the diary. The three stones had been aware enough to consent to their temporary freedoms. Here, they hadn't raised the Being from its completely pre-sentient stages. This Being had no reason to trust that they were working towards its freedom and independence.

The three friends didn’t want to wake it without some feeling of a naturally controllable self. Hogwarts had explained, in their own way, that the stone-book, as they currently existed, was stuck in a loop of existence. They were a book who was more than a book and had enough essence to be a complete Being, but the form of their creation and the spells that Hogwarts had removed from it meant that they were somewhat stuck, unable to complete that last step. Without continued experiences, their pieces couldn’t quite meld or grow. It needed to wake up to be, and become, itself.

Hermione’s fire had helped, but they needed their own chance to be. So, by the time the three friends placed the stone-book in their carefully laid sand-array, the book was a chunk of a person, a book with lots of slivers, and bits of Hermione. It was enough to enable them to begin to anxiously twitch between those stone covers, confused. They clearly wanted to be.

Yet, for the friends, there was also the issue of who Riddle was. In two-dimensional mosaics, they had learned about how badly he had been bullied, but also about Myrtle’s death. They knew about the child’s knotting and twisting until he had become something resentful and horrid. They also knew he cried alone behind warded bed-curtains when Myrtle had died. He had been so very broken.

There were long discussions and so many layers of “but” shaped by who, precisely, the three children were.

There was the “but” from Hermione who insisted that this was an almost-Being who had not had the chance to grow into themselves. The book-Being could not be the same Riddle they had been part of any more than Petrus was Hadrian. Petrus had developed from Hadrian but was now clearly their own Being. Hadrian did not like to roll in the sand with his tail lashing out. Hadrian did not skulk about in high places in order to spring down on Aquila without warning.

According to Hermione, they could not condemn an unknown Being to non-existence who exuded a desire to live. This was a possible Being who could, theoretically, be someone if they chose.

Hermione had experienced her formative years in a country that decried the death penalty, which insisted reform was possible. She did not think that view was wrong. She firmly believed that rehabilitation and reformation was possible. She could not hold with the idea that a child was irredeemable unless they were, well, fully Voldemort. This Being, if close to Riddle at all, was clearly pre-Voldemort and/or not Voldemort at all.

Hermione could not abide the idea that people were simply unsalvageable. Beings had a right to try and live, to find their way, and have choices.

 

Besides, she was very, very curious who this would be given the Being had spent more time as a book than as a human. Clearly they would not be the children Petrus and Ignatius had started as - still were - which part of them, and how much of it, would shape their existence?

Riddle was not party to their deliberations. They were, at that moment, effectively high as a kite on a pleasantly blustery day. The potion was just so very pleasant. There was some excellent fizzing magic that tickled as it worked.

 

And then, as they settled down, they found themselves dried, and placed in a runic array. The children had developed a tendency to default toward those complex, sculpting arrays. Here, they almost reflexively designed one to guide shape and direction. Here Hermione drew with Millicent looking over her shoulder to make suggestions while Aquila nudged lines of magic to correspond, occasionally snapping up the extra magic Hermione left behind. Anger was to be channelled into constructive passion. Fear was supposed to shift into a desire for understanding when it couldn't be flushed.

Hermione found herself humming the scene from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty’s prologue for the fairies’ gifts. She hoped she wasn't the one with the curse on her tongue.

For the book, the entire experience was a bit of a soupy dream. There were soft sounds and a lovely, safe ambience. There were days and days of gentle handling that sparked memories of desired comfort. There were also moments of sparking excitement. The Riddle that had been loved learning. The Hermione that was adored it. The book-Riddle, in their waking dream, began to channel in support.

That moment was important. Unlike human babies, gargoyles come into Being with purposes beyond existence. Gargoyles are sapient sentients but they are not homo sapiens and should not be judged as such. Petrus firmly viewed part of their existence to be about existing. They also believed part of their point was to build a sense of calm solidity. They were also to assist Hadrian in pick pocketing. 

Their specific magical talents lay precisely in those directions because that was the magic that Hadrian channelled into them. They were, thereafter, a separate being  and developed as their own individual. Is a human capable of understanding the proud solidity of a stone Being? Petrus would ever more exude a sense of calm stability for the human they favoured. They hadn't had a choice in the matter. But Hadrian could not have asked their preference until they already were, after they already exuded that rock-like calm.

What then, about a book with human memories who is then petrified? What then of a stone book who, to be completed and its existence enabled, became a gargoyle with a keen interest in research and a strong sense of the importance of Being?

The three friends debated with Hogwarts even as they carried out their experiments and Hermione fed the book bits of magic. She took to spinning concentration charms and consideration over the both of them.

But, for all that they worked and spun and fed, the three made sure to draw clear lines. They did not, for example, feed the book blood. They had, per Hogwarts’ suggestion, begun to do so for Marble. For Marble, all three bled one whole drop of blood daily and measured the level of conscious. For that almost-Being, they carefully did not set specific parameters and handed them around day after day. They were taking notes and Aquila carefully monitoring. But that all is a story for a later chapter.

The stone-Riddle received absolutely no blood. Blood, Hogwarts conveyed, created a rather strong bond between the giver and the gifted. Such a bond did not give way without great effort. Or death. Hogwarts had such a bond with almost every child in its bones. It was part of why the children loved them.

 

But such a bond would be inappropriate for a being like Riddle. They might seek to change Riddle before they'd met them, but the children did not choose to bind them in any permanence.

The choosing of stone-Riddle’s form was almost entirely happenstance. When Millicent laid open a book depicting snake gods, partly as a joke, Ignatius had liked the mushussu. Without any particular guidance or indicator on if the book had a preference for form, the children thought “why not?” and followed Ignatius’ preference.

The three friends did not know how book-Riddle viewed their corporal self. They knew what Riddle had looked like as rendered in two dimensional mosaic. But even if that had been how Riddle still viewed themself, they could not create a body to match. They considered forming Riddle as a golem and almost did. The golem would have been as close to human as they could come. But the cultural implications of service made the three hesitate. Besides, stone books are not human. Perhaps they would give the book a form, only for it to choose to be a book again. Many books loved being books. They knew that from experience.

But, Riddle - be they book or homo sapiens or other - needed a proper, activity-capable body to be more than they were.

Mushussu it was.

There was a flurry then of study, with Hadrian trying to understand the form as stone and Millicent worked on the necessary charms. Hermione read everything she could on body dysmorphic disorders and medical cases of coma patients waking to unexpected surroundings and bodies. She worried about how book-Riddle might feel when it awoke with such extreme changes to its physical form.

And the three tried to figure out how best to awaken the Being. There could be no easy solution. Ignatius, Petrus and Aquila had been awake and aware throughout the process. They had chosen their own forms and - as Hogwarts had claimed - understood what was happening to them.

The book-Being that maybe-was-Riddle decidedly did not.

There likely was no way the process could have gone well should they have been able to even get the book-Being’s input or opinion.

 

 

[1] A chimerical creature from ancient Mesopotamian mythology; one could say a cat and a dragon interbred, with some eagle thrown in. It is a scaled quadruped with hind paws like an eagle’s talons, forelimbs like a lion’s, a long neck and tail, and a horned head that has a snake-like tongue and a crest of some sort on top of its head.

[2] A facultative quadruped is a creature that normally walks upright on two legs, but is capable of moving on four without difficulty; such as for greater running speed or a sturdier stance in a fight.