Disclaimer: Neither Harry Potter nor Harry Dresden belong to me.
A/N: Sorry this is so late, but a midterm followed by getting sick followed by more midterms stopped me from writing much. Getting distracted by a one-shot didn't help either. Hopefully I'll have something new next week. Thanks to yojorocks from DLP for giving me a good idea for the ending - a minor edit has been made, so if you've already read it, just skip to the last few lines.
January, 1992 (December, 1986)
"Sedjet." The candle wick burst into flame, and I heard Elaine give a surprised gasp next to me. I flicked my eyes up to Justin, who was examining the candle with a curious expression on his face. "That's it?" I asked.
Justin ignored my question. "Have you ever done this before, Harry?"
I shook my head.
He rubbed his chin. "Perhaps you have an affinity for pyromancy, but to succeed with a spell that quickly... Elaine, your turn."
She turned back to her own candle and concentrated. I could see her desire to succeed, spurred on by my success. A minute later, she held out her hand. "Sedjet!"
The top third of her candle did not explode so much as completely vaporize, showering us with bits of molten wax. I batted away the worst of it to see Elaine tugging the cooling wax from her hair. "Ick."
Justin seemed untouched, though amused. "Well, it's better than nothing. A bit less power next time, though, don't you think?"
Elaine nodded, a blush creeping up her cheeks. Or maybe that was the flash-burn.
Justin leaned back in his chair. "To be honest, I had expected this to take quite a bit longer. I suppose you two should just practice, now. Harry, work on improving your speed. Elaine, work on your control."
He handed Elaine another candle.
"Justin," I began, "why do we need an incantation for the spell? Isn't it all formed in our mind anyways?"
Justin, who had been about to turn to his own workbench, turned back around. "Well, Harry, that's true to a certain extent. But the incantation separates us from the spell - protects us, really. Without it, the magic uses you as a conduit completely instead of only partially."
"But could you do the spell without it?" I pressed him.
He sighed and put down his notes. "Yes, you could. But it's painful, and if you're casting a large spell, that much magic could seriously harm you as well." He gave a thoughtful grunt. "I suppose if you shaped the spell very, very cleanly, far beyond what's normally necessary, you could avoid that. But it would take so long that it's hardly worth skipping the incantation."
"Can I try?" I asked, motioning to the candle.
"Knock yourself out," he replied, turning back to his workbench. "But don't blame me if it does knock you out."
I blew the candle out, and captured the image in my mind. With a few broad strokes, the candle I remembered was enveloped in darkness. I gathered a small amount of magic, imagined the heat rising at the tip of the wick, pressed the spell into its form, made sure there were no leaks, and released it with a pant that reminded me to breath.
I opened my eyes to see the candle burning merrily. The magic had left a tingling feeling behind - strange, but hardly painful or even unpleasant.
It was odd, I thought, that it should be so easy when Justin had said it would be difficult and time-consuming. Sure, it took an extra second or two, but I was confident that I could speed it up. Looking to the side, I saw that Elaine was deep in concentration, her candle still untouched. On a whim, I reformed the spell in my mind, and leaned over and lit the candle. A minute later, when Elaine finally opened her eyes, ready to speak the spell, her jaw dropped and she whirled around to me. "What did you do?"
I snickered and batted away her fists. "Oh, nothing. Hey, leave off!" That had been dangerously close to something I held in high regard.
"Harry? Elaine? Why are you fighting?" Justin asked, voice filled with irritation, then surprise. "Oh, did you manage it, Elaine?"
"No," she pouted. "That was Harry."
Justin raised an eyebrow. Whispering a word, he snuffed out the candles. "Show me, Harry."
I nodded. A second later, my candle was lit.
Justin whistled. "Wow. No headache?"
"Nope," I replied. "It tingles a bit, but it doesn't hurt."
"Well, congratulations, Harry, but next time, let Elaine finish her spell first," he chided. "I'd also like to see if you can manage this with more complicated spells, but we'll get into that later. Harry, go read, and let Elaine practice."
Elaine stuck her tongue out at me as I left, but I didn't dignify that with a response. Tomorrow, I would be at the Dursleys, free to experiment. Justin was taking things a bit slow for my tastes.
January, 1992 (December, 1986)
The Dursleys didn't bat an eye when I opened the front door and walked out. To them, I was only six. Just as well, I thought. I didn't want to try and convince them otherwise.
I made my way to the park, but without a rush. Taking in a deep breath, I admired the quiet suburban neighborhood. I didn't get out much, preferring to stay inside and read, but it was nice to enjoy fresh air once in a while. A cat ran by me, and my head snapped around to look at it. There was something off about it, though I couldn't quite place it. I pushed the thought away. There were a lot of cats in Little Whinging.
As I was walking by, a door opened and closed behind me. I paid it no mind until somebody called my name. "Harry!" Who would - oh.
"Good morning, Mrs. Figg," I said, putting on an appropriately pleasant expression. Mrs. Figg babysat me on occasion, though I had never really needed it. Still, it wouldn't do to be impolite.
"Where are you going, dear?" she asked.
"The park," I replied, motioning down the street.
"The Dursleys let you out?" she questioned, failing to hide her shock.
I suppressed the urge to roll my eyes. What, did everybody know that I had been locked up until recently? I would deal with that thought later, though. "I like to read a lot."
She blinked. "I see. Well, be on your way, child, but come back before dark." She opened the door and stepped back into her house.
I continued to the park, mulling the recent conversation over. In this world, I had secured my freedom less than two years ago, and I hadn't made a habit of going outside after that. To anybody else, it might seem as though I spent all my time locked up inside. No, I decided, Mrs. Figg's surprise wasn't suspicious. But her cats definitely were.
I ignored the pathway at the entrance to the park and padded onto the cool grass instead. Weaving a path between the trees, I scanned the ground for an appropriate branch. Spotting one that looked straight enough for my purpose, I picked it up and slipped into the shade under a tree.
Laying the branch on the ground in front of me, I fixed its image in my mind. Closing my eyes, I drew in a small measure of magic and started shaping it to my will. A change, a twist, a contortion... a knot. The image of the stick in my mind flexed, twisted, and wrapped itself into a knot. Opening my eyes, I flicked my fingers at the branch and released the spell.
The magic rushed out of me. Without so much as a pause, the branch snapped, shattering the silence. I recoiled against the tree, then shifted forward when I was sure the danger had passed.
I picked up the branch and examined the remains. It was twisted into a knot, but it had splintered along one edge, rendering much of it into wood pulp. Dropping the branch, I frowned. The spell had behaved how I had crafted it, not how I had intended it. I had been focused on knotting the branch, but I had forgotten to take into account that even with magic, wood still behaved like wood, unless I ordered it to behave otherwise.
Ten minutes later, I sat in front of a knotted branch without so much as a crack running down its length. I sighed and flopped onto my back. How was I supposed to get rich with my amazing branch-knotting abilities?
January, 1992 (December, 1986)
I knocked on Justin's door and rocked back on my heels. He opened the door with an inquiring expression. "Yes, Harry?"
I hesitated. Even in my head, the question sounded stupid, childish. But I didn't know a better way to ask. "Justin, what exactly can you do with magic?"
He took in my look for a moment, and the corner of his lip curled up in wry amusement. He glanced back at something in his lab, then turned back to me. "Our lesson is in an hour, Harry. Can you wait until then?"
I nodded and began to walk away, when Justin's voice stopped me. "Hey, don't worry. I'll answer the question then. In the meantime, go find out what Elaine wants for dinner."
I found myself in my room, knocking at Elaine's door with little memory of how I had gotten there. She opened the door a crack and peeked out with a furtive glance that made me suspect that she was hiding something. Seeing that it was only me, she opened the door further, grabbed my arm, and pulled me inside.
"Shh!" she whispered. I looked at her in bafflement. I hadn't even said anything. Then she pointed at her bed and I bit back a mad cackle. She had built a pillow fort.
Justin found us an hour later, sweaty and tangled in the sheets, pillows strewn about the room. He sighed and rubbed his temples. "Have you at least decided what we're going to eat after our lesson?"
I gave him a sheepish smile, but Elaine jumped off the bed. "I have!"
Staring at her in mock betrayal, I gave a dramatic gasp. "How could you? We didn't agree on anything!"
She turned her nose up at me. "Well, that's fine. Girls have better taste than boys, anyways."
I threw a pillow at her, and Justin sighed again. "You'll be cleaning this up later."
We followed him to the laboratory, where he bid us to sit down. The worktables were clear of materials, and it seemed like Justin would be lecturing today.
"So," he said, folding his hands together. "Harry asked me a very good question earlier today. What can magic do? And the answer to that question is both very simple and very complicated. In theory, magic can do almost anything. The catch is that certain things take enormous amounts of power and focus, more than any one wizard can hope to have. Not to mention they'll usually require thaumaturgical rituals with rare and expensive ingredients."
"Thaumaturgical rituals?" I interjected. The term was unfamiliar; I was sure that Justin had not brought it up before.
"Oh, right," Justin said, snapping his fingers. "I forgot. Put simply, there are two kinds of active spellcasting - evocation and thaumaturgy. Evocation is when you cast a spell that doesn't require any advance notice or preparation - like Sedjat. Thaumaturgy is more complicated. It's all about creating links between objects, so that when you affect one, you affect the other. You draw and empower a magical circle, so that there's no magical interference, then you can go about creating the link and casting the spell."
I was struggling to keep up, but Elaine beat me to it. "Can you say that again?"
Justin blinked, then sighed. "I went too fast, huh? Let's break it down a bit."
January, 1992 (December, 1986)
I sat up against the headboard, leaving the comforter on the bed. It was cold inside the house, but that was good. Falling asleep would be a monumental waste of effort.
11:50, the clock read. Anticipation caused the air to grow heavy around me, but I clamped down on my magic and the feeling stopped.
Soon, I would know for certain when my shift between worlds happened. Midnight seemed rather cliche, but it was my best guess. If it wasn't, I'd try again next weekend.
The magic lesson had gone better once Justin had slowed down and explained everything in detail. Rituals were interesting, but the idea that I had to sit for minutes if not hours casting a single spell bothered me. I felt hopeful that this was only a conceptual limitation, much like the use of incantations had been. Justin was still baffled by how I had accomplished that feat, and while my spellcasting was slower than Elaine's after she had mastered a spell, my speed was improving.
11:55. I shivered and drew my arms around myself, then almost smacked myself when the obvious solution presented itself. It would only be a slight twist on a spell I already knew, so I could probably accomplish it within the next few minutes.
I didn't want to attempt to heat myself directly, there were too many ways for that to go wrong. So instead I imagined a balloon of air around getting warmer.
It was not an easy thing to visualize, because there was no image to go along with heating air, and I was cold and tired, but I doubled down on the shape of the spell. Gathering a small bit of magic, I remembered the feeling of stepping in front of the blazing fireplace after a long night out, linked the feeling to the concept of the air around me, pushed the magic into the shape that had grown in my mind-
-and released the spell with the breath that I had unwittingly held. I noticed the change in the air a second later, and relaxed as I looked up at the clock on the wall.
11:59, 35 seconds. I let out a quiet chuckle. That had used up nearly all of my time - had it taken any longer, I might have missed the transition entirely. Basking in the warmth, I counted the ticking of the clock, focusing on my bedside table.
Tick. 45 seconds.
Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. 50 Seconds.
I tensed as midnight neared.
Tick. 57. Tick. 58. Tick. 59...
Midnight went by without a whisper and I felt almost ill from the disappointment.
Tick. Tick. Tick...
With a violent yet motionless lurch, reality shifted around me and I nearly fell off my bed. It was not my changed surroundings that caused my disorientation, however - it was the feeling of changing bodies, from a scrawny ten-year old to an even scrawnier six-year old.
Palpable relief filled me at my success, but it was mixed with bone-deep weariness, and I remembered how difficult it had been to stay up until midnight for this experiment. Six-year old bodies were not meant to stay up that late, I thought, and slipped under the blanket before I fell asleep.