Chapter 1: One more teacher lost to the curse
The rushed Patronus from Minerva really had ruined Dumbledore's day. He'd left his office immediately, despite the confusion in the message, because if something had managed to happen to the usually unflappable witch, it had to be truly severe.
He could hear the carnage from the corridor above – loud crashes and screams. He picked up his pace, unnerved but unsurprised to see Poppy hurrying up from the other direction. The source of the chaos was easily found: the Defence classroom.... It was with trepidation that he drew his wand and pushed the door open, wondering how his newest staff member had managed to create such havoc so early.
Cornish Pixies were easily recognizable, and judging by the mess they had been released in dangerous numbers. Minerva was furiously casting freezing charms in the centre of the room, backed up by the Granger girl. Poppy hurried over to the fallen chandelier and Albus gave a resigned sigh, twirling his wand and freezing several more pixies. Immediately, two Gryffindors dove out from under a desk and snatched up the frozen imps, throwing them into the cage that was surprisingly still upright on the desk before the spell could fade.
Fifteen minutes later the pixies were almost all back in the cage, with the occasional straggler that Miss Granger was happy to deal with as Albus and Minerva turned to the second pressing issue. The students began to trickle out from their hiding spots under desks as the calm descended and inevitably formed a curious circle around the prone body that Poppy was tending to.
They parted like the Red Sea for Albus as he approached, and by a process of deduction he already knew that Gilderoy would be the one trapped beneath the massive metal structure. The experienced nurse had already scourgified the blood, but she kept having to repeat the charm, so the newest professor must have been bleeding heavily – hardly a suitable sight for impressionable twelve year olds.
He dismissed the class, all of whom reluctantly left at his orders, peering back as they went.
'How is he, Poppy?' Albus asked once the door banged shut behind the last student.
'Severe crushing to his legs and lower torso, a concussion and a broken wand arm; beyond my ability to fix. He'll have to go to St. Mungo's.' The mediwitch reported sharply, waving her wand over the body to clean yet more blood. Albus sighed and flicked his wand, sending a Patronus to request healer assistance.
'I suppose I will have to put another ad in the Prophet.' The old wizard sighed, lamenting about the now-obvious fraud before he left.
The healers arrived just a few minutes later – a team of efficient-looking witches and a wizard who pulled Poppy aside for a brief discussion. Knowing that he was no longer needed, Albus left with Minerva and strolled down to the staff room.
'Albus?' The witch ventured as they finally reached the privacy of the staff room. 'Do you think it's the curse?'
The warlock sighed again and said something meaningless about the complete lack of a curse and how coincidences could be easily misinterpreted. Even as he tried to reassure her, Tom Riddle's words rung in his memory, cursing the position and all whom Albus employed to fill it.
He'd looked at the curse of course, trying to unravel it but the strands of dark magic were twisted into a web he couldn't comprehend. It was like trying to read a novel in a foreign language without a single lesson. He could see it, but he had no idea where to even start to work out exactly how the spell worked, let alone cast the countercurse.
He must have missed Minerva's next question because he suddenly found her looking at him expectantly.
'Sorry, I must have dozed off. I do miss armchairs in my office.' He apologized vaguely and Minerva gave him an exasperated look.
'I asked whether you had anyone in mind to approach about the position now.' She repeated and Albus sighed.
'I might ask Remus, I'm sure accommodations can be made for his condition again.' Albus pondered but Minerva was already shaking her head.
'Remus has managed to get a steady muggle job. He will not give it up for a position that may as well be temporary.' She informed him and Albus winced. It was true, the young werewolf couldn't afford to give up any job he'd managed to get and the Defence position would be temporary with the rate they were going through teachers.
'I will have to think on it.' He finally decided. Maybe he could convince Alastor, although the fearless auror was said to be considering retirement.
Not an hour later the headmaster found himself facing his least favourite member of the Board of Hogwarts Governors, Lucius Malfoy. And unlike last time they talked, now he had to admit there was truth behind the (former?) Death Eater's words.
After all, Draco had witnessed first-hand the incapability of the most recent Defence Against Dark Arts teacher, who didn't even last one day in the position. He couldn't expect the news not to spread like Fiendfyre, especially where the Malfoys were involved.
Poor Draco, Albus thought. After just two months into his education, the Ravenclaws and several upped-year Slytherins had already started calling him 'My-Father-Will-Hear-About-This' behind his back and his only friends were those two half-trolls Greg Goyle and Vincent Crabbe. There wasn't much the headmaster could do about him, however.
Lucius Malfoy was a different case. Not a victim of an overly manipulative father, but a good source of trouble on his own. And, most bitterly, Albus had to admit that this one time the senior Malfoy was correct. Employing competent teachers was his responsibility, especially now that children of Draco's age were attending school. (Well, maybe there was no specific need to educate Draco further, but that year of students included Harry and his friends too.)
And, if the headmaster was unable to present said competent teacher, the Board might have to reconsider if he was truly the best person for the position. Lucius had a rather slimy grin when he had said that, in an elaborate and perfectly polite manner only politicians can pull off, but the truth in his words burnt like a wound.
“So, you want me to get someone who's doubtlessly knowledgeable about the Dark Arts. And willing to teach. And available in very short notice.”
Lucius Malfoy nodded.
“And he had better hold the true values of the wizarding heritage,” he added with a predatory smile. “Do you know any such person?”
Albus Dumbledore took one deep breath, because he just remembered one wizard whom the description matched perfectly. Maybe the parents of every other child will disapprove (not to mention the staff! How will he tell them?) but Lucius Malfoy would very predictably approve.
Indeed, if he had Malfoy's support in this one...
He gathered up his courage, looked the former Death Eater in the eyes, and said a name so meaningful, so hated, but still, very dear to him.
Lucius Malfoy nodded with a pleased smile. “I never thought I would approve of your ideas, Headmaster, but as it stands, there's still hope for you.”
“Do I have your support in the Board about his employment?” Albus Dumbledore asked.
“Consider the Board supporting you unanimously,” the pureblood offered.
Under any other circumstances, that pleased expression of Malfoy's would have sent Dumbledore into a fit of defiance.
The fortress had changed little on the exterior since Albus had last visited. The building was as dark and ominous as ever but now it no longer thrummed with dark magic, instead, it had an abandoned, haunted air that sent shivers down Albus’ spine.
He tried to banish the memories that resurfaced. The mad and murderous glare of the twisted shell that had once been his friend as he was dragged, disarmed and bound, to the highest cell. His heart echoed with pain as he remembered looking into his lover’s eyes and seeing nothing but fury and the pure, unadultered hatred that couldn’t be falsified.
He dearly hoped that his nemesis had changed, that he had realized the error of his ways at some point in his half a century of imprisonment. That the isolation and boredom hadn’t driven the brilliant wizard to madness. But at the same time he prayed that it had, that he could find an excuse to spare himself the pain that his own foolish plan had brought.
He could never forget the route up to the tower, it seemed no shorter this time than the eons is had taken the last time, but now he could see the signs of true disuse. In the bright glow of his wand he could see the mouldering finery. The husks of long burnt out torches cast ghostly shadows across the walls which illuminated the spiderwebs that slung between them. The old warlock brandished his wand in front of him, waving it like a sword to clear the silken strands from his path. Dust blossomed with each footstep across the crimson carpet, and he was eventually forced to cast a bubble head charm to stop the hacking cough that had developed by the seventh floor.
He paused again on the thirteenth floor, this time to brace himself to see what had become of his friend. The other wizard already knew he was here; he’d felt the other reach for him when he’d been climbing the stairs but Albus had been able to discern very little before the presence withdrew. He’d never been able to rival his old friend in his ability to sense the arcane, a skill he believed was intrinsically related to being a seer, so Albus was unable to return the probe. At least it indicated some level of retained sanity.
Albus rallied his Gryffindor courage and hurried up the last flight of stairs to the heavy oak door. The rusted hinges squealed in protest as he pushed it open.
Gellert Grindelwald was almost as unrecognizable as he imagined himself to be. He was grubby, wearing his old black coat over the remains of the white shirt. His pale skin had been dyed grey by dirt, black lining the creases in his face. There were no smile lines, but neither where there frown lines and his expression remained carefully blank even as the dark wizard looked up from his spot in the corner. His hair had turned from pale blond to bedraggled grey, streaked through with grimy yellow. The beard had been hacked short, possibly with the shard that must have been broken off the wall in a failed escape attempt.
There was no laughing, no taunting. In fact, the prisoner was strangely silent. The only expression was visible in his blue eye which seemed to glow with an inner fire from the shadows. It burned with the curiosity the face would never show.
‘Gellert.’ Albus managed to say, his voice cracking slightly. The prisoner’s lip quirked, revealing a flash of yellowed, decaying teeth.
‘Albus. I didn’t think you would come.’ Gellert’s voice was hoarse, the words strung together awkwardly as if he had almost forgotten the language.
‘Neither did I.’ The Supreme Mugwump admitted, trying to gauge the dark wizard’s mood.
‘Any yet here you are.’ It was a statement, but Albus knew it was meant as a question.
‘I came to ask you something.’ Albus declared, receiving a nod in return. That was expected, the wizard opposite him knew that Dumbledore wouldn’t have come unless he had to. ‘I have a position at my school that is proving exceedingly difficult to fill.’
Surprise flickered across Grindelwald’s face. He had not expected this. It felt strange to catch him unawares; the sight usually saw to his preparedness. The moment was not unwelcomed, as it allowed Albus his first glance behind the emotionless mask the dark wizard wore. Even from the brief glance he could see that something had changed, although whether that was for the positive or negative it was impossible to tell. There was less blind fury, more of a calculated darkness. Or was the other wizard’s soul so damaged that it still appeared dark even when his intentions were good?
‘Which position?’ The dark wizard asked curiously, and Albus smiled. This was the true irony of the situation.
‘Defence Against the Dark Arts.’ Now the other wizard did laugh but it was simple humour, not borne of the twisted joy he’d expressed upon hurting Albus during their duel. If he closed his eyes, Albus could almost imagine they were still in Godric's Hollow as teenagers and Gellert was still his charming younger self. Back before their different morals had come between them.
‘When do I start?’ It was a quick agreement, but that was only to be expected. What was yet to be established was just how much havoc the dark wizard still hoped to cause.
The announcement in the Teachers' Room went less fluently. Filius Flitwick and Aurora Sinistra were the most up in arms against letting a war criminal in the school. Septima Vector wrote a long list of suggested security measures, while Minerva McGonagall simply demanded that Albus 'kept that monster away from the little lions'. To this, Severus Snape commented that she only cared about her own house and Gellert Grindelwald should be kept away from the student body as a whole. Hearing this, Pomona Sprout pointed out just who had been teaching at Hogwarts for the thirteenth year because of his need for a second chance, and Rolanda Hooch backed her up, pointing out the numerous howlers parents send about the unfair, unbiased and unsanitary potioneer terrorizing his students in class instead of teaching them, and the headmaster had to dissolve that debate before they could continue the discussion about the newly acquired Defence teacher.
Bathsheda Babbling, at this point, swallowed back her own commentary, and continued marking parchments of rune translations. Silvanus Kettleburn shrugged and murmured something about looking forward to their newest monster.
With Sybil Trelawney not participating in the discussion and Cuthbert Binns haunting in his own classroom as per usual, Charity Burbage was the last teacher whose opinion was yet to be heard. With a sigh, she only said a quiet, resignated 'okay,' trusting her headmaster to know what he was doing.
Dumbledore thanked them all, and started reading the Arithmancy teacher's list, gravely nodding at each point she had made. Clearly, keeping a fallen tyrant was a nightmare from the security's point of view, and knowing that said tyrant was currently enjoying a hot bath in his private quarters (in a bathtube larger than his entire cell had been) didn't exactly help keeping his mind on the matter.
Most of Septima Vector's suggested measures were already in place. Grindelwald was already wearing a tracker that would also enable any teacher to listen in to whatever he was saying all the time – Septima suggested that this would activate immediately when he was trying to talk to anyone privately. This same tracker, a necklace, had a portkey pendant on it that would take him back to Nurmengard as soon as he repeated his old motto in any language. He was not allowed to use magic outside of the DADA classroom, unless explicitly permitted by another teacher. Students would be warned against trusting him – while his identity would be kept a secret, even his new, public alias would be introduced as 'a known Dark practicioner'. There was no way around him needing a wand, but he had already sworn never again to use an Unforgiveable (although, as Albus was too aware, there were alternative spells with similar results) and anything he would be given must be returned upon leaving, including any piece of clothing.
His timetable was fixed on the wall of his quarters, an exact copy of it on the headmaster's desk. Should he offer any private lessons, the time, location and the attending students should be properly listed there, and a Protean charm ensured the two sheets wouldn't differ. The prefects would not be allowed to patrol his area of the castle after curfew, so as not to present an easy target. Aurora Sinistra offered to check on him after her classes, all of which ended at random hours during the night. During daytime, any and all suspicious behaviour should be reported to the headmaster immediately, and the countless paintings and ghosts of the castle eagerly agreed to the task.
After everything was arranged, Albus Dumbledore retreated to his own bedroom, his mind currently focused on the people who hadn't been told about the new professor's true identity. Rubeus Hagrid, because no magic in the world can keep him from spilling secrets. Argus Filch, because his hatred focusing on Grindelwald would test the new teacher's self-restraint on a level he clearly wasn't ready for. Poppy Pomfrey, because she had accompanied Lockhart to St. Mungo's and wasn't in a mood to be told anything for the last two days. And Aberforth Dumbledore, because... For a number of reasons, his brother summed up, instead of picking just one of the many.
Fawkes landed softly on his blanket, his wise eyes asking why his human wasn't sleeping yet. Albus patted his old phoenix on the head, and the bird let out a quiet trill.
“I know, Fawkes. But I fear I'd just fall victim yet again, how can I of all people risk that?”
The phoenix chirped softly.
“You haven't seen how neglected he was, up there. Do you remember how great he can look when he tries? It was I who denied him any company for 48 years. See, I'm making myself feel guilty without him as much as surfacing from his room. This can't end well.”
Fawkes settled on the blanket near his human's shoulder instead of his usual night perch. He ruffled his greying feathers, and buried his beak under his wing, imitating to sleep.
“My wise advisor,” Albus said fondly, and followed Fawkes's example.
Chapter 2: The cursed position
In his first few hours of relative freedom, Grindelwald had spent several hours in the bath, used copious amounts of Sleekeazy’s hair potion and then brushed his teeth more times than he bothered to count, just because he could. He’d then had another bath, scrubbing his skin until it shone a rosy red. Only then did he dare look in the mirror. Gellert would deny it if someone called him vain, but he did have a healthy appreciation for what a pretty face could get you and he’d prided himself on having a pretty face.
He’d aged, of course, and his skin was deathly pale but at least it was free of many of the blemishes caused by a lifetime under the sun. His hair was snowy white, falling in smooth waves down over his shoulders and the beard was only fractionally shorter. He tried for a smile, but it came out as more of a grimace, his second attempt was a sneer and by his third he was a cheerful grandpa in need of a teeth whitening charm.
He had a comfortable four-poster bed, which wasn't exactly his style, but as long as he could tie the curtains to the mahogany columns he wouldn't complain. He didn’t have much chance to appreciate the view on the evening of his arrival, but in the morning he found his new room was looking out to the Forbidden Forest, and the sight of a flock of thestrals brought him fond memories of an escape. Instinctively, he reached for the chain of his necklace, testing if he could tear it off his neck – obviously, he couldn't. The triangular medal that was the portkey to send him back to where he just came from, was now hanging in front of his throat like a stigma.
Thankfully, Albus hadn’t laid out one of his own garish robes for him to wear; instead it seemed the other wizard had remembered his younger fashion choices and had gone shopping for the occasion. Brown trousers and shirt that could have come from a Durmstrang uniform, a short black woollen coat with a wide belt over the top and a brown cloak that fastened across his shoulders with a silver chain. He dressed quickly, revelling in the clean, new fabric and settled down to wait. Albus would return soon with the remainder of the restrictions he would be under.
Sure enough, the headmaster returned exactly when he’d said he would, knocking on the door and waiting for Gellert to call that he was decent.
The additional rules included a ban on talking to the Hogwarts house elves and limiting his access to the personal files of the current pupils.He couldn't owl any surviving followers of his, nor contact them by any other means. He had to take an oath never to disobey a direct order from Albus and half the staff. For use of magic outside of his classroom, he would need the permission of another teacher. He wouldn't be allowed to sign slips for the Restricted Section of the library (he was surprised said section even existed in this school) but at least his own access to the tomes wasn't limited (yet). He should expect to be spied on, and he couldn't cast any privacy charm while he was on the school grounds. That meant he would need to retreat to either the Forest or to the bottom of the Black Lake if he felt like ranting to noone in particular, a habit he had picked up in his solitude.
Just a blur of brown feathers –a fragment of a vision, one he had seen before; but while that had been vain hope in the past now tightened around his neck like talons. Sometime in the future he would receive an owl, and judging from the alpine background, that message would find him in Nurmengard.
Fair warning not to get his hopes high.
“You understand and accept the additional rules?” Albus asked, bringing him back to the present. Odd – for the first time, he'd seen icy steel in that pair of blue eyes that normally glowed like the fire of hell. It was a mask Albus was wearing, of course it was a mask, but one Grindelwald had never seen before.
“I lived through worse. Albus, you've changed.”
“Oh, one can't expect to remain the same throughout forty-eight years. Why would we need time, if not for us to change?”
...Or maybe he was exactly himself, still.
The morning classes had already started when Albus led him down to the grounds, beyond the greenhouses, to meet the 'Keeper of Keys and Grounds', a man whom Gellert suspected to have a good dose of giant blood. The hairy phenomenon blindly trusted Albus and wasn't shy to openly admit that. He was given a task, and he would be honoured to perform it for his headmaster. Even if it was as simple as showing him to one of the back doors.
This part of Hogwarts didn't seem as well kept as the other corridors he had already seen, and the giant-like man was more interested in playing his out-of-tune flute than bothering to hold up a conversation.
He hoped he didn't pale when, after a sharp turn, they came across a snoring cerberos the size of a smaller dragon. The man-like giant just smiled (fondly? It was hard to tell with his mouth full with air for the flute) and walked past the sleeping monster. Grindelwald hurried to catch up with him.
Only when there was a locked door between them and the cerberos did the hairy thing part, momentarily, from his instrument, so that he could explain with a horrible dialect of English that for one reason or another, some wands had been left at the school and Albus expected the new teacher to pick one from these.
Well... None of those was the Elder Wand, of course. Some might have been bought for just the aesthetic value and lacked real magical strength; another one had belonged to a teacher who had died here and his muggle family refused to bury him according to the wizarding customs. Two were simply left behind by students after their graduation, one had been found in centuries-old debris during a renovation in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
None of them were really powerful, nor did they seem eager to bond with him. Somehow, secretly, he had hoped to find his first wand, but that wish was just as forlorn as if he'd hoped to get his innocence and youth back. The wand he had used for most of his active life was now holstered at Albus’ hip and the ex-prisoner knew better than to hope for that one.
After testing each piece at least twice, Gellert chose the one that had been found, long forgotten, in the debris. He couldn't deny the similarity in their fates.
The first charm that he cast was a Lumos, just so that the teeth whitening one didn’t take that title. Along with the gleaming wand-light, silver and golden sparks fountained from the end, almost as if the wand was as relieved to be used as he was to use it. Maybe he should give in to the sentimental feeling and accept the unforeseen second chance while it lasted.
After guiding him out of the storage room guarded by the narcoleptic cerberos, the hairy giant asked if the newcomer would find his way back to the castle on his own, because he had to prepare the hippogriffs for Professor Kettleburn's Care of Magical Creatures class.
After a reminder that lunch would be served in an hour, the newest DADA teacher found himself alone in the school his truest friend and greatest nemesis was directing. The moving staircases here were tangible proof of the volatile, unpredictable nature of magic that one needs to master, while the trick step in their middle reminded him of his status as an outsider. The portraits turned around and pointed at him, trying to guess who he was and why he took the infamously jinxed position. One of the suits of armour swung a long sword in his direction, but it was unclear whether the gesture was meant to be a greeting or a thinly veiled threat.
The next order of business would be his disguise, he decided. Of course, there was already a Fidelius in place, and if Dumbledore was good at one thing it was keeping secrets, but still he didn't want to make himself too obvious.
He changed his eyes to black, using a charm he had used thousands of times to hide his most recognizable feature. He paused, changed them to blue, decided he didn’t like the way blue matched his pale skin and reverted both to black again. Then he drew his new wand down his hair from the roots to the tips, adding a range of greys to darken the colour. Almost as an afterthought he added a touch of brown to make it seem more natural; it was a trick he had learned early on in his time as a fugitive.
His hand itched to reach for the razor and shave off the beard but the reappearance of one Albus Dumbledore stopped him. ‘You’ll be far less recognizable with long hair.’
‘But I’ll get it caught in everything, and I’ll have to brush it every day!’ Gellert protested and Albus snorted.
‘Don’t tell me that you didn’t spend hours on it when you had it short.’ The headmaster pointed out with a twinkle in his eyes. The dark wizard huffed and twirled his wand again, magically trimming the frizzy split ends in a reluctant compromise.
Albus checked his strange watch, an accessory that he must have had acquired after Gellert had last seen him: it displayed the current relative alignments of the planets and moons. “Come, let me introduce your new alias to the next generation,” he instructed. Grindelwald clearly remembered that they hadn’t yet discussed a new persona or an official fake past, so his defeater must have been planning to give him a new name without as much as consulting him.
It was only reasonable, he reminded himself. He’d deserved far worse.
The Great Hall looked so unlike Durmstrang in every possible aspect. The students were grouped by their 'houses', color-coded and expected to act in the common interest of their team. Red marked the reckless, like Albus; yellow were the ones that were absolutely not dark witch/wizard material; blue marked the smartafts; green were the purebloods that didn't fit anywhere else and halfbloods with an ambition. The entire concept was odd and unfamiliar.
Unable to do anything but follow his every order, Gellert’s body moved against his will into the spacious room and at the teachers' table he almost fell when control over his body was returned to him. He caught himself on the table just in time.
Chapter 3: Meet Abernathy Wohl
Hermione looked up from her History of Magic homework just in time to see Parvati whisper something to Lavender, and suddenly both girls burst out in gurgling laughter. She didn't at all mind not being close with either of them, although she had agreed to check their essays whenever they asked.
Then, interrupting the giggles, the Headmaster rose to speak before lunch. She looked up sharply at this irregularity noticing for the first time that there was someone sitting in the defence teacher’s chair. He was very old, possibly older than Dumbledore and so white that he could have passed as a vampire. His hair and beard, worn in a similar style to the headmaster, was streaked with dark grey and his clothing was all shades of natural brown.
The strangest thing though was the way that the other teachers reacted to him. McGonagall kept shooting him glances and Snape looked like he’d rather be anywhere but here. Meanwhile, the new teacher did little except sit and examine the Hall quietly.
’With equal parts pride and reluctance, I would like to introduce to you Professor Wohl, our newest Defence Against Dark Arts teacher.’ With a shock on his face (why? Did he not expect to be introduced?) the old wizard rose and bowed to the crowded room in front of him.
’However...’ His voice had taken on that same dark tone as when he had warned them about the third floor corridor last year, ’Abernathy Wohl is a known Dark Arts practitioner, and I warn all of you against trusting him. On the other hand, his knowledge about his subject is, mark my words, beyond any doubt.’
’Uhh? They shifted priorities?’ Ron guessed, hungrily. Lunch time for him was, apparently, more important than a teacher who would, supposedly, teach for the entire school year. Dumbledore seemed to disagree because he continued talking.
’Professor Wohl is, as of now, unfamiliar with our school, as he gra... attended Durmstrang, so I expect you to help him settle in. However, should you notice him being unfair, spreading distrust among you, or putting anyone in danger, I expect you to immediately report that to your Head of House, a prefect, or any teacher or ghost available. That's all, now dig in!’
On his cue, food appeared on the tables and Ron eagerly did as he was told.
It was only after lunch that the second-year Gryffindors and Slytherins realized their next class would be with the Lockhart-replacement.
When the students arrived at the DADA classroom, the door was open so they filed in and took their seats. A wary, hushed silence settled across the room as they waited for their new professor, everyone nervous after the warning that the Headmaster had delivered earlier.
The classroom was unchanged, the portraits of Lockhart still hung on the walls so she could only assume Professor Wohl hadn’t gotten around to redecorating yet.
‘I wonder if he was a death eater?’ Ron whispered next to her. ‘Wohl is Russian right? Maybe he was related to Dolohov.’
‘No, Ron, Wohl is a German word.’ She hissed back. 'It can either mean well-being or a high probability.' Ron leaned over to reply when the door shut with a bang, making everyone jump. Pansy Parkinson let out a squeal and Goyle chuckled, which turned into a wheeze when Malfoy elbowed him in the side.
The new teacher strode down the aisle between the desks, his dark eyes flickering across the students. They shrunk back instinctively as he passed, until he reached the front desk and leaned against the pale wood that had yet to be changed. Up close he was much more intimidating than he’d seemed in the hall; he was almost skeletal in appearance, lacking muscle as much as fat, as if he’d missed every meal for a year. His skin was snowy pale, making his eyes deep pits of darkness.
His wand appeared in his hand even without movement and he flicked it in a lightning fast motion. Hermione’s books burst into flame and her screams were echoed by the other students, Neville actually fell off his bench. Hermione desperately wanted to save her books but was too afraid to do anything as they disintegrated into a pile of ash on her desk.
‘You cannot learn to defend yourself from a book,’ had been the first words their new professor had spoken, his voice had a faint accent and although he spoke quietly, he could easily be heard through the room. ‘Take out your wands.’
There was a rustle of hurried movement as students pulled out their wands from their bags.
‘Dead.’ The word rang through the room and every student froze midway through retrieving their wands. ‘Your enemy will not wait for you to find your wand, they will strike when it suits them most.’
Again, his wand flicked out from somewhere on his person, whatever movement he used was too fast to track. He flicked it in the direction of the board and a piece of chalk jumped into the air and began to write down his words as he spoke.
‘Who survives a battle is not the one with the greatest knowledge of spells, or the most creative casting. It is the one with the fastest reactions, who panics the least and who is always ready to defend themselves. From now on, you will keep your wand on your person; I believe there is a pocket in your robes for that purpose, or there are holsters that can be attached to your wrists. Some people use both to decrease predictability.’
There was an obedient rummaging as the students retrieved their wands from their bags and excited murmuring as most discovered only now how their wands slotted neatly into their sleeves.
‘Now, draw your wands.’ He purred. The response was little better this time. Ron tried to shake the wand out, which then got tangled in the hole in the sleeve of his robe. Neville managed to draw his quickly, then dropped it and he had to sheepishly duck under his desk to retrieve it. Hermione took an entirely different approach, shoving her opposite hand up her sleeve and grabbing the handle, successfully whipping out her wand first try.
Unexpectedly, Professor Wohl smiled happily at the result.
‘Very good, did everyone see…’ his dark eyes met hers across the small space and she found it impossible to look away, feeling as if her every thought was on display to him ‘…Miss Granger’s attempt. Please, come up to the front, Miss Granger, and demonstrate for the class.’
She squeezed out from behind her desk and nervously approached the front of the class. She stopped slightly short and the professor made her turn towards the class, he got her to demonstrate the movement so that everyone could see and then got her to go from standing to a casting stance, drawing her wand in the process.
Then he banished the desks and chairs to the edges of the room and had the students all line up, practicing drawing their wands and firing off sparks at the wall. He seemed entirely unconcerned when Seamus’s over-enthusiastic sparks set fire to one of the Lockhart portraits and easily summoned Harry’s wand when he accidentally tossed it through the open window.
They ended the lesson with an almost military drill, he’d bark out ‘draw’ or ‘wands’ or even some random incantation in a mock-attack, and they’d all sweep their wands out of their sleeves, feet thudding down into a casting stance almost simultaneously.
He sent them away with homework to practice sheathing their wands in a single movement, advising them cryptically that he was sure the library would be able to help.
It felt like one of the most productive, relevant lessons that Hermione had ever had in Hogwarts and the students moved to grab their belongings with a rumble of excited chatter when the bell rang. Exclamations of surprise punctuated the general noise as the students picked up their bags and discovered that their Lockhart books had somehow been magically returned to them, untouched.
“He didn't give you as much as one point,” Harry noted on his way to the Charms classroom, where their next lesson was due.
“No, he gave us useful knowledge!” Hermione immediately defended the new teacher. “You don't come to school for house points, Harry, you come here to learn,” she lectured. “At least, most people do. Well, maybe not most,” she admitted, “but you get me.”
“He didn't give or dock points during the entire class,” they heard Parvati say, too. She was talking to her Ravenclaw sister, whose first real Defence class this year was due only the day after – on Tuesday they had Rolanda Hooch jump in and they talked about the curse and the fates of some other teachers in the Defence position.
After Charms, Hermione hurried to the library while Ron was cornered by his brothers for his 'first-hand experience on another dark wizard,' and Harry went to discuss his training schedule with Oliver Wood. As usual, she was the first pupil to arrive after the afternoon classes, and she immediately grabbed a book on wizarding fashion. As she now suspected, there were various items a witch could keep her wand in, items that were not covered in the briefing she and her family had received from Professor McGonagall. When you learn you're a witch at the age of eleven, fashion is not in the forefront of your mind... At least it wasn't for her, not when her visitor could turn into a cat at will.
But it really was an important part of this world, not because of the appearances, but because survival could depend on whether you drop your wand or you don't. As she looked further, she found a picture of a woman wearing a dress that seemed too suggestive at the first look, with its sleeves being only tied to the shoulders with a few straps, but thinking about it, she realised this could allow a much better range of motion than an all-covering garment would.
She was so busy with an article on duelling garments, she only noticed she was no longer alone when Madame Pince passed her table.
“These are what the last year's subject was taught from,” the librarian sighed as she placed a pile of schoolbooks on the front counter. “The year before...” she then continued, summoning another pile. “And here's the list of requirements for the OWL theoreticals. Most students only take Defence up to their fifth year, scrape together an A or an E, and never care about the subject in their lives.”
“Which can be really short, with that attitude,” the hoarse voice of the new teacher commented.
Hermione watched from the corner of her eyes as the pale old man opened one of the books at random and soon noted with a frown, “Were this all I had in my youth, I wouldn't have made it to this century.”
“And wouldn't have that been better for everyone,” Professor Flitwick now joined in. Apparently, he'd been following Professor Wohl to the library. Either they had something to discuss on their way, or the tiny Charms teacher didn't allow Professor Wohl to wander around in the castle unsupervised. Considering the warning from the headmaster, Hermione guessed it was the latter.
As for Professor Wohl... He seemed as though he wouldn't lament about the distrust, but ready to soldier on like this and educate his new charges nevertheless. Hermione didn't know whether or not she liked the new situation, but she decided to make the best out of it; from what she’d heard it seemed like he was going to be one of the best Defence teachers they’d ever had.
Chapter 4: Dawn again
After forty-eight years of exile and imprisonment, Grindelwald's first day at Hogwarts had been exhilarating. After solitude, he was suddenly among hundreds of witches and wizards; after the lack of comfort and nutrition, he had spacious quarters again, with a bathtub and a proper bed. After the clothes he had been defeated in and had worn for almost fifty years since, he had received a brand new set that made him feel like a civilized wizard again.
After the quiet, he was exposed to the constant noise of background chatter. After the neglect, he had more eyes on him than he could count.
After losing the Elder Wand, he had to settle with a twelve-inches-long thing of unknown materials and history. After having been the greatest dark wizard of his time, he was the forty-sixth Defence teacher to try and make it through the school year since the curse.
After making his name known worldwide, he was hiding under an alias, and the truth was guarded by his nemesis. After being a dreaded enemy, his oath made him beholden to every teacher in the school and he was forced to earn the trust of students.
And then there was the recurring vision... Until the day before, he had been looking forward to the summer when that brown owl would bring a letter to him in Nurmengard. Now that same bird was constantly reminding him how limited his time was.
When Albus had entered his fortress, his prison and his tiny life-space, he had been shamefully unprepared. His body was weak, unused to more than pacing the length of his cell and he’d nervously spent the entire couple of hours before his lesson repeating his opening speech to try and stop his voice cracking. The syllables of English sounded foreign on his tongue after so long with only himself to talk to.
Had he lost himself so much that he hadn't dared to believe what his own sight had assured him about? Could he not even make sense of the possibility of communication?
Had his forty-eight years of imprisonment broken his once brilliant mind?
And how broken he would be when he's returned to his tiny cell again. Who would capture him, this time? Would he last to at least the end of the school year, like that witch in 1968 that had been sucked dry by a vampire a few hours before the end-of-term feast? Or would his carrier be listed among the shortest, even if, with half a school day now behind his back he would still fare better than the top five?
The brown wings of the vision-owl were flapping in front of his face again, then the bird settled on a plain black window-sill, stretching out its leg so that a letter could be untied from it.
His time was very limited here, and he didn't even know what he would eventually do with this unexpected and undeserved gift. A chance. A choice. An opportunity to either continue his old ways or to make amends. Perhaps a bit of both.
He slowly rose from his morning meditation, disappointed that he hadn’t seen anything new, stirring his fingers one after the other, his 'second-chance' wand lying on his exposed knees. The rising sun glowed through the window, not blocked by mountains or walls, not even by acloud or a curtain. Idly he remembered that breakfast was said to be ready when the first students seeped down to the Great Hall at around six, and his presence would be expected there. Food, already? He had a delicious and wholesome dinner less than twelve hours before. Ah yes; had he already forgotten the time he had had three meals per day? He deserved only... No, he deserved nothing. He didn't even deserve to be kept alive.
Leaving his many doubts behind, he rose from his meditation. He had accepted the task to train these British magicals. He would see to their education properly.
He was one of the first to arrive at breakfast, less than a dozen students and Hagrid-the-groundskeeper were already present. He hesitated after he had taken a seat, slightly overwhelmed by the spread in front of him. A platter of bacon opposite him caught his attention, dark, crispy curls scenting the air. He reached for the serving tongs, then got distracted by a jug of orange juice with condensation beading on the glass. He reached for that instead and almost levitated a drop to his mouth before remembering that he was now in civilised society and had to act as such. He was about to pour it into his cup when a pot of coffee caught his attention and he found himself torn between which one he wanted. He put down the jug of orange juice and reached for the hot drink, inhaling the invigorating vapour as he filled his mug. He regretted his choice immediately when it proved too hot to drink and he remembered just in time that he wasn't allowed to use a cooling charm as had once been his routine. After a moment he darted his hand out and took the cup from the place next to his and filled it with orange juice. Whichever teacher sat in that spot had the rest of his life to drink juice, Gellert did not.
Then he selected the crispiest bits of bacon with one hand as he drank the entire cup of tangy, sweet juice with his other. Then without a pause he took sausages, then caught sight of eggs and pancakes. He decided to finish the full fry up first, shovelling the food into his mouth before serving himself with pancakes and finally a third course of toast. Feeling decidedly bloated, he wiped his borrowed cup with a napkin and returned it to the place it had come from. By then the main student body had begun to arrive, the noise level rising steadily as everyone woke up.
He was surprised to recognise several faces already. The shy little first year girl who’d serenely informed him that he had a Gurdypuff stuck on his wand, he’d already grabbed said wand to reverse the colour changing charm on her fingers when he remembered that he couldn’t do magic outside his classroom. The girl waved her blue fingers at the redhead at the Gryffindor table, who waved back just as the smart second year girl sat down opposite her. He’d already been warned about the two redheaded twins that whispered conspiratorially at the end of the table, consulting with a sheet of parchment and giving him confused looks.
The Malfoy boy was one of the last to swagger in, two goons flanking him as he slouched over to the table. He wondered briefly what had happened to Abraxas for him to allow his grandson to grow up with such lack of backbone. All the Malfoys he’d encountered in the past had been as ruthless as they were proud and had deadly ambition by the bucketload. This youngest one seemed more inclined to just whine about his entitlements and throw his father’s name around.
He emptied his coffee mug and left when the slimy minion arrived, uninterested in his child-hating remarks. If he hated being around children so much, he should just leave. He could, at least.
After what he had found with the previous classes, the seventh-years presented a pleasant surprise. This class had been held for only those who were serious about the topic and had already had at least some sort of experience on their own. He had challenged them one by one.
There was a wealthy pureblood who had been privately tutored in self-defencefrom the tender age of five. There was Rosie McCoy who distracted him with a series of stunners, then surprised him with a conjunctivitis hex. She laughingly revealed after returning his (second-chance) wand that her family was running the Hebridean Dragon Sanctuary. At least she didn't try and trim his claws. There was a couple who intended to start a warding business together. (Maybe he should leave behind an invitation to Nurmengard, they would have a field day.) There was a boy who distracted him with a few fancy wand movements, and when the teacher lazily disarmed him, he knocked 'Professor Wohl' out with a brutally strong wandless stunner. And then, there was a funny-looking girl with greyish pink hair who tripped over her own legs, but she doubled the length of her arm and clawed at his wrist until his wand fell to the floor. She should one day challenge the dragon-keeper, he wondered, but before saying that out loud, he remembered this was the seventh year these people were in the same class, so maybe that duel had already commenced, he only missed it.
They spent the second half of the class talking about what they wanted and what they could achieve. The couple claimed that neither of them could focus when they didn't know with absolute certainty that the other was safe and well. The dragon-keeper wanted to improve her casting speed, because what easily works on a human (say, the so-called greatest dark wizard of the century) won't ensure survival if she got caught between territorial males.
Edgar Shafiq, the rich heir, admitted that he'd opted to continue his official training because it seemed easy after the drill his tutor had provided – unlike the public teaching position, the tutor's was free from any similar curses. The way he gave no specific information about his private teacher, not even the gender of him / her, left the possibility open that they might have been one of the few survivors of Gellert's inner circle. When he tried to look into Shafiq's mind, however, he ran into solid occlumency shields while the pureblood only grinned at him.
The wandless warrior, oddly enough, was a distant relative to the Gregorovitch family. He was training for a professional carrier in quidditch, and as a chaser he needed magical protection that can be held up with one hand on the quaffle, the other on the broom handle, and attention focused on the goal loops.
The couple consisted of an eager and energetic halfblood Yaxley girl and a very self-assured boy whose parents had both been muggles. They had mostly been taught by the Runes Professor Babbling and the Charms teacher Flitwick, but they also used to have a good Defence teacher in their second year. The rest of it they had to research in the library and learn through trial and error.
And, of course, there was the girl with the claws – a natural metamorphmagus. She admitted she was clumsy as hell but it was widely considered a price that came with any special talents. When he pointed this out (with some jealousy – back then he would have loved to have her on his side) she enthusiastically nodded, because the Auror Corps had a number of efficient witches, but she would be their only metamorphmagus if she made it past their entrance exams. Of course, she would need to be taught how to properly take advantage of her unique ability.
It seemed like Fate wasn't running out of irony. Gellert Grindelwald had indirectly agreed to train a future Auror.
He wished he could punch his yesterday self in the face. But now, he just quirked an eyebrow and continued the talk with his seventh-year students. They had to work out how he could train each of them separately. With the introduction he'd been given, he'd need an awful lot of work to gain the trust of anyone, but maybe winning over some older ones could be the key.
If not for the auror wannabe, he would have enjoyed this sort of work.
Chapter 5: Vae victis
Albus smiled contentedly as he subtly listened to the students gossiping. From what he'd already heard though the pendant Gellert was constantly wearing and from what the ghosts had told him, it appeared the old wizard was doing swimmingly in his new role. So far he’d mostly focused on practical aspects like getting students to draw their wands – a skill that Albus agreed was far underestimated by the common witch or wizard. The sixth and seventh years seemed to have had a very different lesson, more concentrated on working out what they wanted to use their skills for in the future rather than passing exams. He’d have to remind his un-academically qualified past-friend that passing the exams was also important.
So far at least, it seemed Lucius would be happy, as would the rest of the board if the various offspring wrote their predictably excited letters home this evening. The teaching staff were less than enthusiastic; clearly suspicious of Gellert’s immediate popularity and the school’s interest in him. Of course, the sudden interest was also predictable. He was after all the best (or least incompetent) defence teacher they’d had in years and practicals were a sure fire way to the students’ hearts.
Gellert also seemed to have regained his rhetoric abilities, despite his many decades of isolation, and nothing could inspire him more than being the center of attention once again. Albus was relieved and rather worried at the same time: he had first-hand experience on how convincing the dark wizard could be, how easily he could manipulate people and shift their loyalties. But it was an indicator of a solid mind, proof that he was still his same old self, not ruined by his own prison. The headmaster's own guilt for what had to be done to the man had vanished after hearing his first few lines to the sixth-year group, only to return when his gaze wandered to his skeletal shape again, his sunken eyes, his dry lips and his uncertain steps. Albus had considered himself a coward for not visiting him every few years. Had he not kept his distance, Gellert wouldn't have been neglected this much, but every time the idea had crossed his mind, he feared he'd fall under the monster's influence quicker than any other wizard would... And now here they were on the same floor, and he was analyzing the captivating style and pragmatic approach of 'Wohl'.
He hoped it was worth the risk. Harry deserved a competent teacher just as much as Gellert deserved a chance to make amends. Albus firmly believed in second chances, and had been reckless enough to offer one.
The face of the muggle Minister, though... Albus had personally told him that he's bringing a war criminal to Scotland for probation. The ICW Chief Auror, on the other hand, swallowed back her comments and only demanded that she'd be kept informed. Lucius Malfoy had volunteered to press the idea down Minister Fudge's throat. According to the pompous pureblood, the chat went less fluently as he'd expected, but as it happened, that talk had been immediately followed by casting the Fidelius charm, so now the minister shouldn't remember any of the details.
'Professor Abernathy Wohl's real name is Gellert Grindelwald.’ A truth that nobody can accidentally discover, nobody can realize or remember until Dumbledore willingly shared it with them. A powerful protection, a powerful tie. As long as Gellert behaved, his true past would only be known to a select few. Should the need arise, the headmaster can bring additional help while Gellert would be still unrecognizable to his surviving followers. The only hindrance with the Fidelius was that it gets weaker by the amount of people being told. Ten were the maximum recommended for the Secret to be safe. Being (objectively) stronger than an average wizard, Albus realistically estimated he could let in about twenty. Too many secondary keepers of the secret would still spread the protection thin, and it would be only a matter of time until the charm is broken.
For now, the Secret was safe with him, 'Wohl' was safe in Hogwarts, and Hogwarts students were safe with a competent Defence teacher from whom they could and would learn a lot. Really, Gellert’s teaching style left nothing to be desired and he’d always suspected the old wizard would make an excellent instructor. After all, he’d taught Albus the combat magic that had won him his first duelling medal, back when there hadn’t been two wars to hone his talents. That’s what worried him though. He hadn’t even realised some of what Gellert taught him had bordered on dark until he’d been kindly notified by his duelling instructor before his first match. Who was to say the even younger and more impressionable students wouldn’t discover the same too late?
He didn't even have an exact list of spells Gellert's classes would cover, as the curriculum had been written by Gilderoy Lockhart. His replacement had been let out of his cell in apitiable state Tuesday afternoon, it was a miracle enough that he had held classes on Wednesday after lunch. Of course there was no time to rewrite the curriculum, but the headmaster realised now that was an error that he urgently needed to correct.
He was out of breath by the time he reached Gellert’s classroom and only saved himself from an embarrassing situation because he wanted to catch his breath before he burst in. Of course, it was mid-way through the second period and Gellert was busy teaching the Gryffindor and Slytherin third years. It hardly would have made the headmaster seem in control of the convict if he’d burst into his mundane lesson accusing the dark wizard of indoctrinating children just because of the lack of a written curriculum.
He forced himself to visit the library – it was close enough that his hurried rush through the castle could be explained as a sudden idea in his research on the thirteenth use of dragon blood.
Madam Pince greeted him with an understanding nod, and cast a (completely unnecessary) Scourgify at Albus's favoured seat. “Is there something you want to look up, to kill time until the class is over?”
He blushed, “Am I this obvious, Irma?”
“Since yesterday, this normally quiet place became the gathering point for your colleagues so eager to spy on your newfound friend,” she lamented. “Poppy was here all afternoon, as she said, 'just in case,' while that poor Macmillan girl had blisters all around her body from a spilled potion. Everybody seems to be forgetting their priorities,” the librarian continued. “Including him.”
“For a horrible dark wizard, I don't know where you found him, Albus, but in one afternoon he did more research on what the children needed than the last twenty Defence teachers altogether. He even scrolled through the books the last four taught from, and he was making notes on which years can be expected to have covered which topics. Very thorough.”
“That’s him,” Albus smiled. “He has a talent for finding weak spots.” Her’s he very clearly had already found. “Anything else I should be mindful of?”
“Yes,” Irma declared in a no-nonsense tone. “This is a library and not some espionage headquarters, especially not for one Severus Snape. If I find him insulting Miss Granger again, he might learn the hard way who else spends her time in the company of forbidden books.”
Yes, some of the staff really disliked Snape.... “I will talk to him.”
“Now, anything you want to look up?”
“No, thank you, Irma, I'll help myself.”
Wasn't that an interesting discussion. The headmaster summoned a decades-old issue of Transfiguration Today, and spent the rest of the hour reading about magical body part replacements. An eye like that of Alastor Moody would have been very useful now.
“You wanted to see me, Albus?”
A solemn face, head held high, a right eye on which the true coloration was shining through a slowly fading darkening enchantment. No challenge in the tone, unless you really paid attention.
And he looked dashing with the polished silver cloak-chain against black and brown garment.
“I understand that holding classes is more satisfying than paperwork,” Dumbledore began, hoping to keep all emotion out of his voice, “but writing a curriculum for the school year cannot be put off forever.”
Gellert just stood (was that a sigh of relief?) about an arm's length away, understanding that the invitation to the school didn't include invitation to sit down to the table its headmaster currently occupied. “I will see to that as soon as I met and evaluated everyone I'm supposed to teach.”
That calm tone, controlled and balanced, even if still slightly hoarse and hardened further by a now-prominent accent... Albus had known in advance that he wouldn't be able to resist it. “What are your first impressions?”
“The material is good, it only needs to be given a shape. That second-year with the muggle parentage has the potential to win a war single-handedly.”
Now, that wasn't exactly helpful in determining whether or not Gellert's views and ambitions had honestly changed.
“Hermione Granger is a force of nature to reckon with,” he agreed, “but she is far from the only muggleborn student.”
Gellert nodded sharply, he understood. He was not to focus his attentions on a specific student, he always had been excellent at picking up hidden messages. He would have been a Slytherin for sure, maybe a Ravenclaw but he was far too subtle for Gryffindor and certainly not a Hufflepuff.
“There are twenty-two or twenty-three right now. We're not sure about the paternity of a boy.”Albus felt self-conscious as he regarded his old friend. He tried to force his expression into the one he used when he faced the ICW or (even worse) the Wizengamot, but not yet the one reserved for the Board of Hogwarts Governors. “I know Durmstrang doesn't support their advance and acceptance to the wizarding world, but we do.”
“I’m sorry to have left you in such a contradictory position,” Gellert replied in a calm but not exactly apologetic tone, “in one of your jobs, you're the leader of an organization responsible for keeping the muggle and the wizarding worlds apart, while in the other, you're the headmaster of a school that allows the big secret out.” His words were sarcastic, but his tone was even. The overall impression was that of an interested academical, out of place on a supremacist maniac's features.
It suited him, disturbingly. Albus feared he'd forget the past in its entirety before this discussion was over. “It’s not as contradictory as you make it seem,” he replied. “There are compromises, if one's willing to accept them.”
Gellert only huffed at the reply, although he appeared like he didn't want to express his resentment.
“Why, if it's not Granger the know-it-all!” a boy's taunting words seeped through from another book aisle.
“Wut are yoodoin in our libbary, moodblud?”
It was miraculous how the immediate tension of those almost nonexistent muscles turned an old wizard's frail body into that of a soldier. Gellert shot one questioning look at the headmaster, his eyes all but aflame with the desire to interfere. It would have been cruel to deny him the opportunity.
At Albus's dismissive hand signal, Gellert stormed out to the other aisle, magic swirling around him like an invisible, full-body halo. “Considering that she has proven to be literate, it's safe to assume she's here for some of the books. How about you... Mr Goyle? With your immaculate pedigree, I'm certain you have your own library at your manor. I'm also certain you've been educated how to behave in one. Act accordingly.”
“I can't believe you take the side of that muggle-spawn!” the young Malfoy gaped. Over the books, Albus could see the boy's face slowly turning red.
“I can't believe a twelve-year-old feels entitled to tell his teacher what to do. Yes, we know, your father will hear about you three picking a fight in a library, I hope he will be very proud of you. She is muggle-born, you three are purebloods. You just called this place your library. So which party is supposed to act like he wasn't brought up by mountain trolls?”
“That was a rhetoric question, don't bother to reply.”
He stood so magnificent, in the bright daylight of the library, his magic slowly seeping back under his skin, like when ruffled feathers are flattened back down.
“We 'ill wait four yoo outside!” the other goon of Mr Malfoy's growled, at his full capacity for being threatening.
“Mr Crabbe, Hogwarts is a school. People with the intention to learn are expected to reside here. If you think you more belong elsewhere, I'm sure Albus over there can put you in contact with an esteemed magizoologist.”
The three boys craned their necks in the indicated direction, then hastily left.
Albus watched from afar (from behind that old Transfiguration Today) as Gellert initiated small talk with the Granger girl, and nodded in approval at how quickly Hermione shifted the topic from the chivalrous old wizard to why she came to the library in the first place. Apparently, she had paid attention when they'd been warned not to trust him, while that didn't keep her from being attentive and polite. Reading Gellert's body language, the headmaster noted how he was a bit baffled, but he really shouldn't have expected more attention than he was due. She thanked him and marched to Irma's desk to check out the book the new teacher had recommended her.
Albus was all too aware he wouldn't have been able to shake off Gellert that easily, even though he knew all his faults and crimes that Hermione didn't.
“I can imagine that History ghost,” Gellert growled, returning to his defeater's (captor's) (victim's) table. “Miss Granger asked for something that she could read in class, because Binns is THAT boring not even she can follow. Preferably something about the 13th century.”
“I trust you remember, nothing from the Restricted Section.”
“I do; 'The Elusive Elder' was in the free-access area.”
Albus buried his face in his long beard. With a false name, skeleton-thin and even his blue eye darkened again, with a bloody past and after a spectacular defeat, Gellert was still so unmistakeably himself.
Chapter 6: Dangers, and how to fight them
It was Friday already, and 'Professor Wohl' had been more active in the past three days than he had been for well over four decades. Hogwarts was still new to him, with muggleborn students wherever he looked (except for the green table in the Great Hall, which instead had several badly-disguised trolls), fellow teachers who dutifully spied on him,a wand that felt like a complete stranger but had shared his fate, pumpkin juice at dinner and an occasional butterbeer, and a point system that made no sense to him. It just didn't compare to Durmstrang. No, it didn't compare to anything, especially not to the tiny prison cell that he had created for, eventually, himself. To which he would need to return to, as the vision kept reminding the seer.
He grabbed every opportunity to LIVE while he still could. He indulged in teaching, two groups of students of five different years, plus the sixth and seventh year group, all of these twice a week. Initially, he had expected the average student to be exactly that –average. After just one day he had already corrected himself, the material to work with was better than expected, and apparently, children were easier to handle than the adults he had once had to work with.
Now that he got a first impression, he was jotting down a curriculum for the regular years –luckily, both Edgar Shafiq and Rosie McCoy had agreed to offer their insight. A skilled occlumens and a dragon handler: the first two students whom he approached, as they both seemed confident enough not to flee from him in panic.
“Last year we covered pretty much everything that can be taught from a book,” Shafiq mused, skipping through the fifth year material. “All they'll need is practice. It should be enough for the OWL years if they just revise once a month, when they can ask questions.”
“Anytime they can ask questions. So can you. So can the other students. Even those who didn't take Defence for their last two years. If a question is relevant, it will be duly answered.” Anything. Anytime. As long as he was here to answer them.
“So what does not fall under 'relevant', Professor?” Miss McCoy queried.
“Personal questions. My past.” Because those questions would be answered, eventually, all of them at the same time. A shiver ran through him, remembering the isolated cell that awaited him at the end of the school year.
He gave one last look to the curriculum sheets before he cast a drying charm on all five parchments, glad that he had his classroom where such a luxury was allowed. He would need to do the last two years' as well, but for now he was ready to call it a day. “May I ask something?”
“Relevant?” Miss McCoy asked back, but her smile wasn't nearly as hostile as her tone.
“Shoot,” Mr Shafiq said.
“Are History lessons really as bad?”
“I don't know, I slept through all of them,” replied Miss McCoy.
“It was good for revising Transfiguration, when nobody was snoring too loudly,” was the honest answer of Edgar Shafiq. “I remember a Hufflepuff bringing in a muggle history book once, and then we wrote about that in the next essay.”
“And?” the girl queried.
“Binns obviously didn't notice.”
'Wohl' nodded to himself. Apart from the temporary revulsion that the innocent mention of a muggle book had caused, this was exhilarating news. Had he not seen the brown owl landing in Nurmengard, he would have shamelessly taken full advantage of the situation. For example, because (much to the dismay of the newest generations of British magicals) there was no curse on the History teacher's position.
He thanked for the students' help (inwardly, thanked Miss Granger too, because her search for a book had prompted the idea) and went to dust off his memories of British history.
The morning was cold and foggy; nobody in their right mind ventured outside, so he hoped it's all right if he did. There wasn't any rule in place to prevent him from wandering the school grounds or the Forest, but he wanted to keep it that way and hadn't dared risk scaring one of the less open-minded students. He suspected Madam Sprout would be after his blood if he had done so, and Snape was due to provoke a fight. The other two house-heads were more inclined to observe first, before doing something stupid.
He enjoyed the morning chill. For days now, he'd been in a building with ample fireplaces, had warm food, could take hot baths –he wasn't freezing anymore and wasn't kept alive only by his own wandless heating charm. His body took three large meals a day as cue to 'heal' his emaciated skin-and-bone structure, he was wearing warm clothes... He didn't need any further protection from the elements.
He dipped his fingers in the Black Lake, he watched the grindylows fishing in the shallow water. A herd of centaurs trotted by on the other shore, and a black-and-white cat was trying to catch the swirling branches of the Whomping Willow. The vicious tree didn't seem to appreciate the feline's attention, but the furry thing didn't take the hint at all.
So mundane things, so meaningless.
He looked back at the castle. Who would be watching him this time? On an early Saturday morning, who would care about his whereabouts?
He put down his garment in a neatly folded pile, then, dressed in only the tracker necklace, he plunged in. After but a few strokes, he took a deep breath and dove under, unbothered by the cold. He watched the million colours of sunrise dancing on the waves he stirred.
Such an inconsequential moment, but nobody would tell him no. He would treat himself to a relaxing swim after the two hundred children.
It was half an hour later that he returned to his quarters, picking a fistful of tiny pebbles on his way, his skin a fresh shade of red and his eyes back to their separate, natural colours. He wondered if he could get away with leaving them like that, but then, his desire to last at least this one school year won against the whim to move around undisguised. After a minute of indecision, he turned his left eye to the shade of blue that was normal for his right, because even though heterochromia was rare even among wizards, the ability to self-transfigure was a common way of improving appearance. And while he was at it, he trimmed his hair back enough that next time he could towel it dry, because coming home without a drying charm wouldn't be a smart idea when the weather turns colder. That was a line where common sense beat the Durmstrang virtue.
He wasn't late for breakfast, per se, but he went later than usual. He wasn't expected to be crossing the first floor corridor when a green-marked pureblood (yet another case of a pet security troll somewhere in the family tree) was spinning one of the teachers in the air, with what appeared to be her own wand. Some other pupils of the green category gathered around the spectacle.
She pleaded with the troll descendant to put her down.
He laughed and taunted her that if muggles are so smart as she claimed them to be, she could get down from the air the muggle way.
She continued pleading with the student, with an increased dread on her face when she spotted the aged dark wizard approaching. 'Wohl' couldn't help but feel offended at her jump to the wrong conclusion.
“Permission to interfere, Professor Burbage?”
She nodded, and that was permission enough.
'Wohl' threw his wand at the student's bare neck, as if it were a dagger. The tip attached itself to the boy's skin, who now screamed and tried to tear it off himself with both hands, but his struggle was in vain. With a few strides, Grindelwald arrived to the scene, by which time the Muggle Studies teacher was safely on the ground, while her attacker's outlines were fading, as if he was about to slowly vanish. 'Wohl' unceremoniously took the wand back, and gave the paling spectators a very disapproving look. The attacker collapsed on the floor, whining miserably.
Seeing how nobody dared to oppose him, Gellert sheathed his wand and helped up the shaken Professor Burbage.
“What have you done to him?” she cried.
“He attacked a teacher.”
“Let go of me, monster!” said teacher snapped.
He did. He turned around instead, and gave each of the spectators a very icy look. “A teacher was attacked and you were just standing by.”
“If it were for her, we would be bred to stupid muggles!” another green-coded said, but not one of those dared come closer.
“Considering that your partners aren't chosen by random teachers but by you and your family, I fail to see that as a problem.”
Professor Burbage, as fragile and shaken as she was, leant down and tried to lift the weakened student from the ground. Gellert swished her wand back to her, and continued staring at the spectators.
“Not one of you shall ever dream about repeating that stunt,” he thundered. “Disagreement is acceptable. Carrying on your lineage with another pureblood is welcome. But taking the wand of another witch or wizard is an offense that won't be tolerated, not here and not outside of this castle. Professor Burbage, first and foremost, is a witch just like your mothers, only she has one less thing to be ashamed of.”
The students started to slowly back away.
“What have you done to Flint?” the witch in question demanded after casting a few renervating spells, with no success so far.
“He will regain his magic in a few hours,” Gellert coldly informed her.
“Merlin, don't you even care?! You attacked a student!”
“Who attacked a teacher! You're fine? You wouldn't be if I didn't come across!”
“What have you done, you thankless beast?” echoed another voice across the corridor. Snape emerged a moment later, a chip of toast still in the corner of his mouth.
“Far less than what you could have prevented, greaseball,” Grindelwald shot back. “Was this the first time Mr Flint attacked somebody, or did you just always arrive too late and not managed to catch him red-handed?”
“What’s going on here?” arrived Minerva McGonagall too, perhaps led to the scene by her cat sense for trouble. “Charity, are you all right?”
“Don’t worry about me, Mins,” the Muggle Studies professor rose. “It’s not me who was attacked.”
“Well, if you say so,” the freshly bathed Defence teacher murmured. He summoned some jewellery that must have been shaken off Burbage before he had arrived. Handing that back to her, he then proceeded to the Great Hall to breakfast.
On his way back to the teaching area (it was more than overdue to remove the Lockhart portraits) he heard the excited whispers all around him. “He stabbed Flint in the neck with nothing but his wand.” “Big Mark was whining like a firstie Puff when he arrived at the infirmary, I heard him!” “He had to lean on Burbage for support!” “They say Flint lost his magic.” “Do you think he would do the same to McLaggen?” “I wish I could have seen it!” “Peeves says Flint got nothing short of what he deserves, and that's saying a lot.” “Which way to the Infirmary? I need to see that for myself!”
“WOHL!” A very familiar voice echoed through the corridors. “TO MY OFFICE, IMMEDIATELY!”
So much about getting rid of the Lockhart portraits this weekend, Grindelwald thought. There wasn’t much he could do when his defeater was summoning him, he obediently took the always-moving staircases to the third floor.
He found the entire teaching staff assembled. Most were staring at him like they wanted to eat him, deep-fried. Albus was in a fret, of course, he was the one responsible for bringing the most hated wizard of the century to a school sponsored mostly by pureblood parents. Behind him, on a perch, sat a sickly-looking, grey phoenix.
“Hi, Fawkes,” he whispered, wondering if the bird recognized him. A weak croo was all the reply.
Next to the bird sat Minerva McGonagall and Charity Burbage, their expressions a bit less hostile.
“You have no sense of guilt,” Albus began, but was interrupted by the small Charms professor.
“Before we continue!” Flitwick began, standing on a chair. “Light your wands if you think Marcus Flint had it coming for over five years now!”
“That’s not the question,” old Kettleburn said, holding his wand in his single remaining limb. “Lumos.”
“Lumos,” most of the teachers echoed. McGonagall was holding her wand high above her head, her wandlight almost blinding Grindelwald.
“Now, those of you who think Flint didn't deserve whatever he got,” Flitwick commanded.
Voldemort's minion abstained; one single wand was glowing now in the otherwise dimmed room.
The wand that would never remain loyal to a master once he was defeated.
The moment passed, somebody flicked the window curtains aside. There stood the teaching staff, with Filius Flitwick ready to challenge Albus if necessary.
“Marcus is a bully, and Hogwarts will enjoy a few days without him terrorizing people,” Pomona Sprout reluctantly admitted.
“Tearing off his magic isn't how it should have been handled,” Snape pointed out.
“You had five whole years to handle him any other way,” Grindelwald shot back.
“That doesn't entitle you to...” Albus began.
“No, but being the only one willing to act does!” Gellert shouted back at him.
“Please...” In a small voice, the Muggle Studies teacher started, “I don't want to cause any further trouble for either Mr Flint or Gellert.”
Now Albus was at a loss. He couldn't let go of the dark wizard whose actions, whose mere presence he was responsible of. Neither could he ignore his naive young colleague's request.
In the tense silence the two wizards stared at each other. The others couldn't tell if there was a mental battle between two legilimens, or they were just fighting their mutual urge to do a re-match of their world-famous duel.
Maybe they had come to an agreement without either saying a word. Maybe they had both realized that there would be no winner this time.
“What’s your own assessment of the situation?” Albus finally asked.
“If Miss Burbage isn't opposed to the idea, I offer to teach her the necessary fighting skills.” With that, he turned towards the woman. “Fraulein, those who spread revolutionary views must be able to defend themselves. Please accept my help, so that the same scenario wouldn't be repeated.”
The atmosphere in the room was still tense, but at the same time, the proposal was comical. Gellert Grindelwald teaching Charity Burbage to defend herself?
“A bad joke,” the potions-bat growled.
Seeing how she was the only person in position to dissolve the situation, Burbage looked into those now-both-blue eyes. “Okay,” she whispered.
Chapter 7: Hogwarts on a good day
Not even Ron's eldest brother remembered a DADA teacher falling victim to the curse this quickly and it had become a hot topic in the Gryffindor common room. Wild theories were bandied about whether the curse was getting stronger or whether a new one had been cast by Voldemort last year. Harry had even heard Lavender telling a first year girl that Professor Wohl himself had cast the curse because he knew it would get him into Hogwarts.
He doubted anyone had the kind of foresight to cast a curse on a teaching position on the off-chance that Dumbledore would eventually employ him.
The detention that he’d been scheduled to have with Lockhart had been rescheduled of course, and he’d ended up having to help Ron clean the trophy room. It had been a particularly nasty experience because Ron kept throwing up slugs over everything.
As it turned out though, the new Defence professor was fantastic. Harry felt almost like a fully trained wizard every time he whipped his wand out of his sleeve, he could shield himself and disarm someone. Wohl’s homeworks were probably the only ones nobody struggled to get in on time – minor hexes and jinxes, exercises to speed up reaction times and occasionally they had to research some awesome wizard from history.
He leafed through the book he’d borrowed from the library earlier, trying to find out some extra details about Meridith Maleficent; a half fairy who’d become famous for petrifying young muggle girls. Professor Wohl had promised to teach a new jinx to the top assignments and he was desperate to learn the Bat Bogey Hex.
He was interrupted by a loud commotion near the notice board and looked over to see Percy Weasley pinning up a sheet of parchment. He pompously called for room, looking down his nose at the students craning to read the notice.
“Professors Wohl and Flitwick will be running a duelling club on Monday evenings before dinner.’ He announced, then threatened to take away people’s quills if they didn’t let him through as they crowded around to sign up.
“A duelling club?” Hermione stared at the crowd around the board
“Yeah, with Professor Flitwick,” Ron said. “It sounds awesome! You know he’s a duelling champion right?”
“Let's hope participants don't fail to show up like Malfoy did, last time,” Harry joked, turning back to his book. He really wanted to earn that jinx and the parchment looked pretty long so he could sign up later. “Hermione, what's wrong?”
“Professor Wohl, that's who,” the girl said. “Did nobody else hear the headmaster's warning?”
“This is approved,” Dean Thomas pointed out, returning to the fire after signing up, “Really, Hermione, I've never seen a wizarding duel, and they say it's spectacular! I thought you of all people would approve of a teacher actually willing to teach.”
“Yes, but Professor Wohl... He seems to want to change the world single-handedly.”
Harry’s fingers wandered to his scar, and he remembered standing face to face with... well... the back of Professor Quirrel. There was no way he’d be missing that sort of duelling.
He grabbed his quill and joined the crowd around the board.
To say the room was packed would be an understatement. The two professors cast additional stands, not much unlike those at the Quidditch pitch, so that everyone could see. There were piles of flyers near the room entrance, on which basic duelling spells were listed: reference name, incantation, wand movement, and an explanation of its effect. Professor Wohl, like always, stood in the middle, thriving on the attention he was given – in this one aspect he appeared disturbingly similar to Lockhart.
“The wizarding duel is the civilized way for sorting out conflicts, and arguably the best way for anyone to test his or her magical powers. You must be aware what your goal is: whether to humiliate, maul or defeat your opponent, or to raise your own reputation, catch the attention of a specific person, or simply to rise to a challenge, win a bet, or increase your skills. All of these are acceptable, when you'rechallenged to a serious duel, but always pick your goal before greeting your opponent. Today, obviously, our goal will be to educate in a safe and controlled environment.”
“The most important part, apart from your opponent of course, are the accepted limitations,” Professor Flitwick continued while Professor Wohl took a breath. “In formal duelling, and especially championships, everyone has already met one another and the are rules agreed on in advance. For example, the opponents can agree to only use spells of a specific colour, or swear to cast loudly, which can be very distracting once you got used to silent spellcasting.”
“Or to hold your beer in the other hand and not spill it; the possibilities are endless,” Professor Wohl earned a giggle from the upper years. “Once I was assisting in a duel wherethe set limitation was to have the letter U in every incantation. One of the duellists cast a Stupify, the other used the Cruciatus curse. Yes, the letter U was the ONLY limitation,” he repeated, hearing the murmur of some older students. “That’s why the rules need to be clear and exhaustive. It's not illegal if both parties agreed to it.”
“However, Unforgivables ARE prohibited in this school, duelling club or not,” Professor Flitwick hastily pointed out and several Slytherins made disappointed noises.
“What are they talking about?” Harry quietly asked.
“Unforgivables are very, very dark magic, completely illegal of course.” Hermione replied.
“Professors, what chance does one stand against them?” an impatient Ravenclaw shouted in.
“In that particular duel, the one with the Stupify won,” Professor Wohl recalled. “She had a very concentrated mind, and it was hardly the first time she was facing that curse. There was some screaming, but then she stood up, ready to continue. The other? May I remind you, there's no U in Protego.” He might have murmured something about their dormitory losing three bottles of vodka in a single night, but Harry wasn't sure he heard it right.
“Please take a look at the sheets you've been given,” the tiniest Professor continued. “Today, only the listed spells are allowed. There will be free rounds later in the year, but even then you'll be asked to only use spells that you can reverse in under three seconds, and needless to say, you are expected to do so.”
The two professors then continued demonstrating the proper greeting and the casting stance. Wohl bowed fluidly for someone as old as him, then swept into a casting stance with that awe-inspiring speed that he always demonstrated in class. For whatever reason his movement depended greatly on whether or not he had a reason to use his wand.
“The bow is not only for your opponent,” Professor Wohl stated. “It’s just as much the acceptance of the agreed-upon rules, and of course, you're calling on the power of magic in what's almost a ritual. Beware those that try to break the constraints of a duel.”
They called on a student to count them down – was that a flicker of fear in Flitwick’s eyes? Both wizards cast their spells. A bolt of red light shot from both wands, a massive shield erupted from Wohl’s wand and Flitwick dodged, casting another spell even as he twirled out of the way. Wohl cast again, three spells in quick succession then slammed his shield back into place just in time to catch Flitwick’s jinx. The tiny professor cast his own shield this time, the spells slamming into it with cracks like a rifle.
Now Wohl was on the offensive, sending spell after spell flying towards his opponent. Flitwick deflected each one with a swish of his wand, then dove to the side. Three jinxes shaved his hair but he managed to get a purple bolt off towards the older wizard. Wohl was forced to stop and put up his own shield and Flitwick launched another volley from his prone position.
Wohl shielded most, then managed to duck under the last, getting back on the offensive. A tickling charm splashed where the tiny professor had just been lying as he rolled and a red disarming spell caught him just as he fired off another spell. His wand soared into the air and Wohl reached out to catch it, just in time for his own wand to be snatched by Flitwick’s final spell.
The hall applauded as the two teachers shook hands and returned each other’s wands, even Ron's old rat appeared like he had enjoyed the show. Harry remembered the fat little pet to have watched the DADA classes as well, although he tended to sleep through the rest of the day.
After the teachers bowed to each other in a formal acceptance of the draw and in a display of continued respect, older students were called forward, who would then be asked to pick someone from their own house to train with, and so on. Harry soon found himself facing a very awkward Percy Weasley, who looked like he'd lost a bet simply by giving in to his curiosity and attending the club.
Ron ended up against George and was mercilessly tickled across the duelling floor and Hermione ended up against a fifth year girl, who was thoroughly beaten in one of the quickest duels of the evening.
With quidditch training starting the same week, Harry firmly believed this September couldn't have ended any better.
Chapter 8: Winning over
(( In which Wohl atones for all his past crimes :) ))
If anyone had told Gellert Grindelwald back in the 1940’s that a teaching position at a school half the size of Durmstrang would be more taxing than conducting a full-scale war, he would have laughed at the great joke. Now, when he was old, disenthralled and untrusted, he found that giving his best was more exhausting than he could have imagined before. Children were unpredictable in a way adult enemies were not, and they were creative!
One day he'd spotted the Weasley twins in the library, perusing the old issue of Transfiguration Today Albus had left on the table. The next morning he found odd, skin-coloured thin cables running from his quarters' door to an out-of-use corridor. He followed the cables both ways; on his side, they ended in freckled ears; on the unused corridors, he only spotted two identical figures running in the other direction, panicked.
He gathered up the two ears, amazed by the flexible and elastic skin-line almost as much as by the quality of the sound those ears transmitted. He took a parchment and jotted down his ideas so that the ears could also record what they hear, decreasing the chances of both a discovery and missing anything important. But these were really just fine modifications he was suggesting, the ears in their current state were a genial idea, and would have been invaluable in war. Furthermore, the twins might have not even thought about these before they came across that Transfiguration paper, so they must have created them in a matter of days. No wonder the staff considered them a formidable duo! And, as he had heard, only Voldemort's greasy-haired minion was safe from them, in an unspoken (?) agreement that he would refrain from bullying their siblings, in turn.
Fascinating young men.
At a whim, he jotted down the basics of the disillusionment charm (who would call THAT dark?) on the same parchment, and wrapped the ears in it. Then he left the package hidden not far from the Gryffindor room entrance, asking the guardian portrait to tell about it when the twins would re-emerge.
His first lesson that day was due with the seventh-year group. That alone demanded his attention to be divided between the two future warding specialists, the dragon handler who was now practicing fire-blocking shields at the mantelpiece (and charring a few wooden chairs when the flames spread over her protective bubble), the quidditch professional testing the difference between a wandless banishing spell and a distance-keeping ward, and the Shafiq heir fighting back a moisture demon he had trapped for him in the Forbidden Forest the day before.
But all these were just background distractions – his focus was on the metamorphmagus girl.
“I think it's not exactly clumsiness, but your mind and magic are being both distracted from what you want to be doing. Do you have another metamorphmagus in your family?”
“No, definitely not on my mother's side, that would be on record, and my father is muggleborn.”
There was nobody to train her.
“I’m not one either, but maybe we could go with attention training in general.”
“Lift this plume, and keep it afloat. Try it with minimum wand movement. Your body is not meant to be involved in the levitation, only your mind, and a small fragment of that.”
The grey plume with scarlet colouring on the edge moved around on the table, doing flips and drifting between the parchments, but not going up one centimeter. Then Miss Tonks got angry with it, and it darted towards the ceiling.
“Keep it in one place,” he whispered. “Yes, like that. Now tell me about your family.”
“Well, as I said, my fa...”
She summoned the feather from behind the chalkboard, and positioned it firmly between their noses.
“My father is Ted Tonks, he was a Hufflepuff like me,” she began. The grey plume was dancing around them at eye level now, so she gathered it again, giving it a threatening stare.
“Amazing. Do you even notice that you took his shape when you started talking about him?”
“No problem, go on like this. So, he is muggleborn. Do you keep contact with your muggle grandparents?”
“Of course, every Christmas we...”
“Plume,” he reminded her, before it would have plummeted into Miss McCoy's burning shield.
Summoning the feather again, Miss Tonks continued talking about her muggle ancestors, enthusiastically shifting between a woman who appeared decades younger than Gellert, and a man who had the same brown eyes and thick hair as Tantie Bathilda. The teacher's mind was spinning, thinking of any mentions of a squib in that line of his family tree. Knowing how Fate seemed to throw all its irony on him, it was far from impossible that this young auror wannabe was somehow related to his grandmother's family.
“Stop. Now try to just shift between appearances while keeping the plume in place.”
A shout of alarm broke his attention, and a roar of fire told him exactly where to look. He twirled and flipped his wand, spraying water across the room and drenching everyone near the unfortunate McCoy who’d wandered heedlessly into the newly set wards. With nothing to fight, the wards disintegrated into the semi-sentient moisture demon which rounded on Shafiq. Talented as he was, the young wizard froze as the magical creature bore down on him after gaining double strength.
Gellert threw a bolt of carefully controlled flame, which narrowly missed evaporating the creature, but frightened it enough for it to burst through the repaired window and flee in the direction of the greenhouses where the first years were having their Herbology lesson.
Cursing his much decreased wand-eye coordination, Gellert leapt towards the window and cast a second bolt of fire towards the demon, this one larger now that he was unconstrained by being indoors. The massive ball of flames impacted solidly with the demon, which evaporated into a ball of steam.
He took a moment to catch his breath, then after a quick caution for McCoy to be more careful, returned to the young Metamorphmagus he had been tutoring.
“All right, I'm back. Sorry for the inconvenience.”
“Professor, I understand there's only five of us, but could you please consider dividing us in groups?” Shafiq tried. “I mean, these practicals are wonderful, but maybe if we wouldn't be distracting each other...”
“I doubt the idea would be welcome,” Grindelwald mused. “If I had my way I would be teaching everyone individually.”
“I’m free on Tuesdays!” Miss Tonks immediately shouted. “I mean, there's the Charms Club on Monday after Duelling, and Cedric asked me to help with the quidditch training on Wednesdays...” She spread large wings that used to be her arms just a moment before. Then, remembering her given task, she pulled out a pink feather with her right hand, and offered that instead of the plume she had lost once again.
Grindelwald summoned his timetable from his quarters, and began to write.
That same timetable soon had another note in it, 'Weasleys and Jordan, espionage techniques' for Thursdays, right above Charity Burbage's self-defence classes. The three fourth-years were smart and observant, they would have been any teacher's dream –if not for the twins leaving an ashwincer egg in the fireplace, or Mr Jordan keeping his pet spiders between his own deadlocks, or the self-propelling roll of Spello-tape that escaped the classroom and glued the staircases to random floors... He made a mental note never to get on their bad side.
Miss Burbage was another sort of impossible mission. She, like most Hogwarts students in the past decades, was happy to manage 'acceptable' at Defence, then went on with her peaceful mindset and expected everybody around her to feel the same way. Gellert did his best to get her attention, and as she was one of those few who had been told about his true identity, he started to share anecdotes of his early years as a revolutionary, focusing on the magical methods behind each spell, and pointing out frequently how irrationally wizards tend to act. He hoped that once she truly understood why she needed to learn, she would start to improve. Going around like she did was plain suicide.
“I never expected I would have anything in common with... Well, anybody from Durmstrang,” she said after an exhausting spell practice. “Absolutely not with you.”
“With how I'm on the receiving end of Fate's sense of humour, I'm not surprised by the same. But why are you prejudiced against the entire Durmstrang?”
“It doesn't even accept muggleborn students!” Charity stated. “Why do you think that is?”
“You think it's the supremacist views? That's what I thought at the age of ten. At one hundred and ten, I got a look at the same question from a teacher's point of view. Just this week, I had to break up five corridor fights between purebloods and muggleborns. Imagine the same sort of possible conflicts in a school where 'how to fight a ridgeback' and 'ways of keeping dead shamans from possessing you' are first year materials. The staff would have gone mad in a day; which reminds me, I trust that nobody else has dared lay a finger on you since we last talked.”
“No... And Mr Flint has been released from the infirmary three days after. He missed out a few classes, but no lasting harm was done.”
“I told you. I didn't go easy on him, but that's overacting on his side.”
“What did you do to him? Dark magic?”
“The level of dark magic that can get one expelled from Durmstrang,” the aged wizard grinned. “All right, steady your shields, I'm attacking in three... two...”
“Not yet, I'm exhausted.”
“I trust there's no need to tell you how unrealistic that was,” Grindelwald said with theatrical disappointment, backing away from her and lowering his wand.
“I’d be toast,” Charity nodded.
That was true. “I'm here so that you wouldn't be,” he reassured her. “The things I have to put up with...” He suddenly turned around, grabbed her wand, then held it on his palm tauntingly.
“Expelliarmus,” she sighed.
“No, that's for taking my wand, and extremely hard to perform wandlessly. You're talking to your own. Accio.”
“Accio,” she tried now. “Accio – willow with phoenix, thirteen and a third inches, stubborn piece.”
“Stubborn piece indeed,” the old professor said to the young one.
His patience was worn so thin by the time Charity Burbage's one hour was over, he went for a swim in the Black Lake, opting to miss out dinner. The cold water helped him reorganize his thoughts, gather his focus, rebuild his mental shields. 'What have I done to deserve this' was one of the most frequent screams of his abused mind, and he froze half-dead in the lake before he stopped rebelling the answer. Training HER was the one and only way to show the staff how much he had changed. He couldn't just pick the easiest 'challenges' and least of all was he supposed to 'only' train the future auror and have some fun with the Weasley pranksters at the cost of everybody else.
Life was never meant to be about doing what's easy. And he was here to LIVE, while he could, just for that short while.
He eventually climbed out of the lake, rubbed himself in the towel... then plunged back in, noticing a first-year girl coming from the direction of the gamekeeper's hut.
It was dark, he only spotted her in time because he'd heard her footsteps, there was good chance she didn't see him. Indeed, she walked on without stopping at his pile of folded clothes, much to his relief.
He wondered what she might have been doing at the hut while Hagrid was quite predictably having dinner in the Great Hall. But then, he had already started to freeze over before she had shown up, so he just crawled back on the shore as soon as he was sure she wouldn't notice him. He rubbed himself with the already-wet towel, because he didn't dare risk being caught using magic butt naked, in the night, with a first-year just passing by.
Chapter 9: Halloween
Hermione had been looking forwards to Nearly-Headless Nick’s deathday party ever since Harry had told her that he’d accepted the invitation. There were almost no recorded accounts of a living being attending a deathday party, which meant she had absolutely no idea what to expect. Of the three of them, she was maybe the only one to not be reluctant as they passed the twinkling pumpkins and tantalising smells of the great hall.
The passageway down to the party had been lined with candles that burned with an icy blue flame that did more to create large shadows than light the corridor. As the light shifted from gold to blue, the temperature dropped, until their breath misted. Fog coiled around their feet as they reached the bottom of the stairs and a sound like fingernails on chalk boards reached their ears. Hermione winced at the awful noise and pulled her robes tighter around her. She hadn’t expected it to be this cold.
The room they arrived at was well worth the discomfort though. Nick greeted them at a door hung with black and silver curtains, then after Hermione handing him their present – one of Colin Creevey’s photographs of Nick looking particularly frightening - they were allowed in.
There were hundreds of pearly white ghosts, shining under a chandelier of more black candles. They drifted around, some dancing on a black dance floor whilst other hung around high tables covered in silver platters of food. A quartet of skeletons played instruments on a raised platform, creating the horrible screeching sound that they had heard earlier.
‘Shall we have a look around?’ She asked eagerly. She’d read once that there were ghosts in other schools and maybe one of them had come to visit. She’d have loved to hear more about Beauxbatons in France.
‘Careful.’ Ron muttered as Harry almost walked through a grumpy looking nun.
She peered around, looking at all the fascinating ghosts as she was dragged in the direction of the table. She was so distracted by a draconic looking witch that she actually reached for one of the cakes on the table.
A warm hand landed on her wrist, stopping it just before she could touch.
‘I wouldn’t, if I were you Miss Granger.’ A familiar voice said over the scraping music. She jumped, squeaking slightly as she faced Professor Wohl.
‘What are you doing here?’ She demanded before she could stop herself, wondering if she should be running to find a teacher now.
‘I imagine much the same as you and your friends here.’ He answered, splaying his hand towards the tombstone shaped grey cake that took pride of place on a separate table. Even as they watched, a fat ghost in Roman armour bent down and took a bite from tarry looking icing, sighing contentedly as if he had just had a filling meal. ‘Enjoying a party.’
‘Aren’t you meant to be at the feast?’ She demanded suspiciously and the dark wizard laughed.
‘Aren’t you?’ He replied, pulling a sandwich from inside his cloak and tearing it into quarters. He handed some to each student, digging into his own. Hermione eyed the strange combination of ham, jam and rice suspiciously but ate it anyway, grimacing as she did.
‘Actually, Albus sent me to enchant the skeletons.’ The teacher offered after a long look. Hermione could have sworn his eyes were different colours, but decided the blue one was just a strange reflection from the candles.
‘Oh. Have you been to many of these parties?’ Hermione asked curiously, keen to gain some information on the mysterious professor.
‘A few...’ he was interrupted by a loud string of German and his face broke into a cheerful grin as he spun on his heel and returned the words, exchanging a close approximation of a hug with a man in a German soldier’s uniform. Hermione peered around him curiously as the two conversed animatedly, the soldier producing a woman in a smart RAF uniform and introducing her to Professor Wohl.
Suddenly the woman seemed to notice that Hermione was there and she cooed excitedly, putting her face through the professor to inspect her.
‘A student!’ She marvelled, stepping the rest of the way through Wohl to look her over.
‘Hermione Granger.’ She introduced herself, fascinated by this woman who was clearly a muggle.
‘ Ermione, vat a luffly name.’ The soldier exclaimed and the professor sighed in frustration. ‘I am Henry, a friend ov... Abernathy.’ He stumbled over the name but Hermione was too transfixed by the red and black symbols on his uniform.
‘You were a Nazi?’ She asked the teacher, horrified and wondering suddenly if she should be keeping her multi-cultural dorm mates away from him. Professor Dumbledore had warned them! A fit of surprised coughing distracted her and she realised the soldier seemed to find her realisation amusing.
‘Nein, I am just a friend. I vas in a camp in Britain, zen moved to Egypt. I met Abernathy ven I vas released, I also met zis vonderful voman.’ He snaked a ghostly arm around his wife and pulled her to the forefront. The wife reared up with that almost predatory look that some women got when they were about to utterly smother some poor child in awkward compliments and hugs. Hermione braced herself and suddenly a horn blared.
‘The hunt.’ Wohl announced solemnly, and suddenly a host of silvery horses burst through the wall. The crowd clapped as the massive animals reared and plunged and the riders tossed oddly shaped balls between them. Then with a last ghostly scream, the horses faded and the riders were dismounted to socialise with the other guests.
‘I would advise you find your friends and leave now Miss Granger, the hunt is hardly a place for students.’ Wohl ordered quietly, and it only took one look at his serious yet somehow gentle expression for her to nod in agreement and grab Harry and Ron, hurrying from the room.
Moments later the three were emerging from the darkly lit corridor and feeling somewhat like they’d just returned to the living in more ways than one. Ron was just mentioning something about dessert when Harry suddenly froze, stumbling towards the wall and pressing his ear against it strangely.
She exchanged a puzzled look with Ron, before Harry suddenly took off down the hall bellowing something about a voice. The ginger looked back at the invitingly open doors to the great hall before they took off after him.
He paused briefly on the first floor, begging them to listen. Frightened, Hermione did but she could hear nothing except the distant murmuring of portraits.
‘It’s going to kill someone!’ He shouted, bursting into motion and hurtling up the stairs. Terrified and bewildered, Hermione hurried after him, following the tails of his robe as he whipped around corners and through doorways. He thundered through the entire second floor before screeching to a halt in the last passage, having found no monster poised to kill.
‘What in Merlin’s baggy pants...’ Ron began, chest heaving as he leaned against the wall to catch his breath. Then he made a disgusted noise and pulled his hand away from the wall. His expression scrunched as he looked down at his hand, then his gaze moved upwards and he whimpered, pointing one crimson stained hand at huge letters painted on the wall.
‘The Chamber of Secrets has been opened. Enemies of the heir, beware.’ Hermione read out loud, the words seeming familiar yet nonsensical at the same time. ‘What’s that?’ She asked suddenly, pointing at something grey and bedraggled looking that hung from an empty torch bracket beneath the words.
‘Mrs. Norris!’ Ron realised, ‘We need to get out of here.’
For once, it seemed he knew more than her about something. Maybe it was one of those things that wizarding families told their kids.
‘We should get help...’ protested Harry.
‘Ron’s right. We really don’t want to be found here.’ She tugged at his sleeve but it was too late. There was a rumble of voices coming up the stairs, the trio went to turn left and take the lesser known passage but footsteps from that direction alerted them that that stairwell was being used as well. Moments later students poured into the corridor from both ends.
For a moment there was shocked silence as the two groups took in the gory scene, then a voice rang out across the hall, reading out the writing on the wall. Malfoy pushed to the front of one of the groups, something Hermione noticed as odd because he should have been going down to the dungeons after dinner, not coming up to the second floor.
‘You’ll be next, Mudbloods!’ He sneered, confirming her theory that this was something wizarding children all knew about. Apparently, something that could see her kind in great danger.
Then from there it only got worse; Argus Filch pushed his way through the crowds of students, growling at everyone to get out of his way. The trio tried to melt back into the safe anonymity of the Ravenclaw students but they had none of it, forcing the three to remain in the clear line of sight of the caretaker. The man’s eyes flickered between the cat on the wall and the words, then he zeroed in on Harry.
‘You! What have you done to my cat!’ Filch screeched, shuffling up close until spittle flew across their faces ‘You’ve murdered her! I’ll kill you, I’ll...’
Professor Dumbledore swept past them, the spectators parting like the Red Sea around him. Several teachers hurried behind him and began shooing away the students. He unhooked the cat from the wall and surveyed the three quailing students over his half moon glasses.
‘Argus, come with me; you too Mr Potter, Mr Weasley, Miss Granger. Poppy, please find Professor Wohl and tell him to meet us in his office.’ The nurse hurried off obligingly as McGonagall and Snape exchanged meaningful looks.
They left the now silent corridor, exchanging nervous glances as they trailed after the headmaster. As much as Hermione dearly wanted to protest her innocence, she was too afraid to utter so much as a word. It seemed once again things were not safe at Hogwarts.
As they entered Wohl’s darkened office, the single portrait of Lockhart that still remained squealed in embarrassment and hurriedly tried to rub off the chalk moustache that had been drawn across his face. Then there were the eerily glowing pieces of writing drawn across the walls: apparently, theirs wasn't the only class when Professor Wohl had found the chalkboard too small to express himself, and after classes he must have found it easier to turn the words invisible, rather than erasing them. During the daytime classes, it was surprising but convenient that they had the material of their previous class on the walls and could continue from right where they had left it. Now in the night, at least five years' teaching material was shining through the enchantment, making it appear nonsensical, but at the same time, rather frightening.
‘I’ll never understand his habit for doing this,’ Dumbledore muttered as he placed the frozen cat on the table. He bent down to examine her as the three students looked on nervously. The door slamming open made all of them jump, except for the headmaster who just turned to calmly face the newest teacher.
‘Abernathy. I hoped you might be able to offer your advice on this.’ The headmaster stepped aside as the Defence teacher strode up to the desk. He didn’t lean as close as the other teachers had, instead poking the body and shining a bright light into the cat’s eyes. Filch whimpered as he cast a diagnosis spell, which glowed an ominous red.
‘It was definitely a curse that killed her – probably the Transmogrifian Torture...’ The portrait made them all jump before a greenish-yellow spell from Professor Wohl melted the paint into a brownish dribble.
‘It was not a curse that I know of.’ He said quietly and Dumbledore looked satisfied. Filch gave a great sob.
‘She’s not dead, Argus.’ Dumbledore told the snivelling man softly. ‘Merely petrified.’
“She looks like she was caught in the aftershock of a destructive phenomenon,” Professor Wohl concluded. “But that should have left a more prominent trace near wherever she was hit.”
“There was nothing but a writing on the wall in chicken blood,” Headmaster Dumbledore firmly stated. “I checked. Only the writing and a broken water pipe.”
Professor Wohl continued examining the petrified cat. He'd been murmuring to himself in odd languages, apparently shifting between them mid-sentence. He didn't appear to be doing any sort of magic, more like, talking to himself, no mind paid to the people in the room.
‘I’m sure Madam Pomfrey will be able to brew up the potion to cure her. I heard that Pomona was growing a crop of mandrakes already.’ Dumbledore said, evidently in an attempt to comfort Filch. The caretaker leapt to his feet, pointing wildly at Harry.
‘Ask him! He did it.’ Hermione cowered as the caretaker’s blotchy, beady eyes focused on them.
‘No student could have done this, Argus.’ reassured the headmaster, ‘it would take advanced dark magic...’
Harry made noises of protest even as Filch shouted his accusations over him. The headmaster closed his mouth and watched with a vaguely concerned expression as the two tried to outshout each other.
‘If I might speak, Headmaster.’ Snape purred from the shadows, stepping out into the light. ‘Potter and his friends may have just been in the wrong place at the wrong time, but the circumstances are suspicious. Why were they not at the Halloween feast?’ His accusatory gaze turned on the three students as if waiting for an answer he didn’t expect them to be able to give.
“Mr Potter has a rather valid and personal reason not to happily join the merry crowd today, if I have to remind you of that,” Professor Wohl said, not looking up from the petrified feline. “His friends accompanied him to their house ghost's death day party.”
‘But why not attend the feast afterwards, why come up to that corridor?’ A triumphant expression slid across his face as the three of them stuttered for a moment.
‘We weren’t hungry?’ Harry answered but it came out as more like a question. Ron’s stomach rumbled loudly into the silence.
Snape took a triumphant breath and both boys next to her winced visibly, then to her surprise Wohl stepped forwards.
“Do I need to point out how little it is your business whether Mr Potter has no appetite tonight? Or do you need a reminder whose fault that was?”
Professor Snape winced, as if he'd been hit in the face. With a bludger.
“What was that about?” Ron stared.
“No idea,” Harry sighed. “At least there was no troll this year.”
‘I think we can all understand why they would have decided to forgo dinner this evening,’ Professor McGonagall mirthlessly stated.
‘Innocent until proven guilty, Severus.’ The headmaster decided, shooing them off. The Potions master looked after them with a furious expression, as did Filch. Hermione made a note to teach Harry a cleaning charm to use after quiddich – the caretaker would certainly be gunning for him now.
Chapter 10: History
With Sprout’s permission, Gellert cast additional wards around the greenhouse where the mandrakes had been growing - but there wasn't much else he could do to protect them without harming the students that took classes there.
He’d also begun his training regimen again. It was something he had kept to religiously before his fall and it had kept his reactions sharp and his magic strong. Now he had a long way to go to force his body back into shape. The practice duel at the duelling club had almost been embarrassing; he wouldn’t add a half-goblin to the list of people who could defeat him.
He spent two days in the Restricted Section, reading about Salazar Slytherin and his mysterious Chamber, but apart from 'nothing new in the past millennium,' there wasn't much of a conclusion he could make. There wasn't a single mention of the Chamber in the history of the school, and there had been attempts to find it from time to time, and there even had been a great reconstruction when they had built the drainage system.
A portrait on the way to the dungeon slipped that several of Slytherin's descendants had been Sorted to the ancestor's house, so maybe that was a cryptic hint that the search for the Chamber might have been cunningly sabotaged. Albus couldn't help more than sharing his suspicion about a young Voldemort.
Which left Gellert with nothing to do about the Chamber, but to hope that the mandrakes would reach adulthood safely. Whatever had petrified that cat, its next target could be a student, again.
Hagrid was the next he intended to talk to, but the large gamekeeper was not yet over the mysterious death of his roosters. Then Silvanus Kettleburn told the dark wizard how Hagrid's wand had been snapped when his pet spider had been found out. The cheerful professor with the too many missing limbs also warned his new colleague not to wander too deep in the Forest, or he might find himself dressed in acromantula silk from head to toe.
He didn't intend to. The attacker was and had always been inside the castle building.
He searched for signs of dark magic, but all he found was a mess of layer upon layer, from the present back to the foundation. He cast revealing charms, but those only showed the hundreds of students passing each day, for an entire millennium.
The third of November found both Minerva McGonagall and Charity Burbage in a glum mood. “It’s the birthday of a wizard we trusted and loved,” she explained at breakfast when he inquired. “Her favourite student. My... reason I picked up an interest in muggle things.”
“What did he do?”
“He was the one who betrayed James and Lily to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.”
Gellert was trying to divide his attention between her story and the delicious breakfast, but really, the latter was more important for him than some love story. Then the morning post came, and everybody but him was showered in correspondence with the outside world.
He sighed: Hogwarts was the 'outside world' for him. He turned his (currently dark brown) eyes from the children, and continued with his meal. He better had, there would be no more orange juice once he's put back in his bleak and barren cell.
Albus came, and by his appearance he hadn't slept much more than 'Professor Wohl' had. They greeted each other like two colleagues would, not like enemies dependent on each other. Seeing Gellert had almost finished his meal, the headmaster placed a small pile of parchment next to his plate. “I wonder if you can make any more sense of it than we already have, Abernathy.”
Those were the cases of Voldemort's first murders, mistaken by the aurors as acromantula attacks. Gellert refilled his orange juice once more before reaching for the first one.
Of course, the truly competent aurors of the time had been busy elsewhere, and maybe so had been Dumbledore, but the way Hagrid had been made a scapegoat was a fine example of the generic human stupidity and short-sightedness.
The victims (muggleborn students -apparently, bringing them to the same school as blood supremacist offspring hadn't done them much good) had all been killed with their eyes open, in some very fast-working way. Anybody who had ever touched acromantula silk in their lives should have known the spiders had nothing to do with it.
“Was this position already cursed, back then?”
Then there was no other excuse for the complete overlook of evidence. In fact, Gellert had a good reason to doubt any and all word in those documents.
“They were all alone,” he finally pointed out. “Even the cat now. Whatever your elusive chamber phantom is, it doesn't attack large groups, only solitary students. That gives you a way to protect your school, even if you don't like it.”
“I’m not letting you hold those History club sessions.”
“Filius has already agreed to oversee for the sake of accuracy.”
“What have I agreed to?” arrived the tiny professor.
“Back me up about the History club we've talked about.”
“Good morning! What have I missed?” arrived Bathsheda Babbling, grabbed a slice of toast and spread a block of butter on it with her wand.
“Our one and only Wohl wants to start a History club.”
“Hopefully not about himself!” remarked Septima Vector from the far side of the long table.
“Funny,” shot back the replacement of Gilderoy Lockhart.
Meanwhile, Filius Flitwick was talking animatedly about the planned History club.
“I thought you two agreed on a duelling faculty,” mused Charity Burbage. “What has changed?”
“The duelling club is already running,” replied 'Abernathy Wohl'. “But that is on Mondays. Wednesdays, after the warding extracurricular, we could give ground to History.”
“That’s unfair, Aurora said she doesn't want to miss it. But her classes always start two hours after dinner.”
Gellert put his timetable next to the pile Albus had gathered for him. “Any suggestions?”
Charity was the first to point out, “Wohl, you really spread yourself thin.”
“Sight discussion with the Patil twins?” Pomona Sprout noted the Friday afternoon plans.
“Deutsche Sprache mit Ravenclaw 1-7,” frowned Babbling. “It looks like you wrote 4 there, at first, but then corrected to all years.”
“At the start, it was only fourth year,” Gellert nodded. “But thank you for reminding me, I need to add Slytherin first three years to that.”
“Seventh year shift one, seventh year shift two, three, what do they mean?” Aurora Sinistra queried.
“Defence classes. Two of the students in the first hour, two in the second, somebody usually gets to continue in the third. It's much safer when there are only two people to watch, we haven't charred the room again ever since.”
“I was under the impression the seer ability is natural,” Babbling pointed at the Patils' name.
“But if it isn't trained to be channelled in very conscious observation, you get a seer who cannot make sense of the world around her. Miss Patils' parents expressed their wish to not let their girls end up like Madam Trelawney. Miss Padma’s sight is less prominent, and she has a better grip on small bits of information. And Miss Parvati Patil has already made some very promising observations.” He drank the last of his orange juice, trying to shield a specific memory from the legilimens sitting a few chairs away. Of course, Dumbledore had the right to read his thoughts anytime, that was one of the first conditions he had to agree to before even leaving his cell. Still, it wasn't a comforting thought that the headmaster now had access to the memory of Parvati Patil telling him in which store one can get swimming pants. He was sobered from the (mutual) embarrassment by Charity, who asked, “All right, so could you move the warding extra by half an hour? So that the History club can start sooner.”
The last class that day was with the second-year Gryffindors – he had to shuffle the schedule a bit, but today's topic wasn't something that could be held with two Houses present. Especially not with the hostility he had to control even on a normal day.
The children were now confident in their wandwork, so he could move to the next level: pushing them out of their comfort zone.
“Form pairs or triads, the point is trust and friendship. First pair, please. Miss Brown, Miss Patil. Swap wands.”
“WHAT?” Lavender screamed. “This is my wand, and that one is hers, why would I take that?”
“Because you might find yourself in a desperate need for just any wand, and you'd better get used to the idea in a controlled environment, not when your life depends on it. Besides, in a few minutes she will have yours.”
It was always a challenge, especially to curse somebody with a wand that had been in their use for years. The sooner they grow out of depending on their own tools, the better.
From the corner of his eyes he noticed Potter swap wands with Ronald Weasley before it was the red-head's turn to swap with Granger. On the one hand, being able to help a friend out was the point of the lesson anyway, but on the other hand, there had to be some embarrassing reason for the boys to do so.
He called forth Thomas and Finnigan so that Weasley and Potter could swap their wands back, but he didn't miss the thick layer of Spello-tape on Ronald's true wand.
Spello-tape. On the wand of a pureblood.
“Mr Potter, Mr Longbottom.” The two stepped forward. They had seen the task already, so they didn't even wait to be told to light their swapped wands.
“Lumos,” they both said. Potter managed a reluctant ball of fire from what he described as a lethargic and unresponsive wand, but Longbottom, he almost blinded everyone in the room.
Curiously, 'Wohl' offered his own. The result wasn't as extreme this time, but it was still intense. “Please stay for a few words after class.”
“Yes, sir,” Neville stuttered.
“Good. Now, a friendly exchange of hexes, let's see if you can command a wand against its master.”
There was no real need for defences that day, as almost every spell either missed or went underpowered. The class was dismissed with the homework to borrow wands from at least three separate people and write down their experiences with them. No hexing outside class, he reminded, only basic charms and transfigurations, and absolutely no challenging each other for any sort of contest.
Once he was left alone with the young pureblood (and Granger – she didn't seem to have faith in him to be left alone with the other student unsupervised) he took a closer look at Longbottom and his wand. The boy's twirling memories of a father, tortured insane and left in the British wizarding hospital without hope for recovery, caught him off balance. And that auror's demise wasn't even Grindelwald's fault.
“Mr Longbottom, I accept there's a sentimental value to a family wand, but this one had belonged to an auror who was defeated and undone. Keep it as a backup, but don't expect much from it.”
The boy nodded feebly, and hurried after the others. The teacher's focus shifted back to preparations for the extra History lesson that had been approved earlier that day.
He really had outdone himself that evening. Filius stood back next to him as they surveyed what had once been the quiddich pitch but was now a full size battlefield. They had transfigured all the stones that he had collected into boulders to mimic the Dartmoor fells where Emeric the Evil had duelled Egbert the Egregious on his dragon. A transfigured paper crane played the part of the dragon and a pair of suits of armour (period specific of course) had been enchanted to be the two wizards.
The first of the students would arrive soon and Filius was practically bouncing with excitement as one last time they ran through the list of spells they would use. It would be a tricky little demonstration to make work but Gellert was certain the students would never mix up Emeric the Evil with Ulric the Oddball again.
Chapter 11: Quidditch!
“Hey, Tonks! Have you decided already what colours to wear today?”
“Lanie! It's... Tempus... 8:34 in the morning,” the other girl moaned, her skin currently the same pasty yellow as her bed sheet. Then all of a sudden, her eyes sprang open. “Merlin, it's 8:34, why didn't you wake me?” She stumbled out of her bed, then promptly fell on her belly as her legs got tangled in her blanket.
“Because it's Saturday,” her dorm mate informed her. Being a Hufflepuff, Melanie Watts didn't laugh her in the face, just helped her up and stepped back to the mirror, her wand trained at her own robe. “Quidditch Saturday! So what will you wear?”
“The same as you,” Tonks murmured, her skin still bed-sheet-coloured.
“That’s what I'm afraid of,” Lanie said.
“Black and yellow. Who are playing today?”
“Gryffindor and Ravenclaw.”
“Black and yellow will do,” Tonks decided, shortening her bubblegum pink hair to minimum, then growing it back to its usual style. It was much easier to do than to untangle it with combing charms every morning.
“Tonks, it's the first match this school year!” Lanie reminded her sleepy dorm mate. “When did you get back here yesterday?”
“What took you so long?” Lanie asked. “Is it a boy from another House?”
“Call me a carrierist, Lanie, but I want to get in the Auror Corps. And it will be darn impossible without Potions.”
Without an invitation, Melanie sat down on the pasty yellow bed, facing Nymphadora. “It might be news to you, but you are a metamorphmagus. The Auror Corps will be begging for you to join them, not the other way around.”
“Which is all nice, but I don't want to fail in a real situation because of my lack of knowledge, either.”
“So?” Lanie asked. “You studied Potions until the library closed for the night? Why didn't you just borrow whatever you were reading?”
Tonks stared in front of herself, lost in thoughts. “I don't know why Wohl cannot permit me borrowing from the Restricted Section. Pince was cool with me going in there with him, she was cool with him giving me Moste Potente Potions, she was cool with him leaving me alone in the RS, but let me borrow it? Nah.”
“Ask another teacher,” Melanie suggested. “Or just tell your parents you want it for Christmas. Mine are always happy when I hint them what gift I want.”
“I’ll try Sprout, thanks for the idea,” Tonks grinned with a tired smile.
By the time they finished with their morning ablutions, the official breakfast time was over, but as Hufflepuffs they were at an advantage – after tickling the painting of the pear on the kitchen door, the elves greeted them without even being surprised, and passed the girls their favourite sandwiches. They both thanked politely, patted some on the head. Melanie allowed a young one climb in her lap while she was having breakfast, Tonks entertained some others with her metamorphmagus abilities. They exchanged school gossip, especially about boys and the Weasleys' latest pranks. Tonks tried to get something about the mysterious Wohl as well, but (not for the first time) she was informed that the elves had been ordered not to talk to him, because he was a ‘very-very bad wizard'.
“I wonder how he can be much worse than Snape,” Melanie remarked. “I have yet to hear that Wohl tried to frighten you out of anything.”
“Not that I would be so easily frightenable,” Tonks laughed, chewing on her second sandwich. “But you're right, he never tried it. Which is odd; dark wizards don't usually match well with law enforcement.”
“Law enforcement Tonks,” Melanie laughed. “My goodness, we've grown!”
The two girls ascended the stairs to the earthy-smelling Hufflepuff exit, then trotted down the way to the quidditch pitch. Melanie went to chat with a very anxious Ravenclaw friend of hers, who would be playing on the beater position for the first time.
It was a wonderful morning, and Tonks enjoyed sitting in the damp grass, watching as the players surfaced from the changing rooms. She watched Professor Burbage patting a disheartened Professor McGonagall. Then the Indian twin sisters passed her, shouting Professor Wohl's name, and very excitedly the two of them (one wearing an eye-burning red and gold hat, the other, dressed as a cerulean raven) handed him a rolled-up parchment.
“Heya, Tonks!” a familiar voice greeted her from behind. “So easy to sneak up on you. Have you seen Wohl today? He changed his eyes to blue!”
“At least they're not blue and bronze,” Tonks turned around to face her Ravenclaw yearmate. “Hi, Edgar. You look spectacular!”
“First match of the school year!” Shafiq nodded before rushing on in his bronze feathers, trying to catch the best spot still available in a Ravenclaw group.
Tonks chatted with some friends from Transfiguration class all her way up to a stand, eventually ending up in a primarily Gryffindor one. She changed her hair to a dark honey blond, which could be taken as gold, bronze or even Hufflepuff yellow depending on the light.
She took a seat next to a pair of Hufflepuffs from the year below, they were both dressed in red and gold but nothing as obnoxious as the roaring lion hat the young Gryffindor further up the stand wore.
The quiddich match started promptly and Tonks settled in to watch. She was a fan of quiddich of course – who wasn’t? But the students pottering around on old brooms was a far cry from the lightning speeds, death defying stunts and immaculate coordination of a professional team. She let the roars and cries of the crowd wash over her and engaged in one of her favourite hobbies – people watching.
She could see Hagrid a couple of stands across, the only staff member not in the staff stand. He had a set of binoculars that never would have fitted on a normal human. Harry Potter’s friends sat beside him, the girl fending off his coat as the half-giant shook his fist up at one of the players. From the boos, it was a foul.
The Ravenclaw chaser took his penalty shot, which was defended by the Gryffindor keeper to a round of cheers from the red and gold spectators.
She saw Wohl in the teacher stand, looking bored as he scribbled in a notebook. He scowled every time the exuberant Professor McGonagall jostled him but otherwise ignored the proceedings of the match.
Gasps of horror drew her attention back to the match and she looked up to see the bludger rocketing towards Potter. The boy dodged and it soared cleanly past, blasting a hole in the opposite stand. Then it did a U-turn on its own and rocketed straight back towards the second year. He swerved this time and one of the beaters hammered the bludger away from him.
Before the bludger would have turned around again towards Harry's broom for the third time, she spotted Wohl stand up and march to the upper corner of the blue and bronze coloured stand, point his wand at the oddly moving ball in a manner that allowed no place for an appeal. Indeed, the large black bludger changed direction again, summoned by an infuriated Wohl, then crashed into the wood just a few inches from the teacher. Once out of the stadium airspace, it was immediately trapped in a magical sphere. Tonks couldn't make out Wohl's expression anymore, because now he was looking away from her.
Finally free of the crazy bludger, Harry rocketed towards the ground. There were gasps of horror as he failed to slow as he got closer, then he yanked his boom upwards and levelled out at the last moment, snatching the snitch from where it hovered inches above the grass.
As the other spectators were leaving their seats, she spotted Wohl waving her closer. Deciding it'd be easier to fly than to climb down these stairs in her stand, and climb up those at the other stand again, she instead pulled up her sleeves and changed her arms into strong wide wings.
She was a clumsy flier, compared to a real bird, but she landed only one platform below his seat level. With the rest of the spectators gone, she ascended the remaining few steps, and looked her teacher in the eyes.
Shafiq was not kidding. Wohl had indeed changed his eye colour to blue for the match, but despite Ravenclaw's loss he didn't appear disappointed at all; then he hadn’t seemed that interested to begin with.
“Good morning, Miss Tonks.”
“You too, Professor. Blue eyes really compliment you.”
For a moment, Wohl seemed quite baffled, before offering a polite, “I’ll take that from a natural talent.”
Curiously, she moved to examine the bludger that had been banging at the inside of the nigh-invisible sphere during match, but was levitating, seemingly harmlessly, right now. As harmlessly as a 70-kilograms black ball can levitate.
“That is exactly why I'm glad you came over, Miss Tonks. It's currently in a stasis sphere, I'm sure you will learn it with the aurors, but I heard it's also useful when you don't want your dinner to overcook,” he said with a half-smile. Her instincts yelled that he was lying, but why would anybody lie about a household charm?
“Mom must use it, then,” she said, trying to sound neutral. “I’m not exactly a witch who can manage a household.”
“So much I've noticed, transfiguration seems to match you better,” Wohl said, as calm and patient as she had never seen him in class. No, he looked bored... Deep inside. Her Hufflepuff instincts urged her to cheer him up.
“Next weekend it'll be us against Slytherin.”
“That’s great! This was the first quidditch match I've attended in years, and it ended too quickly.”
“Then may I recommend you watch football,” Tonks giggled. Her professor looked like he'd never even heard about that. “Muggle sport,” she explained.
Now Wohl appeared to be lying even though he didn't say a word. He was a truly puzzling phenomenon, and not one she would ever trust, although he had vast knowledge and took every opportunity to share it. And he had never once spoken about his past, except for a few stories he had shared about his time at Durmstrang.
She touched his shoulder: under the dashing brown and black clothes, he was as thin as a skeleton. But at least, he was solid and out in the sunshine, so he wasn't a spectre and not a vampire either. He took her hand in his: bony, warm, physically weak but very strong in magic. He looked her in the eyes (did his left eye start to revert back to the natural brown already? He'd look ridiculous with blue and bronze!) and softly, determinedly, he shook his head. It wasn't a rejection, but a very solid no.
“When was the last time you've been truly happy?” she tried. They were outside of the classroom, for Merlin's sake!
“I am, ever since Albus approached me with the offer,” he replied, but he wasn't fooling her.
“You're crying inside.”
He nodded. “Some things are not meant to last, Miss Tonks. Come up here, let's interrogate our rogue bludger. The aurors won't believe I've trained you if I haven’t even taught you the basics.”
Now she was even more puzzled. 'Wohl' was a fake name, that much she had guessed already, but who he might have been for real? Was he supposed to be famous? “Whoever you are, you'll always be Professor Wohl for me. And you have already taught me a lot.”
“Not nearly enough,” he replied. “Come. The incantation is 'Revelio incantator', quite a butchering of Latin grammar, but that's how it works.” He gestured her to the bludger.
“Revelio incantator,” she tried. The faint image of Professor McGonagall appeared for a second, as she had been standing in the middle of the stadium, changing the stands to the colours of today's match.
“Now, at the bludger, if you'd please.” He was still patient, but instead of his previous calm (melancholy?) he appeared amused.
A small, translucent shape appeared for a flash of a moment, and she cast again, with a similar result.
“Don't struggle to hold up the effect, what matters, is that you've already seen it. You're a good observer, Miss Tonks,” Wohl interrupted her next attempt. “Tell me what you saw.”
“A house elf. Not one from Hogwarts.”
“What makes you so sure? Different rags?”
There was a clear disdain in his voice, something she didn't like. There was a saying she'd heard among muggles, something like, 'he who isn't nice to the waitress is not a nice person'. That was Wohl, trying very hard to impress her, but not a nice person by far. She still liked the old wizard as he was.
“I know every single elf at Hogwarts,” she stated proudly.
“Hm.” Whether that was his opinion about her being friends with the elves or about a stranger coming to jinx the bludger, she couldn't tell. She decided to go with the latter.
“As far as I know, elves can only enter Hogwarts if somebody of their family is at school. So it might be a student's elf.”
“You’re a brilliant witch, Miss Tonks. The Auror Corps will be very lucky to have you.” That was a clear dismissal, and she changed her arms to wings again to glide down instead of taking the stairs. “Miss Tonks!”
She hoped he would say something about the match. Or about the elf that seemed to be severely mistreated by his masters. Or something about that moment she had touched his shoulder. Something that would indicate a soul hidden under that vast knowledge of Wohl's.
“Keep practicing the revealing charm, it shows benign and simple enchantments just the same. Have a nice weekend.”
“Will do, Professor.”
With that, she glided off the blue and bronze stand, in search of anybody who could give her a reassuring hug. It might have been the most innocent dialogue one ever had with a dark wizard, but it left her shivering inside.
Chapter 12: Magick Moste Evile
Gellert Grindelwald was not supposed to just spread diagonally across his bed and fall asleep in his day clothes, he was a civilized wizard with a proper upbringing and a reputation to uphold. Dark wizards did not sprawl, nor did they sleep in day clothes... then again, one didn’t imagine dark wizards wearing nightclothes either. Dark wizards weren’t really meant to sleep, the caffeine-like effect of dark magic supposedly enough to keep them awake.
But that was Gellert Grindelwald. Abernathy Wohl, a professor without a past or a future, could sleep in whatever garment he had at his disposal, in whatever angle he had collapsed on the bed, with the Patil twins' parchment under his pillow. 'The game will be played with only one bludger today', the girls had written, and passed to him before the match. Albus was the headmaster of a goldmine here! The muggleborn witch who was worth an army in herself, the boy who had survived the Killing Curse, the Weasley twins, the metamorphmagus, and now, proving his suspicion right, two seers who only needed some training. Anyone would have been jealous of Albus having this much potential under his control. All this, in addition to a pet phoenix and, (too many memories here,) the Elder Wand.
Most unbidden, a realization crept into his mind. Maybe among the witches and wizards under Dumbledore's command, he should list the greatest dark wizard of the century as well.
The greatest dark wizard, who was currently sprawled across a four-poster bed diagonally, in the angle he fell when he entered the room, with complete disregard of a proper upbringing or some common sense. It was nice to be able to sleep like this, however. For the last 48 years he had slept curled up miserably under a thin blanket in a cold cell.
He willed his body and mind to wake, but his head felt like an aching whirlpool of thoughts and missing memories. He recalled a seventh-year Ravenclaw student inviting him over to a defeat-forgetter drinking fest in the Charms classroom with other boys of his year. Flitwick had also attended, and somehow they ended up in a Durmstrang-typical duel where the opponents were both holding beers, and had to hold their ground for the whole length of twenty seconds before both would drink what remained in their jars.
Judging by the horrible spinning of his head, he must have been successful at keeping his beer safe, and he certainly hadn't been thirsty at the end of the improvised 'defeat-forgetter' championship. But he wasn't exactly certain if he had challenged Charity Burbage when the good-willing witch had found them, there were flashes of memory of him duelling her with two beers in his wand hand. Perhaps it would be smart never to ask her, he decided, head still spinning.
He pulled himself together and focused on his to-do list for the day. Plan out the material for tomorrow's (official) duel club. Breakfast. Defence lesson with sixth-year Oliver Wood who had to miss out the normal class on Tuesday due to quidditch business. (How could he blame the winning team's captain for is priorities?) There would be something related to the elf and the bludger afterwards, and he would spend a few hours in the library because of that – maybe a staff meeting. It was a nice aspect of being a seer: he knew in advance not to expect free time on a lovely Sunday. Babbling and McGonagall had already told him he was overdoing his responsibilities, but neither witches would understand what it was like to have less than one school year after (and before) long imprisonment in that filthy, tiny, abandoned cell that not even an insect would grace.
He couldn't undo the past and he was too thoroughly defeated to change the future. All he had was the present, a gift of mercy from a curse on the Defence teacher's position, a combination of a pureblood parent's influence and the crazy dares of Dumbledore. It wasn't a relaxing thought at all, how his one and only chance for a last gulp of life was in the hand of his worst enemy. No, second worst: the first one was himself.
As usual, he was one of the first to breakfast. As usual, he ate through the variety, savouring every bite. Also as usual, he found the Weasley twins had done something to the school corridors (they were the beaters of the Gryffindor team, they should have been too tired after the match, but to them, it was hardly more than a weak alibi) and consequently, which was not so usual, he had to take a detour on his way to his classroom.
A pattern of dark magic caught his attention in a deserted corridor. The lingering trace was decades old, perhaps even predated his downfall, but the magic that had been performed had been of the darkest kind, and its effect had not changed ever since. He reached into it, but only saw a flash of yellow. Curiously he moved in that direction, only to be distracted by a scent of something much more harmless, but also, a lot more recent. Somebody was brewing lacewing stew in a closed-down... Bathroom?
It was a girls' bathroom indeed, and now he remembered Charity telling about it: this was where a muggleborn was killed the last time the Chamber of Secrets had been opened. And, apparently, somebody had recently made use of the out-of-use, but easily accessible place for some brewing.
He tried to determine how long the lacewings had been stewed, but it could be anything between four days and two entire weeks. Besides, he couldn't take away anything from a student. It was an interesting find anyway.
He just finished transfiguring some of his pebbles into Wood's next training opponents (really, they were just smaller pebbles with stone-like wings – the quidditch match gave him the idea) when the metamorphmagus knocked on his classroom's door.
“Miss Tonks, what a lovely surprise! Come in!”
She came, fell, marched on. It was hard to believe the same woman would grow into a rather effective auror so soon.
“Professor Wohl, I talked to Harry! About the elf, and bingo!”
Grindelwald mused if the girl would sport the same enthusiastic smile when she tracked him down. The owl vision seemed to come much more often, and with a shocking clarity, whenever she was close. After preaching to the Patils about never to jump to conclusions too quickly, he knew better than to commit the same mistake, but there was a connection, that much was certain.
“I’m all ears, young lady. Take a seat.”
“Sometime this summer Harry was visited by a house elf. His description matches the one we saw. Sorry, I should start at the beginning. I approached Harry because the bludger was enchanted to single him out. He was the target.”
“Brilliant, Miss Tonks.”
“So, Harry was staying with his muggles when this elf popped up, warned him that there's some sort of danger awaiting him at Hogwarts, and disappeared. From what he told me, Dobby must have found a way around a prohibition not to tell. Ever since, the elf seems to be determined to get him out of here, whether by getting him expelled, blocking his way to the train... or now, trying to injure his wand arm.”
“And he didn't raise a complaint about a house elf attacking him? What family does that thing belong to?”
“Our conclusion was that it's one of the death eaters still at large. There were a number of them who claimed to have been under Imperius.”
“Good work, future Auror Tonks,” Grindelwald tried to smile. This witch was dangerous. But not his problem, he would be sitting in his cell for most of her active life... Maybe, if she decided to work for the ICW, she would at least visit him sometime? Hufflepuffs were said to be loyal enough. She wouldn't be able to break him out, her magic didn't lie in charms or wardbreaking, but for the aged wizard he was, a visit or two really should suffice. He wasn't the popular revolutionist he once had been.
“Thank you, Professor Wohl.”
He jumped up from the table he'd sat on. “Come, I want to show you something. Someone started brewing a very interesting potion in a closed-down toilet.”
“Myrtle's haunting place?”
It wasn't far from his classroom, luckily, and no crowd hindered them as it would have done on a weekday.
“What’s that smell?” she soon queried, turning her nose into that of a bloodhound.
“I read about that in Moste Potente Potions just the other day!” she rejoiced. “Mrs Sprout signed my slip so I could take a copy out for the entire week! Lacewings need to be stewed for lots of potions.”
“The most important of those being Polyjuice,” the teacher nodded. “Once the personal component is added to it, the brew takes on new attributes, dependent on the donor. But finished Polyjuice, and all of its production stages, can be recognized by the lacewing scent, if you know what you're looking for. And people don't always remove the scent from their robes before taking the brew.”
“Why wasn't that in the book?”
He swallowed back a reply, just shrugged.
“Okay. So what do we do about it?” Miss Tonks queried, finally changing her snout back to a human nose.
“Nothing. I cannot take away anything from a student, that was one of the rules Albus insisted on when I was brought here.”
“Personal, irrelevant question.” He couldn't tell her how he'd stolen the Elder Wand from Gregorovitch.
Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, appeared like a rather average student, easily overshadowed by the brilliant witch of the same year. His only prominent feature was his ability to land himself in trouble, and as Albus had informed his former friend and former nemesis, that trait had been prominent since before his birth.
“Mr Potter, thank you for coming. Miss Granger, it's forever a pleasure.”
They were in the library, with Irma Pince watching them like a hawk as they were led across the Restricted Section.
“Miss Tonks told me that you, archnemesis of that wizard without a name, received repeated warning from the house elf owned, presumably, by one of his remaining followers. It reminded me suspiciously of the requirements of a ritual said nameless wizard must be in a dire need to perform.”
“His name is Voldemort,” Mr Potter said.
The muggleborn flinched, hearing the name.
“He named himself so, after being born under some other name, and before the wizarding populace decided not to refer to him by that.” He lifted Magick Moste Evile from the bookshelf, and took it to one of the windows. “This book deserves to be handled with respect, and I admittedly have a soft spot for the author,” he explained. “There, Mr Potter. Ritual of Rebirth. Read it and afterwards I swear to answer any questions of yours to the best of my abilities.”
“Can I read it too, Professor?” Miss Granger, of course, asked.
“As long as you don't do it instead of Mr Potter, I don't see a reason why you shouldn't.”
He turned back to the aisle he'd been searching when the students arrived. He couldn't believe Secrets of the Darkest Art was missing from this vast library, its absence didn't make sense.
“Professor...” When he looked up, the brilliant Miss Granger's face was red with anger, while Harry was pale like a morning cloud. He caringly took back the old tome, and put it aside, expecting a torrent of questions.
Which never came.
“Yes?” he tried.
“Why did you make Harry read that awful ritual?” the witch suddenly burst out. “How could you? It’s virtually cannibalism on two instances.”
Yes, there was a reason this qualified as dark magic. But at the moment, her sensitive feelings weren't what mattered. “Mr Potter? Do you understand why?”
The boy nodded, and that's what was important. “How do I prevent it?” he asked, face still white, but steeling himself as he straightened up.
“First of all, if something looks like a trap, never walk into it alone. Always keep your wand at the ready. And in the worst case, there's still a crucial condition: 'blood unwillingly given'. The more you can bring yourself to agree to its use, the weaker the reborn enemy will be. Or else, friendly blood would be in use.”
At the mention of 'friendly blood' Miss Granger almost threw up.
'Wohl' deemed it better to caringly close the book and put it back to its rightful place. To talk about something more cheerful, he asked if they'd be interested in a German language extracurricular, which would either be held on Friday afternoons, or Wednesdays after dinner. Miss Granger nodded, but didn't appear to soften up so easily.
Chapter 13: Christmas
When Grindelwald had approached Albus for permission to get Christmas presents, Filius Flitwick was the first to back him up. Of course, owl ordering books, quidditch equipment and similarly harmless items wouldn't have been a security threat under normal conditions, and he had a term’s teaching wage (and, he had claimed, no reason to save it up) but Gellert being Gellert, he just didn't match with the concept of doing things the safe and easily-controlled way. After the last few months as colleagues and duelling partners, Flitwick understood this was the dark wizard's nature, and for the first time he understood why he and Albus had hit on in their youth.
The reason for overcomplicating security around the war criminal was noble, though. He wanted to take the Longbottom and Weasley boys to go wand shopping. For a start, Mr Longbottom’s wand was inherited from his father and although it had emotional significance, it wasn’t matched to the boy in the slightest. Mr. Weasley’s had been broken after landing his father's flying car in the Whomping Willow and it had been stuck together with tape. Both boys would benefit massively from the gift.After a very firm yes from Minerva (that witch wasn't one a wizard in his right mind would oppose) Albus asked for a day to consider as there were significant risks in allowing the convict off the heavily warded school property. At the same time though, the headmaster permanently lifted the restriction on casting magic outside his classroom. Of course, it went without saying that Gellert would have to be on his best behaviour or this privilege would be taken away. Flitwick wondered how humiliating it must have been to be treated like a schoolboy, but it wouldn't have been him if he let it show.
Decorating the halls had been the task of the Charms professors for centuries, and the half-goblin professor took it seriously. He got down to work right after the meeting in the staff room was over, while almost everybody else went to catch up on essay-marking. Severus claimed he had potions to complete, as the children were due to catch a cold immediately after the first snow fell, and Poppy's reserve of Pepper-up had to be stocked up in advance. Sybil envisioned white monsters attacking people in the near future, which meant that snow was indeed due in a few days. Rolanda and Charity were busy organizing the delivery of mail-ordered muggle products, as those couldn't be brought by owls without breaching the Statute of Secrecy.
In short, Christmas was coming and the decor wasn't going to charm itself all around the castle. Flitwick didn't expect to receive help with the yearly task, but as soon as Gellert spotted him cast the first sparkles, he asked if he could assist. It would have been stupid and pointlessly cruel to say no: the tiny Charms professor could all but see the magic eagerly twirling around his duelling club partner. Maybe it was his German roots and Christmas had always been a big celebration for him. “That’d be welcome! Maybe this year I could even have a moment between lunch and the choir practice.”
Gellert looked into his eyes, his mind, searching for an explanation of 'choir'. That was a very rude habit of his, one more thing he had in common with Albus. After the mental reference to the similarity, however, the dark wizard retreated faster than Occlumency could have ever thrown him out.
“You mean, there will even be carols?” he tried, this time, verbally. Baby steps...
“You will hear soon enough. Now, do you want to pry or to help?”
‘Wohl’ immediately began trailing wreaths and holly boughs all the way down to the Great Hall, then joyfully cast the snowfall all around the castle. There was a small danger of him overdoing, however, so the tiny professor told him to at least make sure Severus's room entrance wouldn't be blocked by the snow – the Head of Slytherin hated casting shovelling charms before breakfast. The Defence teacher conjured a liberal dosing of tinsel and made the snow actually land there.
To have time for gathering the music sheets together before noon was nothing short of a blessing.
“There are upsides of having an overenthusiastic monster in the staff,” he admitted at lunch.
“Have you been to his own classroom?” Charity asked.
“No. Have you?” But before the Muggle Studies teacher could have explained, Flitwick remembered. “Oh. You're still taking self-defence classes for revolutionaries.”
“I don't have the heart to just tell him to stop, he's so certain it's needed.”
“Maybe he's right,” Flitwick noted. “So, what is that classroom like, these days? Does he still use the walls when the chalkboard doesn't suffice?”
“You know there's an old board with recipes for potion antidotes? He repurposed it for recipes of Austrian Christmas treats. Albus allowed the elves to try those, you know, for the Deutsche Sprache students.”
“And our elves, being who they are, made sure to bake some extra?” Flitwick jovially asked.
Charity nodded, as words failed to express the amount of delicacies now piled up in the Defence classroom. “He says he wanted his students to go home with good memories of the class for the holidays.”
The next morning, Albus approved the request to buy the two boys their new wands. As one of the teachers Grindelwald was currently unable to disobey (and as a duelling champion, just in case he'd find a way around the spell) Flitwick volunteered to go along, although they would also be accompanied by two aurors. Gellert would wear magic-suppressing cuffs and he had a time limit of two hours. They had to go first thing in the morning, before the other shops opened. Garrick Ollivander had agreed to open early for the occasion and they would floo directly to the wand shop and directly back afterwards.
The two boys met them in Dumbledore’s office on the first day of the holidays, both looking nervous but excited. The sun had yet to rise, so all except Grindelwald were blinking owlishly. The two aurors Albus had enlisted weren’t dressed in their uniforms, partially so as not to draw attention, but also because this shopping trip was off the books. Both Moody and Shacklebolt were examining the teacher suspiciously, and Flitwick wondered if the headmaster told them just who they were going to accompany today. Considering his secretive nature, and how the Fidelius was weakened by every new person being informed, the tiny professor supposed they weren't told all the details.
‘Ah Abernathy. I trust you slept well?’ Albus pleasantly greeted Gellert as soon as he entered. The wizard in question scowled at him as he thrust his wrists out towards the aurors. Mad-eye hobbled forwards, the uneven sound was proof of his wooden leg. He leered at the dark wizard as he pushed up the sleeves of his robes, exposing the heavy scar tissue right where the cuffs would go. The silver manacles were meant to be tight and judging from his face expression, Gellert expected the Auror to cinch them up until they pinched that already damaged skin. Clearly that had been his previous experience with law enforcement, as if hurting him would somehow make him less dangerous, or (an even more ridiculous concept) atone for his crimes. He looked up at the wizened auror with a rush of unexplainable gratitude when the manacles were left loose enough that they didn’t cut in. Flitwick inwardly nodded, witnessing proof of a previous observation: Grindelwald was much easier to handle when he wasn't treated with hostility. That would only earn his defiance – exactly like Albus, again.
The two students looked on curiously as the silver bands were tuned to their Defence teacher's magic and tested. Gellert swallowed his pride and used this as a learning opportunity for them, explaining how the cuffs worked and the younger auror even humoured them by repeating the testing spell slowly so that they could see the effects clearly.
Five minutes later Albus was tapping his watch (supposedly it did make him look more extravagant than a normal watch would) and telling them that they had to go. Alastor went first, then the two teachers together (one advantage of being small: they didn't get bruised in the one-man sized fireplace like two normal-size wizards would have). Then the two boys tumbled through, followed by Kingsley. The wandmaker was waiting patiently for them, a cup of strong coffee on his counter.
‘Ah, Kingsley; walnut and unicorn hair, unyielding.’ The younger auror shifted uncomfortably and touched his hand to the wand holstered at his waist. ‘Moody, such a shame that you lost your first wand, it was an excellent specimen, alas, these things happen.’
‘We’re here for the boys.’ The older auror snapped, and the silvery gaze of the wand maker turned to the students.
‘Mr. Weasley, Mr. Longbottom. I wondered why I never saw you. Let’s get started then.’
The wandmaker measured them both up, then began producing wands from his complex filing system. The boys began trying them out, causing considerable damage to the shop which Ollivander cheerfully repaired. Weasley was the first to find his match in a willow and unicorn hair wand and he grinned happily as he put his new wand to use helping to repair the shelving that Longbottom kept blowing up.
With the attention of all but Moody’s magical eye on the boys, Ollivander sidled up next to Gellert.
‘Albus mentioned you're a friend of his, but nothing more. Could I please take a look at your own wand?”
Flitwick's fingers slid onto his own holster, uncertain how Grindelwald would react to an almost intimate request. He expected the aged criminal to behave, of course, but he was rather safe than sorry.
“It was the best of those I could choose from, but all I know, it was found during the school's reconstruction in the 18th century.”
“And it works sufficiently for you?” Ollivander asked.
“I suppose we're done accepting each other.” Grindelwald handed over the item with no fuss at all, thankfully.
“Looks like rowan to me,” the wandmaker mused, before he grabbed a measure. “Twelve and two-third inches, nicely swishy. That's rare for an old wand, unless... Yes, I was right. Rowan indeed, with... look what you have here, thestral tail hair. That fell out of fashion around the fifteenth century, opinionated and unstable.” The old man lifted the wand to his ear, listening to the tip's resonance.
“My previous wand also had thestral tail hair,” Grindelwald shared. Flitwick frowned: for the civilized appearance he was usually so keen to keep up, 'Wohl' didn't seem to know how to behave in a wand shop.
“You have a very well balanced wand that agrees to you, Mr Wohl.” Garrick Ollivander gave the now-identified piece back.“I wouldn’t expect a match between someone like yourself and a rowan wand, not if those cuffs are to be believed,” the wandmaker stated calmly, as if he hadn't heard Gellert's statement. Maybe he hadn't, the Fidelius charm wasn't simple to get around and giving out wand details would have equalled to a brief autobiography to Ollivander. “Although, that a rowan wand works for you at all might be evidence that we don’t really need those cuffs on you.’ Grindelwald opened his mouth to ask more about the wand he carried but the wandmaker had left and was now congratulating Neville over his pairing with a cherry wood wand.
'Wohl’ paid for the two wands without even paying attention to the price or to the boys protesting weakly. He ignored them and their gratitude right up until they stepped out of the headmaster's floo. They were just in time for breakfast before the choir practice, so the Charms professor didn't linger in the office.
He had no idea how Gellert aquired a duelling suit for him, but that's what was in the nicely wrapped pack the Charms professor found on his table Christmas morning. It was perfectly cut out to his size, dark blue with a deep brown, eagle-shaped piece of dragonhide armour on the chest. It was elegant and practical at the same time, befitting a champion wizard as much as the Head of Ravenclaw House.
As for Grindelwald, he claimed he hadn't expected to receive any presents at all – the opportunity that he could send gifts this year would have sufficed.
“Christmas is about selflessness, not about what you do or do not deserve,” Charity immediately replied over her breakfast plate, before she continued reading the runes on the onyx and tiger-eye bracelet she was given. Of what she had made out so far, not only did the jewellery carry a human-size shield bubble, but it would also help its wearer pass wards that would keep an average witch out.
“Besides, they mean the parents recognize you as a good teacher,” Filius added. “Anything special?” he prompted, seeing on the old wizard's childlike smile that he'd be eager to tell them what he had got. The parents of the Patil twins sent him a mokeskin purse with an Indian variation of the expansion charm, and in it, twelve different boxes of dessert. Earlier that year, Miss McCoy had said a line of wisdom he had particularly liked, and now he showed his colleagues a wand holster sporting that same quote: ‘A dragon won't bother to tell your wand from firewood.’ Its colour didn't match with the knitted jumper with a Hogwarts castle on it from Mrs. Weasley, but little did he seem to care. He shared with slightly less enthusiasm that there were two books on muggle achievements, one on appliances from Charity and one on history of muggles from the Granger family.
Filius got him a charm that would paint his walls with a moving panorama of magical places all around the world, including the Rhineland where he’d grown up, the Swiss settlement from which his family originated and got its name from, a sunrise at Hogwarts and a thunderstorm around Durmstrang. And Albus had previously hinted that he had something very personal that had to wait until the students were away.
“Just admit it, you spent the morning sitting on the bed surrounded by wrapping paper,” Charity teased him. “Thank you for the bracelet!”
“Yes, thank-you everyone, for everything. I was about to ask you, Abernathy, if you're willing to join the snowball fight on the side of the Ravenclaws. Rumour has it, when your eyes are not under colouring charms, they are Ravenclaw-coloured.” Oh, they'd been teasing him with that joke ever since a student innocently mentioned it at the first quidditch match.
“Or you could join the Hufflepuffs, I'm sure Tonks would love to have you on our side,” Charity invited him.
“Either way, you'll have an excuse to pelt Albus with snowballs!”
Of course, he joined the Ravenclaw team; under his and Filius’ guidance they enchanted a mound of snow to produce its own snowballs, then replenishing charms on the snowbank made sure that it wouldn’t run out. More clever little charms had the snowballs flying over their small defence mound and towards the snow castle the Slytherins had conjured. Meanwhile the Hufflepuffs had completely vanished, which was concerning. The Gryffindors had launched an attack on the right flank which Filius had ordered Grindelwald to defend from roaring snow lions – having two Transfiguration professors on the opponent team offered quite a challenge. The Ravenclaw adults summoned some snow from their replenishing pile and pelted the snow constructs with a blizzard of small snowballs which shredded their fragile structure.
With that threat temporarily dealt with, Flitwick turned to see that the Slytherins had yet to leave their castle but there wasn't any damage to the massive structure, either.
“Aurora knows what she's doing. How do we lure them out?”
“Just watch.” With a sneer, Gellert formed several snow-snakes which he sent slithering towards the Gryffindors. It was less than subtle but he counted on the Gryffindors taking it as an attack by the Slytherins and retaliate.
They did, which he took as a sign that Albus was too distracted with the replenishing blizzard of snowballs and wasn’t running the show behind their barrier. He would have recognised the ploy immediately. The Gryffindor attack force, namely Fred and George Weasley (he always had trouble telling one from the other, and he suspected everybody who claimed to do so was just bluffing) rallied outside and while one made snow balls with his hands, the other charmed them to fly like some cross between a destructive bludger and an agile snitch. Then the Slytherin castle seemed to crumble from the inside, snow collapsing with a whump and several very damp but laughing students climbed from the debris. Flitwick frowned in confusion, wondering what had happened. Was there a possibility that they had just run out of energy to keep the huge structure intact?
With that flank taken care of Gellert launched all their efforts towards the Gryffindors whilst Filius focused on finding the Hufflepuffs. He cast a revealing charm, which only showed the Gryffindors and the two Slytherins that were still digging themselves out of their castle. He paused briefly to levitate the snow off the unfortunate students before pondering the location of the Hufflepuffs.
Then suddenly there was an uproar of noise from behind the Gryffindors and a puff of snowflakes blossomed from behind the wall. Seconds later the red and gold students traipsed out from behind their wall. It was now undeniable that the Hufflepuffs were responsible for the collapse of the other two houses.
‘They’re disillusioned!’ Gellert called to his troops. Filius waved his wand and conjured them an igloo to defend from all directions, then added some little arrow slits so that they could look out. Gellert cast Revelio charms in all directions but came up with nothing except the huddle of defeated spectators. Then there was a hollered war cry and the igloo exploded from above. Disillusioned Hufflepuffs burst through the ceiling on brooms, raining snowballs over them. One of them shoved a snowball down his back and he heard Tonks’s gleeful giggle as she soared away to safety and within seconds, the last Ravenclaw had fallen and Hufflepuff had been declared the victors.
They retreated inside for hot cocoa and some of the German chocolate marzipan treats. From there they played quieter games – Gellert became the ultimate Wizard’s Chess champion, which was only to be expected because a board game had nothing on a full scale war, although in the final, Ron Weasley gave him quite the run for his money. Then, after slightly too much sherry Minerva and Filius led a second round of carol singing and there must have been plenty of Christmas spirit because even the Slytherins joined in. Afterwards they all continued eating up the Christmas cookies, both from the traditional and the German varieties.
Then things went slightly pear shaped after dinner. Filius was halfway back from the staffroom when he came across two sheepish looking Gryffindors hurrying what he could only guess to be another student under a bedsheet to the hospital wing. He paused and faded into the shadows, deciding to follow them to make sure everything was alright without embarrassing them further.
He quickly realised that the student under the sheet was Hermione Granger, the smart muggleborn girl. Whatever prank had gone wrong, they were now Poppy's responsibility, and Merlin knew the two boys had already lost enough house points for crashing into the Whomping Willow. The tiny professor could only guess why this trio had it out for school feasts, and somehow he doubted that this would teach the three Gryffindors to stop meddling.
Teaching his own language was much less of a mental challenge than the Defence classes or the History extracurricular, but it gave Grindelwald a much-needed distraction from his rallying thoughts. He couldn't let his certain doom take away what little he had. He wouldn't sit in the corner of his spacious quarters, shivering at the thought of his unbearable cell, when he could instead bury himself in the activity he'd been allowed (asked!) to do. The ICW aurors will have to drag him out of his class when they come for him, he decided. He wouldn't actively oppose them, as he couldn't find in himself the full drive to fight anymore, but he wouldn't give his enemies the pleasure to go mad in advance at the prospect of continued imprisonment either.
He examined the twisted wards around himself. His will to fight was in shards, compared to how he used to be, and he was old, his fingers didn't curl around the wand as they once had. (Not to mention: different wand.) He had been hired for the Defence position, not in spite of but BECAUSE there was the curse on it.
The curse that Dumbledore had compared to 'a book written in a foreign language'. That's what Dark Arts were to those who refused their deepest understanding. To him, it was quite legible – but he still couldn't do anything against it. When the school’s most fundamental wards had been constructed, two of the founders (one of them had to be the parselmouth Slytherin, but he could only guess which one was the other) had put in extra protection for any future martial arts educator, most likely to keep them safe in their classes. This specific line of the spell was the one that had been twisted inside out by Slytherin's descendant, and it could only be rectified by another offspring of him, or maybe by that other founder's. The only alternative method would have included digging up the graves of both, a counter-ritual, and diminishing the entire ward structure around the millennium-old Hogwarts. He doubted Albus would stand idle and allow such a radical measure. Slytherin's last known descendant was currently an exceptionally weak, ghost-like parasite, and the 'heir' that claimed to have opened the Chamber of Secrets made himself scarce once again.
In other words, he was just as unarmed against the curse as the former teachers were, so he just dug into his breakfast and tried to busy his mind with anything else.
After collecting all the crispy bacon stripes on his plate, he looked up to the usual Hogwarts morning scene. Almost everyone had put away their mail and newspapers already; some, like him, were still eating, some were finishing their homework. One red-haired girl caught his attention, she was writing into a small book, then made a very surprised face before laughing up and writing to the very same page.
He watched her for a while, chewing his bacon absent-mindedly. The girl never once turned a page, never once changed angle of her wrist. Creevey took a photograph of her, but she didn't even look up despite the bright flash in the face. When Lovegood said her hello, she nodded and continued writing.
With a flick of his wand, 'Wohl' switched her mug of cocoa to black coffee. She drank it just the same, as if she hadn't noticed the change.
“Lady McGonagall,” Grindelwald moved, eventually. He knew the Transfiguration teacher wasn't a lady by rank, but she had the bearing and posture of one. And she was in charge of the red-marked pupils. “Is it just my imagination, or is the girl with the many brothers under Imperius?”
“Nobody puts my students under Imperius,” the witch replied, clearly insulted.
Now that Gellert paid attention, he could see the many small signs on the first-year girl during her DADA class and later that day, the German extracurricular. She was writing into that book compulsively, not always on the same page, but without turning any sheets, and reading the reply that must have appeared in the place of her words.
But something still didn't add up. Of course, there were cases when somebody would put a witch under Imperius and then keep in contact in some written form, but that presupposed another magical whose interests she would be acting out. He considered that maybe she was supposed to spy, but she seemed to be getting lengthy replies, several of which she seemed to find funny.
The next day, during lunch, he wasn't shy to admit his mistake to her head of house. “I was wrong about the Imperius. She is possessed.”
He couldn't wait until something happened. Even if he was the only teacher in the school that had to take an oath never to allow irreparable harm come to any student, the complete ignorance of the others wasn't an excuse.
Albus quirked an eyebrow when he shared his observation. “All teachers sign a contract, in which protecting the students is covered,” he stated. “The one you signed before your oath.”
“Then you need a stronger one, that old scrap is ridiculously easy to break.”
“Unlike you, I don't suppose the worst of the people.”
“You should.” Gellert gave him a long look, well aware that Albus was reading his mind for his opinion about himself. The headmaster wasn't nearly as naive as his outer appearance would have lulled anyone to believe, but he was careful to keep the appearance of a harmless old man. Also, he had quite a lot on his plate: he'd become the Supreme Mugwump the same year he'd won the Elder Wand, so he was practically the official leader of the entire wizarding world. That wasn't Albus's style: he had always been hungry for power, yes, but he was longing for influence, not for being made the figurehead. He liked the image of a jovial family member, more like a grandfather now than an older brother to anybody. 'Wohl' blinked at the phoenix's empty perch, then at some paperwork that had been transfigured nigh-unrecognizable with only the ICW emblem giving it away. On the shelf above rested a card from the Austrian wizarding authorities, thanking him for 'taking the burden off their hands,' dated 5th of September last year.
Albus never was the wizard to take any burden willingly, he preferred manipulating others to do so in his stead. He had to be out of his depth. Had Gellert not known for certain that the ‘burden’ mentioned on the card was him, he would have laughed at Albus: a manipulator who could no longer hide in the background.
Instead, Dumbledore was currently hiding behind the mask of a clueless and shamefully naive headmaster, faking no responsibility for a student who was being possessed inside this school.
That was not a mask any headmaster should have been allowed in any institute of the Wizarding World.
“Don't let me distract you from what you are MEANT to do, Albus, you define yourself first and foremost as the headmaster here, so act like one.”
“And you are a teacher in the headmaster's office, so act like one,” Albus replied, ice in his cold blue eyes. His mental shields resembled an iceberg, under which a volcano was about to erupt. Apparently, Grindelwald wasn't the only wizard who'd spent forty-some years mulling over the past, but they had come to different conclusions.
“Fine,” he huffed. “I will go and act like the only teacher who has sworn to protect your two hundred pupils.”
He rushed out of the headmaster's office infuriated. He had been defeated by this short-sighted, self-assured, passive excuse of a hero?! How could that happen? And those ridiculous sensors littered across his room, all of them keyed in to the main wards! The current enemy was boasting about being an offspring of the wizard who had cast those wards in the first place, how did Albus expect to be warned against the heir by these?
But if he was the only one here still willing to act, then he would do so. Was he embarrassed by Albus Dumbledore's incapability? Then he should at least not let the old wizard's failure come out to the public. Professor Wohl's reputation was one thing, but he won't sit back while the defeater of Gellert Grindelwald made a fool of himself.
“Lookie, lookie, if it's not Professor Woolie!”
“Peeves. Exactly what I didn't need.” He looked at the poltergeist, wondering how his kind was capable of forcing the truth out of anybody. Nonbeings in general were sometimes referred to as 'mirrors of truth', and were feared accordingly. What was worse, Peeves belonged to Hogwarts and he acted similarly: he could be softened just enough to bend, if one belonged to the castle on the same level as the wards. Which he didn't.
Peeves made some faces in the imitation of Wohl's unamused frown. “A knut for your thoughts, Wool? No, you don't deal in money! How about my services?”
Now there was an idea.
“I’m having severe self-esteem problems because of Dumbledore's...”
“Dumbness!” the poltergeist interrupted him. “What else?”
“He made me swear an oath that says I cannot take away the possession of a student.” A game with the words, but he couldn't laugh at his own humour.
“And you need something?”
“No, I need to be rid of something. First year Gryffindor Ginevra Weasley has a small black booklet she keeps writing in. That book deserves to be thrown out the window and into the lake.”
The poltergeist's face lit up.
“Just the other day she told me not to disturb her in her great work. While she headed to the toilet!” With that, Peeves vanished from sight.
Lake. Deep, cold Black Lake, awe-inspiring for any wizard's meditation who'd been staring at Alpine peaks for far too long. The moon shining above it, cold light over icy surface.
The meditating wizard reached out for a specific object at the bottom of the lake. His sight didn't always show him what he wanted to see, but the dark magic of the innocent-looking black book couldn't hide from Grindelwald's powers.
The current Defence teacher focused on the booklet, and reached for his wand. “Accio,” he said, loud and clear. Only wind and snow came in through the open window.
He hesitated, wondering what his next move should be. It was too cold to go swimming just like he had been doing until November, but the booklet was too inquiring to abandon - not to mention, too dangerous to be left out there. His use of magic wasn't limited to his classroom anymore, so the need for wandlight and self-transfiguration no longer worried him, but it was the coldest night of January...
Eventually, he set his Durmstrang pride aside, and cast a heating charm on himself before grabbing his towel.
It was still dark when he got back into his quarters, towel over his shoulder, booklet in his hands.
“Gemino,” he cast, creating an exact copy, before he proceeded examining the original.
His prey didn't seem to have been affected by the water, only dark magic was swirling around it, confused and suspicious. At the same time, the copy was harmless, so the magic was not tied to any text or rune inside.
He opened both. Slightly yellowed, empty pages greeted him, but there was no sign of the ink being smeared. The copy was wet, the original had repelled water. Rather odd, considering he had cast the duplicating spell in his quarters. “Tergeo.” Now both booklets were dry.
He dipped a quill in his inkwell, and drew a vertical line on a random page. When nothing happened, he drew the circle and triangle that go with it.
The dry paper drank in the familiar symbol. The wizard watched, because vanishing one's signature isn't how communication normally starts.
As if written by a hesitating hand, a line of text appeared.
'Isn't that Grindelwald's sigil?'
He should be more careful, the wizard in question decided. He wrote in the place of the disappeared drawing:
'That's the Deathly Hallows sign.’
'Who are you?'
'Abernathy.’ Professor Wohl checked if the same text was showing up on the copy as well, but that booklet's pages were still devoid of any ink. He turned back to the dangerous one, pointing his wand at the current page. “Gemino.”
A sheet appeared, with the question and the one-word answer. The original lines vanished. The copy stayed as it was.
The Austrian wizard decided to start numbering before the copies would be mixed up. With his other hand, he grabbed the basket full with Tantie Bathilda's delicious cookies – inviting her over for the Christmas break had been an unexpectedly thoughtful idea from Albus. The old witch was beyond her prime by all means, but her mind was still surprisingly sharp if one knew better than to question her most unlikely statements – usually it was her who knew better. Even if (especially if) the truth was a little hard to accept. Really, apart from her hopelessly benevolent nature, she was blood-family beyond doubt.
Bemused, Grindelwald took one more cookie of his grandmother's sister and turned back to the booklet full of dark magic, curious what it would write back this time.
'My name is Tom Riddle.’
'You're an exceptional wizard, Mr Riddle.’
'Which House are you in?'
'Durmstrang. Long story short, I'm just visiting here. I haven't graduated yet.’ That tiny 'yet' at the end was perhaps the biggest lie of his new carrier. Thinking about it, he shouldn't have been allowed to teach without qualification.
He duplicated the page before the writing could have faded. Then he grabbed the copy of the dark tiny book, and wrote,
'Miss Weasley, if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask either me or Headmaster Dumbledore. Stay safe – Prof. A. Wohl’
He blinked at the four-poster bed, then cast a Tempus, wondering if he could go down to have breakfast already. It was three in the morning, so the answer was no.
He cast a strong sphere over the original before taking the copy to the Gryffindor tower. Of course, young Ginevra would run to the champion of the wizarding world first thing in the morning.
‘Abernathy Wohl’ grinned ear to ear. He wouldn't miss the face of the great Albus when the girl tells him about her innocent correspondence with Tom Riddle. (Where had he heard that name before?)
A gift from Silverstar309. Thank you!
Chapter 15: Extracurricular
After far too long, Hermione was released from the infirmary on the first day of February. Harry and Ron were almost as happy as she was because they no longer had to deal with her demands for immaculate notes and heft mountains of books between the hospital wing and the library. It seemed despite being bed-bound in the hospital wing she was determined to make up for her mistake by getting extra marks in every subject.
Thankfully, Professor Wohl seemed to have taken a liking to her, despite her prickly and blatantly suspicious attitude. Harry often joined in on the private lessons he gave her, which ranged across all the subjects to help her stay up to date in her classes. As the boy had explained to her, it was nice to not be the centre of attention for once. Ron had no interest in extra schooling, although he did occasionally turn up to play chess against the teacher.
They studied every single one of the potions that Madame Pomfrey had in stock until both students could tell what each one was by just the smell. They also studied a massive variety of healing charms and eventually Madame Pomfrey actually let them help out with one of the first years who’d slipped with his knife in Potions.
It was the obvious usefulness in these lessons that both she and Harry found so appealing; she could easily see herself needing to heal a cut in the future but could never imagine an occasion where she’d want to turn a porcupine into a pincushion. They even had an Astronomy lesson where Professor Wohl pointed out how to use the stars to find out the time with help from a little book and their exact location. Best of all was that the teacher seemed to have absolutely no interest in how Hermione had ended up as a cat and he must have met many strange people in his life because he hardly looked twice when she first climbed out of bed and accidentally knocked over her water glass with her tail.
Of course, Harry admitted he would miss those private lessons but he definitely didn’t miss the books or note taking, which was why he was currently standing nervously with Hermione outside the door to Wohl’s office.
‘Do we just knock?’ He asked nervously and Hermione shrugged, rapping sharply on the door. Then she shrunk backwards as it opened and Harry was left standing at the front as Professor Wohl appeared in the doorway.
‘Er, evening Sir. We, that is, Hermione and I were wondering if we could carry on with those lessons you were giving us when Hermione was in the infirmary. It’s just they were really interesting and we learned loads...’ He trailed off uncertainly and looked to Hermione for backup. The professor looked at them appraisingly before shrugging and opening the door further to invite them in.
‘On the condition that you bring Mr. Weasley next time, I was hoping for a rematch of our last game.’ The professor snapped his fingers and tea and little sandwiches appeared on the desk. He offered for them to take some and sat opposite them. ‘Is there anything you’d like to cover?’ He asked, pulling out a piece of parchment and a quill. Hermione predictably had a list of stuff she was keen to learn, which he jotted down in his untidy scrawl. Her ideas gave Harry some of his own and he added to the list until it had several different subjects.
‘I will speak to Albus Dumbledore. I am sure he will agree, he is not one to discourage learning.’
Dumbledore did agree, although they were careful to keep these private tutoring sessions a secret. In fact, now that they were receiving them, Harry and Hermione quickly discovered that all the seventh years were getting private tutoring too and they were even allowed to join in building the obstacle course to test this awesome girl who could change her features at will. They learned to levitate themselves and freeze water so that they could cross it, he taught them charms to improve their grip for climbing walls and another to make surfaces more slippery to make pursuit difficult. Then at the end of the lesson they all had a race, which of course the seventh year girl won by miles but it was fun to meet an older student anyway.
Hermione was also eager to re-join in on the ‘Deutche Sprache’ lessons: it was too good an opportunity to miss. When the extra class first was mentioned, Ron surprised her claiming he could almost understand Hermione’s passion for learning now. Not that he or Harry would ever be found buried under books and parchment in the library, they were both kinaesthetic learners.
Of course, Ron's sudden preference for learning something had rooted in the traditional foods Professor Wohl often served up for them to nibble at as they discussed things in German. It was also worth the extra lesson time to see the way he dealt with Malfoy.
“Filthy mudblood,” Draco hissed at her on the first occasion she showed up.
“Herr Malfoy! Welche Sprache war das?”
“Englisch,” the blond boy admitted.
Professor Wohl fixed him with a disapproving stare for just a moment longer before he continued.
As usual, the only permitted use of English was the few-minutes timeframe for asking the meanings of specific words or expressions. Outside of that, the students were expected to follow the lecture based on context, as they were supposed to be familiar with the topic itself.
At first, it had been expressions of basic interaction like 'guten Tag' but around December, they had moved on to the calendar and the names and meanings of various days of importance. (That was when Professor Sinistra first complained about Dean calling the oncoming winter solstice 'die Wintersonnenwende' by accident. After that, the bad habit spread like fiendfyre and the Astronomy professor never gathered up the courage to face Professor Wohl about it.) They discussed the many traditions and rituals of the wizarding world, something Wohl had made clear that he expected muggleborn students to catch up on. Hermione had then spent the rest of the month fascinated by the marriage, adoption and funeral rituals. She had also become a fount of knowledge on every other possible celebration in wizarding Britain as well as several from abroad.
Slytherins claimed this had been done to put the muggleborns at a disadvantage and prove that purebloods were superior, while the general Hufflepuff opinion was that Professor Wohl was encouraging them to catch up with the culture they had been suddenly thrown into at the age of eleven. The Gryffindor opinion was that this had been done to torture them with Hermione’s enthusiasm.
While the young witch had been bedridden, several weeks had been dedicated to Quidditch. After just two lessons, even Ron could list that the team consisted of ‘drei Jäger, ein Hüter, zwei Treiber und ein Sucher' and Hermione wondered when the red-haired boy would start listing the rules in German as well. (Unlike Professor Sinistra, Madam Hooch did put her foot down when the possibility of bilingual commentary for the next match had been brought up. As she claimed, it would have distracted the players. According to school rumours, Professor Wohl stated that he never even suggested bilingual commentary, but opinions varied whether or not the statement had been given under Veritaserum.)
After her release from the Infirmary, they moved to school subjects and timetables, and a very superficial comparison of Hogwarts and Durmstrang. (That was when a large 'Binns ist der langweiligste Lehrer' graffiti appeared on the History classroom's wall. Cuthbert Binns, being himself, didn't even notice.)
While Ron was enthusiastic about German, Harry appeared to be similarly in awe of the duelling club. They’d done duels with all sorts of rules – normal ones and ones with conditions to test their ability to be inventive. Sometimes, when the spring weather permitted, Wohl would call it a ‘real life’ lesson and he’d form them up into random teams and they’d play games like capture the flag and king of the hill. They’d quickly discovered the trick to these was having a decisive command structure and a solid strategy, so now it wasn’t uncommon to see Ravenclaws discussing the best way to conquer a castle and Slytherins forming sly alliances with other students in preparation for the next match. Ron had been incredible with his new wand, having mastered a tricky spell that made bats fly out of the victim’s nose as a reward for an excellent homework and Hermione’s idea to use magical wind to blow up all the dust to hide their approach had been nothing short of genius. Seamus’ fireworks had provided just the distraction they needed to climb over the wall and then the surprised Slytherins had crumbled. Malfoy’s face had been priceless.
One evening in early March there was a rather unexplainable occurrence. After the Deutsche Sprache class taking about forty minutes longer than usual, the Gryffindors found their house ghost petrified in a way not unlike what had happened to the caretaker's cat. Suddenly all that anyone could talk about was how they planned to defend themselves using the techniques they’d learned in duelling club. Dumbledore actually had to make an announcement during dinner the following day that whilst he admired the students' dedication in warding their dormitories, they needed to make sure the wards were tuned to let in teachers. He even handed out a list of recommended wards because Madam Pince was getting fed up with people asking her for books on wards and defensive charms when they were all already taken out.
Professor Wohl seemed to find the whole warding situation quite amusing but he was happy to offer advice to anyone who came to him and eventually even Professor McGonagall caved when Hermione asked her to teach them the spell that had been used to make all the statues into warriors. Of course, she only complied with dire warnings of detention to anyone who attempted the spell without due cause and approval from a teacher.
As ever though, this latest trend had led to an inordinate amount of researching from Hermione. She was a muggleborn and as such, she considered herself to be among the group at greatest risk. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if her room became one of the safest in the world after this year but she was certain there would be more out there. She had noticed correlations in warding development and documentation – always times when there was a threat. Most of her wards were from the last war, but she was determined to discover older ones, looking at books from Grindelwald’s time. Of course, that had lead to curiosity about who her teacher could be – he was a dark wizard, which meant he must have been around near that time.
Her latest theory was that he was Ermand Heinser, one of Grindelwald’s early lieutenants. It all made sense – Heinser had been arrested in 1915 for the murder of two in a blood ritual, then he had been broken out by Grindelwald in 1926. Then he’d gone to Azkaban (the only prison Grindelwald hadn’t broken people out of) to complete the remaining thirty-nine years of his sentence and had been released to become a hermit somewhere in Norway. It all added up, although from what she’d read in the past editions of the Prophet his movement had never taken off because he was a terrible speaker. As far as she was concerned, of all the Dark Wizards Dumbledore could have picked, Heinser wasn’t the worst. Then again, Professor Wohl was anything but boring. Could he have maybe picked up his sense for rhetorics in his solitude? That sounded unlikely, but not even three years before, she and her parents had not even heard of the world of the magicals, and yet here she was, doing her research in a school of witchcraft and wizardry.
Still unconvinced that one could become a captivating speaker through magic alone, she took the next book from the same shelf and continued reading.
Chapter 16: Treasure hunt
Just like the Christmas holidays, the students left with Hagrid's thestral-driven carriages to Hogsmeade Station. Madam Pomfrey allowed the last victims of an Amortentia poisoning out just the day before the start of the holidays, so the only student who was planning to spend his Easter at the school was Harry Potter. His two closest friends, however, decided to stay with him despite they had their parents to return to. It spoke great volumes of the Granger parents' understanding of magic that they didn't try to force their only child back to her muggle family when her place was in the wizarding school.
As for the teachers, only those lingered in the castle who didn't have any family to spend the holidays with: Gellert Grindelwald, because he obviously couldn't be allowed out to see his grandmaternal aunt; Albus Dumbledore, because Aberforth wouldn't rent out a room for him at the Hog's Head for that half hour it would take for them to be at each other's throat; McGonagall because she didn’t have any home other than Hogwarts. The dark lord's minion knew better than to leave the warded area, and Charity, because in Flitwick's absence she considered herself some sort of probation supervisor. There was also the divination teacher that Gellert often used as a negative example to the Patils.
As the trio were the only remaining students, the rules were all relaxed. Feeling sorry for them, Charity suggested for the teachers to organise some kind of easter egg hunt, which was a tradition few of the wizards had ever heard of. Of course, as soon as the idea had been explained (and slightly exacerbated) the staff wholeheartedly agreed and the idea was discussed at dinner that evening. The only exceptions were Trelawney and Snape, one retreating to her tower after Gellert had openly laughed when she’d explained her reason for never coming down as being ‘because it clouded her inner eye’ and refused to speak to him again; and Snape who’d shut himself downstairs in his quarters at the first opportunity.
It ended up being more like what Miss Granger called a ‘treasure hunt’ and it took the children to every corner of the castle. Of course, being teachers, they couldn’t resist adding in a bit of a learning opportunity and McGonagall took great pleasure in transfiguring all the clues and hiding them in obscure locations. Dumbledore seemed to find the mess that organising the hunt had created in the staffroom very amusing, and he only added to it by suggesting inaccessible places that the trio would have to fly to on brooms or summon the clue from. (Leaving them with a hint to a fifth-year charm was Flitwick's idea, as he had been certain Hermione would consider it a treat in itself. He was right, of course.) For once, Gellert took a step back, announcing that he would be the impartial teacher that the students could come to for help. Of course, by the time the first clue was presented to the students, it was so complex that it took them half a day just to figure out the first clue and the hint included that ‘Professor Wohl’ could be asked for advice. They ended up spending a lot of time with him over the next few days. Charity seemed to find the whole thing rather baffling, admitting to Gellert that she’d ‘only meant an Easter egg hunt in the grounds.’
“What’s your first memory of being a wizard?” Gellert asked Harry the following morning, while Ron was still having breakfast and Hermione was flickering through a book on rituals to decipher the eleventh clue.
“I vanished the glass of a boa's zoo habitat,” Harry replied. “Okay, maybe that's wasn't the first, but it's something I'm glad to have done. And I think that snake was the first who ever thanked me for anything.”
“Thanked you? You're a parselmouth?”
“I thought that's natural for a wizard...”
“Legilimency can be natural. Or it can be learnt. That's the ability to peek into others' mind. Literally the word translates as 'mind-reading' but most minds resemble Mr Ronald Weasley's class notes more than a legible book.” At that, all three children laughed. “It's more like untangling the thoughts,” Grindelwald continued. “With animals, it's relatively easy, once you get a hang of it. But snakes are natural occlumens, and talking to them is a very different and rare ability.”
After some brooding, Harry blurted out, “I’m not exactly happy to be even more freakish than I already am.”
“Freakish? Mr Potter, being special is the best possible feature of being a wizard.”
After the children left to retrieve yet another clue, Gellert found himself alone with the Muggle Studies teacher who had been acting strangely these past days. When he queried why she would stay in the castle apart for keeping an eye on him, she claimed she wasn't in the mood for family life. Her thoughts were full of darkness and cold he never believed her capable of.
“Please, don't,” she stuttered, and it would have been really rude to continue. (More so than invading her mind had been.)
“One more of you with a disturbing family life? Now I understand how you can tolerate Snape.”
“He’s a good friend,” Miss Burbage defended Albus’s greasy-haired pet death eater. “Like you are.”
“With such good friends, you'd better spend the holidays with intense training,” he remarked.
“Okay.” That was too typical of her.
“I mean it, Miss Burbage.”
“We’re colleagues. Call me Charity.”
Imitating her resigned speaking style, he replied, “Okay.” She laughed.
“How about that beer duel you once showed? You have no idea what is and what isn't school-appropriate behavior, but I think I could use a drink.”
He stared at her, dumbfounded. So he really did duel her, after that Ravenclaw defeat-forgetting party?
She took that a yes and conjured him a jar of beer, perhaps pulling it from a secret, teachers-only reserve.
“The only advantage I'm giving you is that I'll hold this in my wand hand,” he announced. “And if you're about to challenge a Durmstrang, the call for that is, 'To the brim!' It means taking the beer duel seriously.”
“To the brim, then!” she exclamated, her own jar in her left hand. Gellert attacked.
She dodged, she cast proper shields, she sent counter-curses. She was good, when she put her mind to it.
The second time she tripled him over, he laughed with her, drying his brown and black garment from the spilled foam. The third time it happened, Charity asked if he was throwing the duel intentionally.
“I’m insulted by the accusation! I lose because I trained you too well! Next time you're attacked, just toss a beer at the naive wizard, and spill his beer!”
“To the brim!” Charity called.
Finally, FINALLY, she was on the right path and willing to progress. After months of passivity in the private classes, 'Wohl' saw her finally meaning the spells she was casting. So this was the key to her: not taking the training seriously. Once her revulsion against fighting was circumvented, she really showed the glimmer of talent.
“To the brim!”
And they battled until the beer reserve ran out.
“Professor Wohl?” Harry asked that evening as Ron used his favourite charm – wingardium leviosa – to levitate clue number eighteen from one of the branches of the whomping willow. He glanced at the boy in question and nodded sharply for him to continue, more concerned about the way Miss Granger was toeing the edge of the monstrous tree’s reach in an effort to grab the clue early.
“Do many people have special abilities?” He asked, just as Hermione snatched the fluttering piece of parchment from the air and retreated back to a safe distance from the agitated tree. Finally, Gellert could turn his attention away from the muggleborn.
“No, Mr Potter, not many.” He answered, finally turning his full attention to the boy.
“Can you do anything special?” He asked and Gellert hesitated; there was nothing to stop him telling the Potter boy that he had the sight but he would probably tell Miss Granger and she was far too smart for her own good. It wouldn’t take her long to find that there has only been one wizard born with the sight in recent history, add to that his less than subtle German origins. There was no point in pressing the already pressed-thin Fidelius charm.
On the other hand, the survivor of the Killing Curse really needed this reassurance.
“Can you keep a secret, Mr. Potter?’ He asked and Harry nodded emphatically. “I am a seer. One of the few that can predict things on demand. Not everything, though.”
For a moment Harry looked awestruck, then he asked if he could predict where the answer to the next clue would be. An image of the Ravenclaw tower flashed in front of his eyes but he didn’t give the boy the answer he’d asked for. Instead he just laughed and told him that would be cheating.
The proof that they'd really overcomplicated the tasks was that Hermione was still pouring over her book of magical creatures on the last day of the holidays, while the Hogwarts Express was already on its way back with the two hundred others. The last clue had been something about needing to see death to find them, so she was almost ready to bet they’d hidden the eggs near something that could only be seen if you’d seen death. She was certain she’d read about a magical beast like that but she couldn’t remember if they were cave dwelling or forest dwelling.
Hermione settled in her favourite armchair in the library, flicking through each page individually. She skipped through bugs and humanoids, then slowed to read through birds. Fish and crustaceans was a section that she could skip confidently, then she came to reptiles.
Near the back of the reptile section she saw something that caught her attention – maybe it was the bright crimson flash of colour under a drawing with a disclaimer scribbled underneath of the number of X’s in the rating. As she read through the passage beneath the name, events started to click into place in her mind.
The never-seen monster. Harry hearing voices. There was no other explanation! Really, what other creature would have Salazar Slytherin left in the Chamber, if not a basilisk? It was obvious!
“Madam Pince, I'll bring the book back later but it's urgent!” she yelled as she stormed out of the library, giving thanks to Merlin and all four founders of Hogwarts that the DADA classroom was on the same corridor.
“Professor Wohl, I’ve got it! It’s a Basilisk!” She shouted.
“Hi, 'Mione!”Ron greeted her as she all but took the door off its hinges.
“Miss Granger! Basilisks do cause death but if I remember correctly they are illegal. Hogwarts is unlikely to have one.” Professor Wohl said without looking up.
“Ron's beating Professor Wohl for the fourth time in a row,” Harry added as he glanced over from one of the professor’s books.
“Not in a row,” both Professor Wohl and Ronald corrected him, neither looking up from the chess set in the middle of the teacher's table. The black and the white figures saluted to her before they continued clubbing and stabbing each other.
“What is a basilisk?” Ron asked.
“The king of snakes,” Professor Wohl answered, taking down Ronald's last remaining bishop.
“Slytherin’s monster,” Hermione said, slamming down the book next to the chess set and making all the pieces jump in their squares.
Now Professor Wohl looked up.
“Salazar Slytherin's? Miss Granger, you are the most brilliant witch of the entire school since its foundation!”
“Thank you, professor.”
“Knight to d5. Check,” Ron announced.
“Queen to d5. Check.” Professor Wohl replied without a glance, attention fixed on the witch.
“And he’s probably looking for his heir, wherever they’ve disappeared to.” Harry added.
“Looking, that's what I'm afraid of,” Professor Wohl sighed. “If it's really a basilisk... It must be!”
“What is a basilisk?” Harry repeated the ignored question.
“King surrenders,” Ron admitted, staring at the chess table. “Another match, Professor?”
“Maybe later, Mr Ronald Weasley,” Professor Wohl declined, with a sudden twinge of his (currently dark brown) eyes. “Sometime later.” His voice was uncharacteristically hollow.
“The basilisk is the deadliest snake in the world, staring into its eyes can kill you,” Hermione explained while Professor Wohl was giving Ron's chess figures back. “There’s no record of one that ever died of old age. Its skin deflects spells...”
“And its venom is so destructive it can even destroy a horcrux,” Professor Wohl finished for her.
“What is a horcrux?”
With an awkward grimace, Professor Wohl quietly said, “Sorry for the interruption. We should go and speak with Professor Dumbledore.”
Chapter 17: The truth in the night
Chapter 17 – The truth in the night
Hermione had never been to the headmaster’s office before. It was hidden behind a massive gryphon statue, which she wouldn’t have wanted to see had anyone activated the statues in the school. Professor Wohl only paused in front of it and began to spiral upwards on a rotating staircase. She jumped on and shared a look with her friends.
They grated upwards for several seconds, so they must have been going up into one of the towers. They eventually stopped at a large door which Wohl pushed open without even knocking. The office was fascinating, portraits covered every wall but they were nothing compared to the strange instruments on the tables. There were things that looked like glass telescopes, others that just looked like bronze icecubes. A large red bird was blinking at them from a perch by the window. There was a large marble dish on a pedestal in a corner cabinet and a massive silver sword displayed above it.
Dumbledore was already sitting at his desk and he looked up with a smile. He waited for them to get close and Hermione started spilling her discovery before they were even within comfortable talking distance. Of course, she had finished her explanation before they even reached the table, leaving an amused but slightly confused-looking Dumbledore.
Professor Wohl managed to summarise the whole story far more accurately, including the little details in a clear, concise manner that made Hermione look a little mollified but once the professor understood their discovery, forged on in a much more restrained manner.
“A basilisk can only be controlled by a parselmouth,” she finished. “Which Harry is.”
“Slytherin's basilisk doesn't seem to have read the same book,” Harry shook his head. “I heard it searching for the Heir but I have no idea how I could control it.”
“You’ll have to win it over, Harry,” the headmaster explained.“You’ll need to find it; talk to it, prove yourself.”
After fixing the teachers with an incredulous look, Harry said, “I remember hearing its voice around the History classroom, right under the closed bathroom on the second floor,”
“Might I suggest that you offer it something in return for obeying you? Perhaps free roam of the forest in exchange for not harming any students?’ Professor Wohl suggested.
Dumbledore leaned back in consideration. “I suppose, so long as it doesn’t harm the centaurs either, that is an acceptable compromise.” He decided, then he stood and beckoned to his red-coloured bird. “Fawkes will be invaluable if this situation takes a turn for the worse. Come.”
The headmaster hurried from the room and the three students and their teacher followed him. Harry, following Ron’s idea, left them for a few minutes to retrieve his father’s old cloak, and re-joined them at their first point of call: the second floor. There they paused to consider their options. Several ideas and theories were tossed between the two old wizards, but Ron had already remembered a charm he’d seen a Ravenclaw use in their ‘real life’ games.
‘Professors, is there a version of that spell that shows any hidden people that could show animals?’ He asked and the two turned to look at him with incredulous stares before Wohl twirled his wand casually around them.
‘Ostende Animalis.’ He said authoritively and the castle around them lit up with life; green bugs, birds on the roof, rats in the plumbing and the hundreds of house elves that kept the school clean.
‘Try “anguis”,’ Dumbledore advised quietly and Wohl nodded, amending his spell. This time only a few bulbs of light lit the castle. Most were below them on the ground floor levels but the largest was above them. With a shared look they hurried up the flights of stairs, taking a zig-zagging route that they hoped would eventually end up near the snake.
Unfortunately, they forgot that snakes could move and they met it a floor below where they had expected to see it. Fawkes suddenly screeched as they rounded a corner and the bird exploded into a wall of fire in front of them. Dumbledore (it had to be him) immediately conjured thick scarves on their heads, tying them with the same motion so that those folded the children's eyes. The hissing that they heard at the same time was unmistakable.
“I’d rather not translate that,” Harry claimed.
Someone cast a spell blowing metal out of the wall with a loud clang and a second, more powerful explosion must have been one of the older wizards backing the first one up. The hissing intensified, and now he could hear a rustle of scales.
“Quick, Harry!” Ron suddenly shouted. “Put your Cloak on its head! We'll distract it, but remember, everyone has their eyes covered!”
Harry took a running leap (perhaps without thinking, if Hermione's past experience with the survivor was anything to go by) and managed to grab onto one of the headspines. The snake hissed and thrashed, trying to shake him off and he hissed back at it to shut up and be still.
“It’s on!” he declared a moment later.
Hermione opened her eyes to see one of her best friends holding on to a patch of air that continued in the largest snake she would see ever. Despite Harry's cloak being big enough for the three of them to hide under, the mouth and the royal red head plumage of the basilisk were already out of the cover.
She aimed at the tongue of the beast, hoping to paralyze at least its head. “Locomotor mortis!” She remembered that the basilisk's scales reflect spells, but she remembered too late she was using a leg-locking jinx.
‘Petrificus Totalus!’ Ron screeched and the snake suddenly went rigid and Harry could climb into a relatively safer position on the monster's head. He wisely avoided the snake’s snout so as not to slip and touch those venomous fangs or swipe the cloak off the wide open eyes of the frozen snake.
‘Hurry, Harry. We can’t hold it for long!’ Ron ground out.
‘Have you still got spellotape, Ron?’ Seeing him nod, she pointed her wand in the direction of the dormitory and focused or her other best friend's trunk – and on the spell she had picked up during the treasure hunt. “Accio – spellotape!”
She wasn't surprised that the spell worked. What shocked her was the sight of the two teachers arguing in whispers halfway down the corridor, the headmaster blocking the way of the Defence teacher, with a tiny, chirping fluff of feathers in his left hand. She had been told that 'Wohl' was dark and she had several good reasons to suspect it wasn't his real name, but they chose a horribly inconvenient time and place to sort their disagreement out.
She didn't have time to muse about that, however, and it wasn't her place to judge her Headmaster's actions. Her vine wand flicked and seconds later the roll of spellotape landed in Harry’s hands. He quickly used half the roll to hold the cloak over the snake’s eyes before climbing back down the way he’d come.
The snake remained relatively motionless, just resignedly hissing, perhaps about how he had been beaten. Harry hissed back something – it was a horribly unnatural sound, as if spoken by a different person. The snake tried to wraggle out of the spell's hold, but Ron quickly sent another stunner down its throat from where no scale would deflect it.
“The carriages are back with the students,” suddenly the Grey Lady announced. “Hagrid and Minerva are leading them up to the welcome-back feast.”
“We can safely move the basilisk out once they are all in the hall and nobody's in the way,” Professor Wohl declared.
Headmaster Dumbledore fixed the Defence teacher with an unexplainably hostile glare. Hermione almost yelled at him for the unfair and prejudiced treatment of the other old wizard, the only thing that stopped her was the headmaster backing away on his own. “I will make sure there's nobody else on the corridors,” he parted. “Remember your rules.”
Hermione's attention turned back to Harry, who was now standing in front of the immobile, but still threateningly hissing basilisk.
“Tell it about your priorities,” Professor Wohl stepped closer. “Tell it that you're friends with a muggleborn student and you won't let it harm her.”
Harry did as he was told, still sweating like after a double training of quidditch. “He called me an unworthy heir, which is true, I'm no heir of anyone.”
“That’s very stupid, Harry, you had four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, sixteen...”
“I think that's not what he meant, Hermione!” Ron interrupted her. “So it's a boy snake?”
Harry continued hissing to the gigantic snake, and the beast almost bit him for his efforts.
“You need to convince him to move to the forest willingly,” the teacher explained to Harry. “Tell him how nice that place is, this time of the year.”
The snake quieted down a little, as if weighting his personal interest against the legacy Salazar Slytherin must have left him with.
“Tell him that the founders had lived a millennium ago,” she added. Harry complied.
“He's still not exactly friendly,” Ron pointed out.
“It's all right,” Professor Wohl reassured them, just like he had done so in the first lessons when they hadn't even known how to draw their wands in a hurry. “Ask where it spent the last few centuries.”
The answer must have been quite depressing and Harry translated that without the heir he couldn’t get out of his old den. Finally having something in common, Harry replied what had to be his own living arrangements with his aunt and her family, perhaps in more detail than what the boy was willing to reveal to her.
Professor Wohl nodded in satisfaction, and signaled for Harry to repeat the offer about moving the basilisk into the forest. Harry told the basilisk that he had to swear not to hurt anybody and in exchange they would help build him a perfect den in the forest.
Fortunately, the snake had seen the kind of den a wizard could build for him when he was young but had outgrown it in only a few years. The heirs hadn’t made him a new den.
Finally the snake and Harry came to an agreement and he even invited Harry and Ronto ride on his back until he found a home he liked in the forest. As Harry apologetically told Hermione, he still refused to be friendly with a muggleborn.
“Not trying to kill her is good enough a progress,” Professor Wohl pointed out. “You two will manage from here, I trust?”
“I can't count how many dens I made for Scabbers,” Ron sighed, climbing onto the basilisk uncertainly, but the animal waited patiently as the boys situated themselves firmly on his body.
“Phew,” Hermione sighed, once her two best friends were out of sight. “Professor, I know it sounds silly, but that's the kind of adventure Harry always finds himself in.”
‘Where did he get that cloak?’ Wohl asked as they started off to the welcoming feast. There was a strange tone in his voice but Hermione didn’t see the harm in telling him. She figured Wohl could hardly steal it when Harry had their basilisk mount at his command.
‘It was his father’s. Professor Dumbledore gave it to him in our first year. He’d been keeping it safe for him after his parents' deaths.’
Wohl was ominously silent after that, but he hurried his steps towards the Great Hall.
“ALBUS!” For the first time since they’d met him, Hermione noted, Professor Wohl wasn’t his usual reassuring self. He was running, no, storming by the time they reached the welcoming feast, hardly bothered by the fact Hermione was now actively trying to slow him down. “For forty-eight years, I was under the impression it was all right. I thought you were the great and worthy champion!” Wohl bellowed up the hall.
“Perhaps in comparison.” Dumbledore seemed baffled, as if he couldn’t figure out what he’d done to deserve the wrath of his staff.
“I never robbed a FIFTEEN MONTHS YOUNG ORPHAN. You? Not only that, you dumped said orphan to an unworthy muggle family! Is there still a mirror in this world you can look into, Albus?”
Hermione could see the exact moment realisation dawned on the old headmaster’s face. “You don't have the right to judge my actions! I did what was best for the boy.”
“You judged me for my idea of 'good' and now tell me not to remind you that you're guilty of THE SAME THING!”
“Expelliarmus!” Flitwick reacted. The wand flew from Wohl's holster before he could have as much as drawn it, but at the moment he was so madly focused on the headmaster, he didn't even seem to notice.
“Do not call me 'same thing,' I'm not the one whose crimes fill history books!”
“Leave your illusory moral high ground, Albus! You pose as the leader of all that's legal and just, but then, why are you so viscerally afraid of facing your own past?” Only now did he reach for his wand, which was, of course, already in Professor Flitwick's hand. The tiny champion was now trying to shoo the students out of the oncoming harm's way, but as the volume of the argument rose, that became even more difficult as even those who had already left filtered back in.
‘I have far less to be ashamed of in my past!’
‘At least I acknowledge that my past is something to be ashamed of! You have your own, or have you forgotten your sister?’
‘Ariana was not killed by my hand.’
‘You began the duel; I would have taught your brother his lesson and continued with our mission.’
“What are they talking about?” Ron's oldest brother in the school, Percy, asked. The others voiced similar questions.
“I didn't bring you here to tell me what I should have done differently! Since you finally seem to understand 'conscience,' you could as well look into your own!”
“What do you think I was doing for the past four decades?! Four decades under the impression I was wrong and you were right! I accepted my defeat under the FALSE impression that you were more worthy of leading the Wizarding World! But while I regained myself, you lost sight of who you inspired to be. The difference is, you're too much of a coward to admit that.”
“If there's one fault I must admit, that's giving a chance to a thankless murderer who still thinks the world would be doing better revolving around him!”
“Rather around me, you misguided, power-hungry epitome of hypocriticism! You ARE NO BETTER THAN I AM!”
“Anyone is better than you, Gellert Grindelwald!”
Very much of a sudden, both wizards sobered. Dumbledore's last words echoed through the Great Hall, the corridors, the staircases of Hogwarts itself.
Realization hit strongly, irrevocably. The name whispered through the hall as people recognised the name.
‘How could I have not realised,’ Hermione gasped.
“What?!” Lavender gaped next to her.
“Gellert Grindelwald,” Hermione repeated in a leery whisper. “Our defence teacher is the dark wizard that took over Europe and tried to burn cities to the ground.”
She remembered him from history; possibly the only cool subject they hadn’t covered in their re-enactments. The darkest wizard of the century before Voldemort, the one who had been expelled from Durmstrang for twisted experiments on students, the mass murderer that had brought both the muggle and wizarding worlds to their knees.
Chapter 18: For the Greater Good
The school was eerily quiet that morning. Students were whispering among each other, but they were keen on keeping their distance from the teachers' table. The Weasley twins were giving out what looked suspiciously like rockets, Hermione Granger was shooting murderous glares. At the Hufflepuff table, Tonks was crying into the shoulder of another student's robe, her hair a dark grey shade.
Charity made a point of sitting next to Grindelwald, demonstrating that nothing happened between them and she still had (misplaced) faith in him.
“I think Albus doesn't have it in himself to talk to you right now,” she muttered.
“He’s doing damage control with the ICW,” the fallen dark wizard said, seemingly calm. “He risked a lot when he brought me here, and now he's facing backlash.”
Charity reached for his hand. “What will happen to you?”
The image, no, the hope of the brown owl landing in Nurmengard...
“If I leave now, peacefully, the ICW won't have the ground to consider my temporary absence as a successful escape and might spare Albus the worst. Please tell him when you see him that I knew how this would end and I don't blame him. Well, I blame him for a lot, but not this time. He has done all he could, and then some more.”
“You've changed,” Charity sobbed.
“Don’t miss my young self. And keep practising. For me. Please.”
“Filius packed me everything I'm allowed to take away. There's a diary in my room, Albus is the only one who should try and meddle with it. Everything else is Hogwarts property.”
Seeing that most students were already down here, and guessing the remaining few didn't wish to see him, Grindelwald stood up. His eyes were their natural colours, his hair plain white with age, his black shirt and brown cape showing the magical repairs after the many small accidents that had happened in his teaching carrier. Silence fell across the hall, maybe because of the powerful aura he portrayed, similar to Dumbledore in its intensity, no longer actively disguised.
“As you all have heard,” he began, “my true identity is out. Yes, I'm Gellert Grindelwald, the worst and the most feared dark wizard of this century. And here I stand in front of you, and I don't even know how to address you, brilliant and promising young magicals. My students? Not anymore. My friends? I enjoyed the illusion while it lasted. My last hope of redemption, my anchors to this world. I stand here, and accept your hatred. I accept your disdain. But you are and will be my dearest memory.”
Shafiq stirred in his seat, grumbled something, perhaps that he never wanted to be such.
“You all have heard of my past. What do I have in the present? The best I could have hoped for this decade would have been a thick, warm blanket. Instead, I was given the undeserved gift that I could teach you. And who can count all I have learnt from you meanwhile? You showed me the values of people I previously looked down. You showed me the young enthusiasm to live and make this world a better place, this world that my own misguided actions caused so much harm to. You showed me that wounds have healed, you showed me there was a new future beyond the pain and sorrow. You showed me hope, until I started to believe in it again.”
He blinked at Ginevra Weasley, surrounded by her many brothers. His throat constricted.
“I tried my best to return your never-deserved trust in me. Since September, this September, I did anything in my power to shield your future, to educate you, to help you grow better than I was. Even if that last part isn't much of a challenge. You are good people.”
Marcus Flint massaged his neck, in the spot where his wand had once stabbed him.
“I failed a million times. Maybe I failed you too, while you deserve the best. You are a future I won't be a part of. All I ask is that you remember me. I will remember you, the classes, the history discussions, the duelling club, the Deutsche Sprache extracurriculars. When I will close my eyes I’ll see you standing up with pointed wands, or out in the quidditch pitch, some of you on brooms and some of you cheering in the stand next to me. In the utmost silence, I will hear your voices, asking your questions or answering mine.”
There was Percival Weasley, still giving him the same horrified and murderous glare. He bleakly smiled at him, apologetically.
“This year with you was a gift I didn't deserve and couldn't live up to. But, if that's of any importance, I tried. Please, don't forget what I taught you. And when you feel lost, when you feel ridiculed or looked down upon, know that there's an aged war criminal who's still very proud of you and who wants you to carry on being who you are.”
He sighed, then added in a very quiet voice: “That is all.”
As he walked down the aisle between the two central tables, some of his pupils turned their faces away, some were staring at him with various expressions.
He hurried, he couldn't stop or he would have never brought together the courage to start moving again. His time was up. He had done what he could, and received far more than he had deserved. He had made a change, perhaps even saved lives. The reprieve was over.
“Auf Wiedersehen, Professor Wohl,” young Malfoy suddenly said.
“Auf Wiedersehen,” echoed several children, perhaps on reflex. How could they know? 'See you again?' They wouldn't. Perhaps he would see them, in his visions, perhaps he would see what they become. Except for the Patils...There was a chance they might catch a glimpse of him, of a broken old wizard.
But really, that was all.
As he turned around to return the goodbye, he caught a glimpse of Albus running down the stairs, and Charity rose to stop him.
Their eyes met, one last time, but he broke the contact before their minds would have opened up to each other. There wasn't anything left to discuss.
There wasn't anything left at all. Yes, knowing Albus and his hero complex, he would have thrown away his status as Supreme Mugwump and his rank as headmaster, his reputation, his name, only to hide him somewhere and cover up his escape, but to what use? There really was just one way the dark wizard could at least show some decency and not leave his greatest enemy and greatest benefactor as target of the entire wizarding world.
He stepped outside the castle building, where the portkey wards weren't effective.
He steadied himself, he couldn't cry yet. Not for a few more seconds.
His tracker necklace, his security pendant (a familiar and loved triangular shape) were still on him, still active.
“Für das Gröβere Wohl,” he muttered. There was the pull at his navel as he lost sight of the castle and the school grounds, the lake and the forest. There was only an abandoned black prison in a steep hillside towering in front of him, and once again he was surrounded by wards and complete loneliness.
Tears now freely running down his cheeks, he started to climb the familiar stairs.
Somebody had been here before him, perhaps just a few minutes before his arrival. The old wards had been renewed, surrounding the dark structure, and fusing with its every stone.
A door opened to him, then closed behind him with a bang of finality. There was no going back now. His only path led upwards. The necklace melted into nonexistence, no longer needed as a tracker because he wouldn’t be going anywhere now.
How cold the abandoned prison was, just an accursed rock out in the mountainside. Doors opened and slammed closed once again while the marching wizard wiped his face and continued on his way to certain doom. The pendant fell on the black stone floor, its magic as a portkey dissolving in front of his eyes. He pocketed it, as he wouldn't be able to return for it later. He'd be wasting away several stories above.
He had done what he could. He had gotten more than he deserved. Had he been broken by the unexpected favour and mercy? More so, than by 48 years of loneliness, more so, than by losing a Hallow and a war?
Perhaps it was just his age, and his understanding of 'for his entire remaining life'. There wasn't much left for him, now was there? The brown owl... Who would send the brown owl? Should he expect the bird this summer, or in the following years?
A shiver ran down his spine as he reached the last but one level. It had once been an office room, where he was standing now, and a dusty wooden table caught his attention. There was an inkwell on it with fresh ink, some good-quality quills, and a package that looked like some sort of a wrapped book. But it wasn't: when he tore it open, he found blank white sheets, about two hundred of them. Muggle thing, but it would do for writing down his thoughts. And maybe the new wards didn't repel postal birds?
He gathered up the stationery that must have been the welcome-home gift from the ICW wardbuilders, and steadied himself to pass the last remaining door. The one that would lead him to his tiny, dirty, maddening cell that had been his entire world for four decades already. But he had come this far. One more door, and he can at least be certain he would die with his memories still intact. If any auror would ask, he'd answer that he needed to remember that he'd become a better man.
Not that there was a challenge in being better than what he had been.
He laid his hand on the boulder-like door, and almost gasped in surprise.
There was not a single strain of magic. No ward. No lock.
Maybe Albus managed to pull some last strings regarding his imprisonment, or maybe the wardbuilders decided locking his cell would be overkill. Maybe it was a reward for coming back without resistance? A thank-you for not killing the witches and wizards who would have been sent out to retrieve him?
Laughable concepts, but he was relieved. He had an entire level to himself: an office with two chairs, a tap with hot water, fireplace, an entire line of cells he could choose from. He didn't even have to choose, as none of them had their locking spells anymore.
He dropped on the bench in a random cell, and, like he had never before in his life, he cried himself to sleep.
Aussicht / The Dream Owl. A gift from SilverStar309. Thank you!
Chapter 19: Nurmengard
The brown owl arrived on the tenth of July, on a cloudy morning, with a bright yellow envelope sporting a jackalope sketch in the upper left corner. It had been addressed to 'Professor Gellert Wohl Grindelwald', which felt ridiculously awkward, but at the same time, was reassuring.
'Dear Mr Grindelwald,
I don't have the faintest idea how you will feel about this, but I've just been accepted into our Ministry's Auror Training. You're the first I write to about my acceptance, and whether you like it or not, I'm grateful for every moment of your lessons. You've been the best teacher I had throughout all my seven years! I can't imagine how I'll tell this to my future colleagues, but rest assured, I will. Unless you don’t want me not to? I'm so confused!
The rest of the school year was completely eventless. Slytherin won the house cup, Gryffindor won quidditch. All of us in the NEWT class scored O, and of what I've heard, the OWL results weren't bad either. Professor Flitwick promised to carry on the duelling club. I don't think anyone could take up the Deutsche Sprache extra, or reproduce your unforgettable History demonstrations.
You, sir, are irreplaceable. And whenever I blink at your photo in the old case studies, I see you as Professor Wohl, who showed me the Revelio Incantator spell and taught me how to sniff out Polyjuice.
I'm sorry I couldn't even say a proper goodbye, Professor. We will see to that blanket you requested.
With a warm hug,
Auror Trainee Nymphadora Tonks
P.S. Headmaster Dumbledore says you're related to the witch who authored our History books! It's in your blood, right?'
The fallen wizard sat down in the office window, watching as the brown owl took off to the uppermost room – the cell that Grindelwald never went close to again, but kept its door open nevertheless.
The owl let out a dissatisfied hoot, and the prison's owner obligingly grabbed one of the chairs and carried it up to his former cell to be used as a makeshift perch. Apparently, it would function as an owlery from now on. That is, if this wasn't the only letter he'd get from his auror student.
He got down to writing.
'Dearest Miss Auror Trainee Tonks,
Of course I'm happy and proud to receive your letter, although I never doubted that the Auror Corps will be eager to enlist you. You're a treasure.
Thank you for sharing the news with me. In the end, at least the duelling club was something truly good I managed in my long life.
To answer your question, yes, Bathilda Bagshot is a sister of my late grandmother. You should meet her sometime, she’s a very nice witch; always seeing the best in everyone.
From the deepest of my (admittedly shallow) heart, I wish you the best for your auror carrier. If you ever face a problem I might be able to help with, if there ever comes up a question I could answer, please send a letter and I'll try my best to assist you. Your owl already seems to have made home in my old cell. At least one part of this accursed prison has been repurposed.
Live well, Miss Tonks. Thank you for remembering me.
Pr. Wohl / Gellert Grindelwald'
The owl slept through the day, then took off with his reply the following evening.
After that, time crawled again. He spent most of his time meditating in one of the cells, eyes fixed on the panorama projected by the charm he had gotten from the half-goblin teacher who had been his unofficial probation supervisor. He wondered if this sort of consolation had been the original idea behind the gift, but the more he tried to find this out, the less the answer (a very solid no) made any sense to him.
He saw his students, some of them, on the train back to London, from where the parents would pick them up. He saw Harry grinning at a parchment, on which a very fat muggle wrote '4 weeks OR MORE' before signing it. He saw Dumbledore (with a black eye and a fracture on his glasses – clear signs he had talked with Aberforth after the Fidelius charm had been broken) explaining Nurmengard's wards to Oliver Wood.
But he didn't foresee the invasion that was approaching his fortress.
His existence was, in all honesty, acceptable. He had been locked up in a much smaller cell and had long ago given in to that sentence. Now he had hot water, a few books, and so many fresh memories of a world that had welcomed him back for eight months.
He spent several hours comparing his old goals to the new ones. Views that he had once considered eternally his own, and opinions he recently had been forced to voice lest he ruined his one and only chance for some limited time outside. Which had been real? Which had been true? Wasn't the Wizarding World doing fine (completely fine!) without enslaving the muggles? Not to mention the possibility of an educated couple of those, bearing a child like Miss Granger, brightest witch of her age. Also, he'd witnessed how an offspring of muggles can bring a lost talent back, like Auror Tonks. Both young women were gifts from the muggle world to the wizarding one. In the end, it wasn't even Miss Tonks who hunted him down, it was simply the curse that couldn't be untangled from the wards.
Now that he had time again, far too much time, he reconsidered every word of his old views and accepted he had been wrong. There were no storms of conscience like what Albus might have been expecting, just a quiet understanding and a faint glimmer of hope that the wizarding world had recovered after the damage he had done. It was enough. It had to be enough.
He wondered, briefly, whether his own self was on the way of recovery as well. Whether he could put the past behind, and prepare for the inevitable last adventure. Talking of which, he all but laughed when a vision showed him Harry, survivor of the Killing Curse and Master of the Cloak of Invisibility, tall and lean, his lightning-scar barely hidden by his messy black hair. 'The one with the power of death,' vision-Harry explained to what must have been a journalist, drawing the Wand symbol in the air with red sparkles. 'The one with the power over death,' vision-Harry continued with the circle that stood for the Stone. 'The one over whom death has no power.’ With the triangle of the Cloak, the sigil of red sparkles was glowing brightly between the vision-boy and the vision-journalist. 'Together, they make one the Master of Death.’
That was a heartwarming sight. When would that happen? Potter looked older by only a few years, perhaps still attending Hogwarts, when he gave (will give) this interview. What would prompt that? It would be understandable now, now when having had the dreaded Grindelwald as the favourite school teacher was still fresh news. Not in years.
He tried to look into the future, tried to see where Potter would be during this interview, he tried so hard that he almost missed the first buzz of Nurmengard's complex ward system. He opened his eyes only when a phoenix flew straight into the outermost shield, flared up in a brilliant red, then continued flight in his adult form.
There were dots coming, tiny spots of broom riders against the setting summer sun. Visitors? He was getting visitors! Oh, now he recognized them, it was Oliver Wood, followed by Lee Jordan, the three chaser girls, and their bespectacled seeker. More than half of the Gryffindor quidditch team, riding brooms from as far as Britain! How could they find him? (Silly question, he admitted. He had seen Wood being told in detail how to pass the wards.)
As Wood later explained, the idea of a visit had been sparkled by the Weasley twins (who else) but they couldn't see to the plan's completing because of an unexpected family visit to Egypt. (They sent their best regards, though, and a set of prank products of their own making.) Frederick and George had shared their idea with Jordan, who had owled Angelina Johnson in his continued effort to catch her attention. Angelina had mentioned the letter to her best friend and classmate Alicia Spinnet, who had floo-called the third chaser Katie Bell. Katie's first question had been whether a summer training camp had been Wood's idea, which the captain loathed to admit it hadn’t been but now that the girls had mentioned that, he wouldn't have rested until he pushed the idea through McGonagall, who in turn had noted that this could be the first birthday Harry could spend with his own people and had pestered Dumbledore until the old wizard had visited the parents of all the students involved, telling them in person that the children had requested to visit a known war criminal in his self-made, isolated fortress. The families had all argued whether or not to allow a one or maybe two weeks long holiday, but the general conclusion had been that they either all visit, or none of them. Then, in the middle of the argument arrived Hedwig with the signed permission slip from Harry's uncle, who had been all for young Potter spending the entire summer away from them in Austria.
“In the end, we have to thank Harry's muggle family for everyone else's permission,” Jordan concluded. “How’re you doing, Professor?”
“Headmaster Dumbledore is sorry about what happened,” shared Alicia.
“Is it true the muggle-repelling charms reach over two hundred miles from here?” asked Wood. “That's double of the required distance! This place was just MEANT TO BE a quidditch stadium.”
Grindelwald knew for certain that no, it wasn't, but with the same certainty he remembered the general consensus that Wood is not to be argued with when it came to quidditch.
The first day of the unofficial quiddich camp wasn’t actually quiddich at all – instead they focused on making the top floor of the prison into somewhere habitable for the students, all of whom were far more fussy than Gellert had ever been.
They had all brought trunks of gear underneath their brooms and they broke down several walls between cells, creating a makeshift dorm for the three girls and another for the three boys. Once the basics had been established (and the chamber pot transfigured into a real toilet) they began working on two remaining cells, blowing out the walls between them to create a large kitchen / dining room.
Then they built another fireplace, this one larger because after several attempts it became obvious that the mechanics of a stove were too complex to create when the only experienced wizard had never looked at one of them with more than a passing glance. Nobody was opposed to campfire food, so the arrangement was easily sufficient.
From then on, Gellert only really got to see the exhausted, soaked and occasionally mud-covered teens in the evenings but that was more than he could ever have asked for. Not to mention it was far more interesting to watch them training than just counting the trees until they started dropping their leaves.
‘My parents agreed we can only stay as long as we're together,” Jordan explained after two weeks in the castle. It was still slightly surreal to Gellert. He was sitting in his prison fortress with a group of students that were there by their own decisions, although they were now preparing to leave.
“And ours... Well, I'm sorry, Harry, but those who have parents want to see them before the school starts.”
Harry only nodded in a gloomy acceptance. Unlike the others, he was less than enthusiastic about seeing his family again.
“Hey! What's that?” Spinnet suddenly ran to the office (now dubbed ‘common room’) window.
“Looks like some sort of a spell,” stared Jordan.
“That’s a Patronus,” Grindelwald noted. “Though I can't yet make out whose it could be.”
When the brilliant silver-white phenomenon reached the office, it was clearly phoenix-shaped.
“Harry, my boy,” it began in Albus's voice, “stay where you are. Please stay where you are, I'll explain later, but your safety is first priority. Do not leave Nurmengard until I tell you it's safe for you to return to Britain. There's a madman trying to kill you.”
Chapter 20: Sharing knowledge
Fawkes arrived in a flash of red fire, carrying the third-year school books for Harry and a vague letter about Sirius Black's worrying escape.
“Has Professor Dumbledore always been this secretive?” Potter asked as they finished reading together.
“Only when it fits his goals,” Grindelwald replied. His tone was soft and reassuring, giving a sense of home despite the two of them being alone in a cold, abandoned prison structure. “As I heard, his mother was worse. But there’s a key to Albus: talk about Transfiguration science, and he'll loosen up. At least that's what he was like when I met him.”
Harry rolled his eyes in a manner that suggested Transfiguration wasn't exactly his forte, before reaching for another letter. This one had been delivered by owl the previous night. “Do you think Tonks will catch Sirius Black, professor?”
“I don't know how it will end, Mr Potter. All I can tell you is what you see here and what you've read in my reply. The entire story reeks of falsities and bias. I'm aware my opinion of muggles is lower than that of the Wizengamot's was in 1981, but sentencing a pureblood, based on the statement of passers-by, who had been obliviated at that point, feels wrong on the same level as leaving you with your uncle. I grudgily accept that we should leave them alone, but them influencing our fate is not how magic is supposed to be.”
Harry waited for a moment, until he blurted out, “You’re not telling me anything, either.”
With a sigh, the former professor settled on the sturdy office table. “Because I know nothing else, Harry. I've been here with you all the time.” Admittedly, that was a very weak joke. “You mean my visions? I can only tell you the auror we're in correspondence with will end up enamored with the key witness she'll interrogate in the next weeks. I can't see him yet, but we already have his name.”
“Remus Lupin,” Harry nodded. “Next teacher in the Defence position, and friend to both my parents, Pettigrew, and Black.” With a somewhat bitter shake of his head, the young, dark-haired wizard settled on the table next to the old, white-blond one. “I wonder why he never came to see me.”
“Good question indeed. My guess lies here,” Grindelwald said, waving Albus's letter.
“You really hate Professor Dumbledore,” young Potter blurted out.
Gellert gave a lopsided smile, “We simply know each other's faults too well. But he spared my life, and a life debt means a lot between wizards. Come, let's unpack your school things.”
They soon both noted there was no Potions set, no cauldron, no ingredients, no weights. 'Wohl' was a bit disappointed over that, but Harry didn't mind in the least.
‘This book is ridiculous. It only covers the results, not how to achieve them.’ Gellert scoffed, chucking the Divination book towards the fire. It missed, which was fortunate he realised, because even once he’d taught Harry how to tune into the streams of time, he would never have the ability to naturally interpret what he saw like Gellert could.
Divination was a difficult subject; what one could achieve without the natural sight was always vague and woolly and it took a lot of training to even achieve that. He wandlessly summoned the book back to safety and set it aside.
‘Divination for dummies, please.’ Harry joked from his chair by the fire. It was late evening and they had the fire in the kitchen roaring. Term hadn’t started yet at Hogwarts, but they’d decided to begin classes now when it was warmer and easier to focus.
‘There are many different ways to practice divination – if you have the sight, visions can come at any time but for everyone else you need something to deliver your signs. There are hundreds of possibilities if you know how to interpret them – throwing down sticks, dice, cards, tea leaves and bones produce signs reliably, but can be difficult to interpret. Mirrors, balls and flames take a little more focus to get any results but are far more reliable and less open to interpretation. Dreams are unreliable for anyone without some ability as a seer and the experience to know the difference, but if you do ever get on, they are as reliable as a vision.’
Harry nodded as Gellert spoke, signalling he understood what his (currently only) teacher was saying. The older wizard paused as Harry jotted down a couple of notes on the parchment he had balanced on a book.
‘Now, this is where this will become difficult, you must learn to open your mind to the influences of the magic you are trying to perform. It is important to take a passive mindset and not try to influence what you see. Often, you will see nothing; that is fine. Other times you might be shown several different things at once, and you must learn to accept what you see.’
Harry jotted down more notes as Gellert moved to the counter and picked out two bowls. He filled the kettle with water and placed it over the fire by hand, then carried the cups and tea leaves over to where Harry was waiting.
‘We start with tea leaves. There are the least distractions in tea leaves, so they are good to start with.’ He continued by describing how the shape of the container was important and why he’d chosen to use bowls rather than their usual mugs. He then measured tea leaves into their two bowls, emphasising how it was important to use as natural, uncontaminated leaves as possible and how using magic could affect the readings. Then when they had covered the procedure, he poured them both a bowl of tea. He then explained how it wasn’t actually essential to drink the tea as it cooled, so long as one tipped it out slowly enough that the tea leaves remained in the bottom. He then instructed the student on how to open his mind to the world around him as the tea cooled. They drank their tea, both of them too used to the scarcity of food to waste it. Then they both tipped the remaining liquid at the bottom out and put their cups aside as Harry cleared his mind again.
‘Tell me what you see – don’t try to see something, just wait until the magic prompts you to notice a shape. It will be blatantly clear, not just a vague representation.’ He ordered and the boy looked into the cup for several long minutes. Gellert waited patiently with his quill poised over a piece of parchment. It was a good sign that the boy hadn’t spoken yet; then eventually he decided, almost sounding dazed that there was an eye in the bottom of his cup. He handed the bowl to Gellert, who took it reluctantly. The eye was blindingly obvious but he also saw a small key and a cloud.
‘Now look at your book; what do you think the eye means – again, allow the flow of magic to prompt you towards the correct interpretation.’ Gellert already knew that the eye meant that he would stand up for something he believed in, but he forced himself to remember that Harry would struggle far more. He waited patiently as the boy looked through his book, eventually finding the correct section. He looked for several minutes at the listed meanings before shaking his head.
‘I can’t do it. I keep wanting it to mean that good things are in store for me, but the only thing I can get is that that’s wrong.’ He finally admitted, tossing the book down.
‘That’s good. You’ve done very well.’ He reassured but Harry made a frustrated sound.
‘Yeah, but I didn’t actually see anything.’ He moaned and Gellert scoffed. Then the boy brightened as Gellert took a second look into the cup, ‘what can you see? I bet you can see loads in there?’
He sounded so excited that Gellert couldn’t deny telling him what he’d interpreted from the leaves.
‘You’ll fight an injustice in the near future – that’s the eye. There’s a cloud that relates to that, it will be a challenge. You can tell that it relates because the two are connected, then there’s a key that’s separate. That one means that you are open for new information, which is obvious because you’ve learned a lot this evening. The readings triggered a vision of you in an old house with a man with dark hair and that relates to the secondary meaning of the eye – an energetic, good man will come into your life.’ He put the cup aside with a smile and picked up his own bowl with a much less cheerful face. This one was much less distinct with only two vague shapes – which was understandable as there wasn't much more left to happen to him in his life. He shrugged and passed it to Harry anyway.
‘I doubt you’ll find anything in this one.’ He added as the boy spent several minutes staring at it. Then Harry’s face broke into a grin and he looked up at Gellert with a mysterious expression.
‘I see great darkness in your future, but eventually some greater entity will wash away the darkness.’ He demonstrated by showing Gellert the cup, where he’d used the slight remaining tea in the bottom to swill away all the leaves, leaving an almost clean bowl where there had once been a thick sludge of leaves. Gellert laughed and shooed the boy off to bed, promising a history lesson in the morning.
’Dear Mr. Grindelwald,
I must admire the mark you have left on this school, but I fear you have left expectations too high for me to ever fill. The students speak of you with enviable respect, and I am now faced with the daunting task of not letting them down.
I have received the copies of the coursework that you covered with the students last year and they are of course far ahead of where they need to be in their spellwork. I imagine Harry will be of equal level, if not better if the rumours of him and Miss Granger receiving private tuition are correct. (Which by her knowledge I would hesitate to doubt.)
In the interests of continuity I would be much obliged if you could cover magical creatures with Harry whilst he is in your care. I intend to cover Boggarts in my first lesson, followed by Grindylows, Hinkypunks and Kappas.
I can’t believe you get to stay with Professor Wohl until Sirius Black is captured. I’m so envious, I bet you’ll learn so much. It must be fascinating being in such a famous building as well. It’s so important in wizard history.
I asked Mrs Weasley whether she’d ever heard about the brothers you mentioned, and it turns out it's a tale for wizarding children. I admit I was disappointed at first, but then Dad reminded us that my favourite night time story was how Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin completely by chance, a tale that's obviously true and has a large impact to this day. If your cloak is THAT one, Harry, then you must never again talk about it to anyone at school.
Hogwarts is as wondrous as always. Our new DADA teacher is called Professor Remus John Lupin, he’s not quite as impressive as Wohl but he’s a specialist of dark creatures and he doesn't just talk about them, he demonstrates. And he fought off a dementor on the train!
Can’t wait to see you, I bet you’ll know so many cool spells,
Parvati and I have been talking about your extra History lessons the other day and we both seem to remember you talking about shamanic times but everybody else I asked is certain that you never held an extra about that age and never mentioned anything earlier than Ptolemy. Our conclusion is that you will be back. I envy the Gryffindor quidditch team, by the way. Too bad our parents would never allow us on a similar excursion.
Prof. Dumbledore feels horrible about blurting out your Secret last year although he'll never admit that to anyone. He just spent an entire weekend in your quarters - it's closed down, anyway, Prof. Lupin's place is on the floor above. He's great, but we think he won't be here for the exams. I wonder what will happen to him?
Prof. Flitwick invited two other duellists over for Monday afternoons, and Prof. Burbage hinted that she'll also be present. You impressed her the most, I think. I'm not sure how a duelling club would go without you, it'd be like a strawberry cake without a strawberry.
We miss you, Professor.
First of all I have to thank you for your continued education of our students and especially Mr Potter. Albus is now arranging for you to have a limited access to the lower levels at least a few hours a week with the excuse that you'll teach Harry how to fight off creatures that must be dwelling around. I apologize we cannot do more at the moment.
I don't know how much Albus told you but he managed to keep his seat as Supreme Mugwump, mostly because you got 'good' correctly, this time. We have the routine to handle parents complaining about Defence teachers, don't worry about that aspect. The quidditch team returned with very fond memories, I might note.
Charity misses you.
Chapter 21: Facing truth
The light of Harry’s wand made the disrepair of the prison stand out clearly; they would find nothing in the cells. There was nowhere for any monsters to hide in there, so they slipped like ghosts through the shadows and darkened halls to where the fallen dark wizard had once lived with his closest followers.
He never stopped marvelling at the level of freedom he was allowed these days. As the ICW wardbuilder team had explained when they came to reconfigure a part of their complex charms, he was allowed to go through all the levels of the fortress on Tuesday evenings to find the materials needed to teach Harry. The limit of his movement at this time was at the gates of the fortress, and he looked forward to trying to turn the place into something more than a prison. At the same time he was really baffled how the warding team was more enthralled to meet the Boy Who Lived and didn't spare the so-called 'greatest dark wizard of his age' more than a passing look. He was old news, it might seem.
The locking charms on his old door were the same as they’d been fifty years ago and he borrowed Harry’s wand to unlock them, unwilling to just blast off the door and leave the rooms defenceless until he knew what had taken up residence inside. He cracked the door open a little, unsurprisingly seeing nothing – the curtains had all been drawn when he had left to face Albus.
‘Cast the charm I taught you, Harry.’ He prompted and the boy quickly obeyed, poking his returned wand through the small opening and casting a Lumos Maxima. Gellert counted down from three, praying that they wouldn’t find a Lethifold – the one creature a dark wizard couldn’t fight - and they burst through the doorway. Harry’s Lumos charm had done an excellent job of lighting the room and he could see that at least some creatures had been here.
The robe he hadn’t put away was still out on a chair, the bottles were still in the cabinet with dusty glasses next to them. There would almost certainly be Bundimun infestations in the furniture, but he’d already cautioned Harry not to touch anything. He beckoned to the boy who quickly scurried up to him. He was afraid but excited, he had never done anything like this before and Gellert was determined to use this opportunity to teach him. Dark creatures loved places tainted by dark magic and there were few opportunities to clean out somewhere as tainted as Nurmengard had been.
He ignored the main room and moved through to the door on the left; that had been his bedroom and he knew it would be a prime candidate for a boggart. His room was dark and smelled strongly of dust. He got Harry to cast another light spell and began checking the many containers in the room. The space under the bed was full of Silk Weevils, so he took the opportunity to carefully extract one and show the worm-like, metallic crimson body to Harry. He demonstrated how the metallic colour changed against every surface and then how they were terrified of a small flame. With Harry’s wand he summoned the ones that fled from the space and Harry fetched the empty water glass from his bedside table for him to put the small pile of insects in, explaining as he did that they could be useful in potions.
They found a doxy nest in the wardrobe and he decided to get some antidote before tackling that one. Then they finally struck gold in the stationary desk. It started rattling excitedly when they drew close and Gellert had to stop Harry from carelessly throwing it open.
‘Pay attention.’ He snapped and Harry looked appropriately chastened.
‘That’s either a boggart or a deniphin, but we’re unlikely to find a deniphin this far from South America.’ Potter diagnosed and Gellert nodded.
‘Do you remember the charm?’ He asked and Harry nodded. ‘Ready?’ Harry nodded again and positioned himself in front of the desk. Gellert noted how quickly the young boy pulled out his weapon with some measure of pride. He unlocked the lid and it creaked slowly but nothing stepped out – not the Voldemort Harry had prepared himself to ridicule. Instead, there was just a high, cold laugh followed by a curse that a thirteen-year-old had no right to know and the signature flash of green. Harry looked white as a sheet and Gellert smoothly stepped in front of him, ready to take the creature on wandlessly. He had prepared for both possible forms the boggart would take: if it's his former cell and himself a starved skeleton wrapped in chains, he'd swap those for tinsel and force the rest of the Christmas decoration in, complete with the cakes they had at the German class. If it's the crowd of people whose demise he was responsible for, he'd bring up the students to whom he'd told nothing but objective and useful truth. They wouldn't outnumber the former group, but the memories were more recent and as such, clearer.
Hands appeared over the lip of the desk, followed by a head; so it would be the crowd he surmised and readied his hands for wandless casting, fixing the faces of his students in his mind. It was a familiar figure who climbed out of the desk and jumped casually down to the floor, but it wasn’t someone he’d killed. The boggart drew his wand, letting it land casually in his fingers as he strolled forwards, white hair gleaming in the Lumos. Their mismatched eyes met across the space and the younger Gellert sneered at him. He stared at the arrogant smirk of his younger self. He felt a wand being pressed into his hand and he suddenly remembered Harry.
He flicked the wand that was beginning to become familiar to him and suddenly his younger self was dressed in the astronaut suit he'd seen in the book on muggle achievements. The boggart dropped his illusory wand, unable to hold it with the padded gloves and was forced to waddle.
‘Figured out what you’re going to do yet, Harry?’ He asked and glanced at the boy. Harry nodded, looking pale but determined as he took back his wand and faced the boggart.
Astronaut-Grindelwald disappeared with a sound like a balloon deflating and that high, cold laugh rang out across the empty room.
‘Riddikulus!’ Harry cried before the green flash could even come and the voice broke, then came back as if the laugher had just inhaled helium. Gellert wondered if Harry was even aware how funny it was hearing the killing curse spoken like that.
The change in his own Boggart was unsurprising, but he wasn’t sure what to do with the information and he mulled over it all the way back to their floor.
“Professor? When we talked about snakes last year, you said that they... I can't remember the word.”
“They are natural occlumens. Legilimency is to read a mind, occlumency is to close it. Why, you want to learn that?”
“Is it possible to learn?”
“We have the time.”
Cheerfully, Harry settled on the office table his teacher usually occupied.
“All right. But be warned, you will see a lot of my own thoughts. My past. Things I'm not proud to have done.”
“I know about those, professor.”
“You do, but to know and to see are two very different things.”
They began the next day, sitting across the desk in the office. The last of the summer sun shone through the window giving the lesson a benign feel. That feeling was only skin deep however, for all Harry believed he knew Gellert’s crimes, it was very different to see the bodies piled up, the torture and the harsh reality of dark magic.
‘To become a successful legilimens, one must also understand occlumency. We will work on the basics of that this morning; the basis for both of these skills is in organising and controlling the mind – a legilimens who is not an accomplished occlumens will not be able to control what he sees in the mind he invades. Now, meditations...’
He knew the first few lessons would not be bad; the boy’s attempts would probably not work. The middle stages would be the worst, when the boy could get in but not control what he saw.
It came sooner than he had hoped; Harry was a powerful wizard and his third day of lessons they moved on to legilimency. They stood opposite one another as Harry fiddled with his wand, now it seemed he was finally nervous as he faced the dark wizard opposite him.
‘Will it hurt?’ He asked uncertainly.
‘No.’ Grindelwald lied, it wouldn’t hurt Harry physically at least.
‘Legilimens.’ He muttered. Nothing happened.
‘You need to mean it. Remember your principles of spell casting.’
‘Legilimens!’ He bellowed this time and colours blurred as Harry made contact.
‘Better, much better. Again.’ He braced himself.
‘Legilimens!’ His cell window flashed in front of him, then faded.
‘Very good, now once you get in, use the same method that you use for occlumency to find the memory of your quiddich match against Ravenclaw.’ It was something that was relatively safe and easy to look for, especially because they both remembered it.
‘Legilimens!’ He managed to get in deeper this time and suddenly they were in an alley. Grindelwald breathed a sigh of relief as they talked with Credence. This memory was a safe one, and he let Harry remain in his head to work on controlling what he saw. He gave him a little mental nudge to remind him that he wasn’t meant to be watching the events and chastened, the boy began to focus.
He could feel the tugging at his memory as Harry tried to force his thoughts aside and suddenly they were standing outside a dark door in a house, they watched a bright green flash before stalking down the corridor. Harry gave a mighty tug and they were in a quiddich pitch, but it was the wrong quiddich pitch. People screamed and as fire licked at the stands, Gellert laughed as he sent flashes of green and purple light soaring into the fleeing crowds.
Gellert slammed up his shields and the boy was thrown out faster than he could catch himself on the table.
‘That was a good attempt.’ He said reassuringly, but he couldn’t meet the boy’s eyes, dreading the condemnation that would be there.
‘I’m sorry.’ The apology surprised the dark wizard and he looked up with a start. He had expected rejection, and an apology caught him by surprise. He stared at the boy in amazement; he was everything Albus pretended to be. ‘Can I try again?’ The boy asked timidly. Gellert nodded, still awestruck by the boy’s acceptance.
‘Legilimens.’ It spoke a lot for the boy’s power that he could get into Gellert’s (unshielded) mind without bellowing the incantation. They were standing in Bathilda's garden in Godric's Hollow with the young Albus Dumbledore, joking about his brother. This was a safe, long memory so Harry would have plenty of time to focus on exactly what he wanted before trying again to summon the correct memory. He could feel Harry preparing, then there was a sharp tug and they were looking at the Hogwarts quiddich pitch. The bludger rocketed through the air towards the seeker, then did a U-turn and came at him again. Grindelwald waited until the Snitch was caught, then gently guided the young wizard from his mind.
‘Congratulations, Harry.’ He praised and the boy grinned from ear to ear. ‘Would you like to try something more difficult?”
‘Please, Sir.’ The boy replied, so Gellert described his memory of arriving at Durmstrang for the first time.
Harry cast the spell again, he managed to locate the early memories of his schooling very quickly, then filtered through lessons and casual interactions. He touched once on the experiment that had gotten Grindelwald expelled and seemed to recognise this memory as something he really shouldn’t see. To his credit, he tugged laterally, but with that, threw them into a completely unrelated memory. Unfortunately, this one was worse; a muggle woman screamed and writhed on the floor until Grindelwald lifted the torture spell. A dark-haired lady laughed in the background as Gellert crouched and whispered a question into her ear. Harry skipped sideways again, but he was scared and the fear was guiding his subconscious focus. The new memory was Grindelwald raising the bodies of decaying soldiers from mass graves. Then inferi attacked a city, then bodies burned, their skin crisping in graphic detail. The boy was panicking, flicking through the memories so fast that Gellert couldn’t regain control to force the boy out. So he did the only thing that he could think of and focused on one of these memories as hard as he could. For a moment there was clarity as muggle soldiers foamed at the mouth and died as poisonous gas spilled from the dark wizard’s wand. Gellert slammed up his shields and finally Harry was thrown out of his mind.
For a moment they both just sagged against the furniture, panting. Then Harry began apologising profusely, tears running down his face and Gellert felt an agonising guilt twisting in his chest. He didn’t know whether he was meant to comfort him or leave him but he was certain that the boy would hate him.
Then he realised that the boy seemed to be under the impression that it was his fault for bringing those topics up. The boy was begging forgiveness for seeing what Grindelwald had done, which confused him so much that he actually responded when the boy hugged him. He awkwardly rubbed a hand up and down his back in the way his mother had done to him when he first began to have visions of the world war.
‘It’s not your fault, don’t worry. The only one to blame is me.’ He didn’t know what else to say, so he just fetched Harry’s blanket and tucked it around him. “Catch some sleep and you’ll spend tomorrow morning flying around on your Nimbus-2000. You can go and see the waterfall, it’s close enough that you can return inside the wards immediately, should anything go wrong. It’s beautiful at this time of the year.”
Harry didn’t seem to appreciate the distraction from the horrors he’d seen, although the mention of broom-riding had its predictable effect on his mood. After all, Gellert was the war criminal imprisoned; the boy under the same roof deserved all the freedom Nurmengard could offer. No British murderer would find him here, especially not if he’s under the Cloak of Invisibility as he tended to fly ever since his quidditch team had left. Him disappearing under the gorgeous Hallow was a sight Gellert never could get bored with, and once the young wizard even allowed him to try it on. It had felt like the deepest of death magic combined with the strength of blood wards and the flexibility of the finest artworks of Transfiguration.
Suppressing his still-swirling memories of the war, the old wizard left Harry to himself and went to cook dinner over the fire.
'After I read all your discussion with the diary,' Dumbledore's next letter began, 'I'm more and more shocked at what Voldemort has done to his own self. Are you sure the diary is of more use than a threat?'
“What’s a horcrux, sir?” Harry asked as Grindelwald sat down to compose a reply. He was still wearing his quidditch robe after the morning flight, as the sun had yet to warm up the September air. In stark contrast, his teacher wasn’t wearing more than a thin shirt and trousers, and didn’t appear to have noticed the cold.
“Half of a damaged soul,” the former teacher and former warlord responded. “Darkest magic in its origin, although the most harm creating one would cause, is to the soul of its maker.” Potter looked up at him mutely, waiting for him to continue. Which he did with only a twinge of regret. “Murder, truly intentional murder, always leaves a soul ruptured. Remorse can heal it, but take it from me, true remorse is nowhere in consideration most of the time. If it's there, then perhaps the deed was more like a mercy kill or an accident or the murderer was under compulsion of some sort. We're talking about absolutely free-willing, intent-driven destruction of a life.”
Harry paled, but nodded.
“As I said, that deed ruptures a human soul. And there is a ritual to make said rupture to break completely, to the point that one part of the soul leaves the wizard who performs it. It is then tied to an object of the wizard's choice, that object is called a horcrux. That British dark lord has made his diary into one after killing a fellow student in his sixth year. Do you want to see how that ended for him?”
Hesitantly, Harry nodded, and took his wand out. The disdain in his teacher's eyes must have discouraged him, although its subject was Tom Riddle, not his student Harry. “Come on,” he smiled.
He didn't block out the boy, but didn't simply toss the related thoughts at him either. He could tell Harry was practically scrolling through his mind, at the memories of a possessed Miss Weasley ('Ginny' as Harry referred to the witch), of Peeves and a swim in the lake in January, of writing into the diary and it writing back. Sheets of text recreated by the Gemino spell, the vision of Albus finding them next to the diary that had been kept safely away in a sphere. Random lines of the exchange between the then-disguised Grindelwald and the attempt to cajole the secret of the Defence curse out of it. A sixteen-year-old Riddle emerging from the booklet and running into a wizened Grindelwald's occlumency shields. The diary boasting about the concept of six horcruxes, of which four would be items from the Founders...
More lines of writing, blurred...
“Harry, back away, you're exhausting yourself.”
“How do I....?”
Finally, the boy retreated from his teacher's mind, and both of them reached for the very last remaining slices of Harry's birthday cake.
“Next time, we'll begin with you willingly ending the connection.”
Harry gave a tired sigh.
On an early October morning Fawkes arrived with their usual mail and a letter for Gellert that's opening line was 'Please do not show this to Harry.’
“Looks like Albus is back to his charming old self,” the imprisoned man noted. He read it twice while his student was busy with his own messages. “Do you want to learn how to make a Howler? Pass me your wand.”
The young master of the Cloak of Invisibility gave him a long look, but in the end offered his wand without a fuss. 'Wohl' cast the initial spell on the plain blank paper and began to dictate the reply, the holly wand channelling his words to the sheet.
“Albus Dumbledore, you unpardonable champion!” the Howler began. “Don’t you DARE commit what you're planning to justify as ridding the world of Riddle! You don't even practice the dark art in question, so do us a favour and don't act on something you don't understand. To give you some pointers, do the math, you ridiculous Gryffindor! Creating one horcrux splits the soul in half. Your wizard with half a soul went on and created another horcrux and walked away with just one quarter of the original. Then we can safely assume he picked up at least three belongings of the Hogwarts founders, that's two on the third power. One quarter divided by eight, that's what Riddle had when he had raised his wand at Harry. I agree his damaged little soul was falling apart on its own by that time, but be reasonable! You wish death on a boy over an estimated one sixty-fourth of his enemy's soul! All that, after you have ALREADY ruined TEN YEARS of his life, leaving him with the worst muggles available. Which reminds me, Albus! When was the last time you looked up 'obscurial' in your precious books?
I'm facing my own guilt, shame and remorse day and night, but the more I think about your recent actions, the stronger I fear you inspire to outdo me. Stop right where you are or start preparing for a re-match.”
With that rant out of his system, Grindelwald let out an audible huff and, voicing his hope that it'd be delivered in front of the entire school, he sealed the now-red envelope.
Which was, in the next moment, taken out of his hands and torn to shreds by Harry. “I’m not letting you send that,” the boy declared with an unwavering determination.
“Professor Dumbledore trusts you. That is why he asked. That is why he invited you to Hogwarts in the first place. You can't betray his trust like that.”
The young wizard was staring into two-coloured eyes with a pair of glowing emerald. “You won't put that in a Howler. Write it down in a normal letter that he can read in the quiet of his rooms, fine, but no Howler. Not with my wand nor with my owl. That's final.”
The boy pulled away from him, his sudden defiance evaporating along with Grindelwald's rage. He reached for the original letter he wasn't supposed to be shown, and retreated to his own cot, in dire need for the privacy to read.
“Do you even understand it's you I'm trying to protect from your headmaster?”
“I do,” the boy now sobbed.
Grindelwald shook his head without anything to say. Apparently, this time it was Albus on the receiving end of Harry's unfathomable forgiveness, and the war criminal admitted it wasn’t his place to scold the boy for it.
With nothing else to do, he put up a kettle of water for tea, and started a new letter.
“I’m sorry this isn't like the breakfasts at Hogwarts.” He levitated out some of the rubbery eggs that he’d been cooking. It had always been Harry’s responsibility for a reason.
“Yeah, but we're not at Hogwarts,” Harry pointed out.
“That reminds me, I'm no longer banned from teaching you what you must learn to effectively protect yourself,” Gellert said, demonstrating a spell of clear-blue fire with Harry's wand. “The truest shield.”
“Dark magic?” Potter carefully asked, his enthusiasm a fragment of the usual.
“Deadly magic,” Grindelwald nodded. “But entirely intent-based. It calls on your ultimate, primordial and unlimited magical powers to defend yourself and those at your side. It separates friend from foe.”
Harry shook his head, but took his wand back after his teacher extinguished the wall of blue fire. He pretended to focus on his plate.
“Let’s hope you won't need to use it, but you’d better prepare for the worst and practising it in itself isn't harmful. The entire point is that you cannot hurt a loyal friend with it.”
“What if I don't want to torch an enemy alive, either?” the boy asked. “I mean... It's not like I haven't... Professor Quirrell...”
“Practice,” Gellert said, looking with blue and brown eyes into Harry's green stare. “Practice. Learn control. You have the right to defend yourself from anyone who wishes harm upon you.”
“Do you mind if I don't start today?”
“Tomorrow will be fine.”
Harry was relieved to have had a quiet Halloween, for once. Gellert spent the evening pondering about people who had once been close to him, and invited Harry so that he could share the memories. He wasn't his usual social self, however, nor was he musing over his deeds like he was prone to in the hours of quiet. “It's grief over the loss and hope for seeing them again,” he explained. “For you, it might be the time to remember your parents.”
“If only I had more than the album Hagrid made...”
“Do you have it with you?”
They didn't talk more that night. Their focus was on the dead, for those few hours, so that they could concentrate on the living for the other 364 days. At least that's how Gellert explained in the following morning.
Two days later they received a vague letter from Tonks, informing them that she'd convinced Remus to leave a message and stationery in the tunnel leading to the Shrieking Shack the following day, where Sirius Black was certain to find it. She’d sworn that Remus is a wonderful and amazing person even in his unhinged state, and she hoped that the investigation would last until she grew old by the side of the crown witness. Grindelwald promptly wrote her to leave her own message next to Lupin's, asking Sirius for tips to the suspected werewolf's heart. Her next letter only contained two words: 'NO WAY'. There was a box of candies attached to the brown owl's leg that day, however.
Then, three days later, Hedwig arrived with a Prophet and an apology to Harry that Tonks failed to capture the real traitor.
“He told them Pettigrew is an animagus!” Harry fretted over the Prophet, something the exhausted Hedwig didn’t exactly approve of. “Sorry, girl, I know you had a long flight.”
The bird hooted once more before taking off to the owlery. That cell was much quieter than the floor of two agitated wizards, and Harry had recently placed some very comfortable branches in it.
“They BOTH told EVERYONE that Pettigrew is an animagus, and he still slipped away!” Potter continued his tirade over the newspaper.
“You expect too much from the aurors,” Gellert calmed him. “At least they're no longer after the soul of your godfather anymore. You can return to school.”
Harry threw his arms around the aged criminal. “Thank you for everything, sir.”
Chapter 22: Alone but not abandoned
When Albus arrived to pick up Harry, the boy was too eager to meet his godfather and return to Hogwarts, he didn't even realize they might perhaps never again meet. The two old wizards exchanged but a few words, and before the sun set that same November night, Grindelwald found himself alone in his bleak fortress once again. As the weather turned wintery, the owls were more and more reluctant to cross the Channel and fly from Scotland to Austria and back. His students were doing well under the care of Albus, Filius and the Defence teacher whom Miss Granger suspected to be a werewolf; Tonks was busy with her auror training, and visiting her recently-cleared cousin in the wizarding hospital for more information about Remus Lupin. Charity once wrote that she had assisted Filius in the duelling club, and the bracelet she had been constantly wearing since Christmas had deflected a stray curse from her. Then, after the students were dismissed, she had invited Flitwick on a one-on-one and they both spilled their beers. That same day, Filius wrote that she was a formidable opponent and too bad there's no beer at the formal championships.
Christmas was quiet, as students and teachers alike spent it with their families, or with each other for the lack of better company. He secretly hoped Harry would return, but the boy had his godfather now, and the innocent animagus really couldn't be expected to come to another prison after he'd just escaped Azkaban.
Fawkes brought him a wonderful blanket, however. On one side, it had the lyrics of the Hogwarts Song, while the other had been signed by every single student he had taught last year. He trailed his fingers over the line 'Teach us something please,' remembering the first History demonstration, and how the students flooded him with questions afterwards. 'Our heads could do with filling with some interesting stuff,' the duelling club that had to be moved to the Great Hall so that there was enough space for every duelling pair. 'Dead flies and bits of fluff,' and the lacewing stew he hadn't reported to the headmaster and which led to Miss Granger turning rather fluffy indeed. These were quite the memories to wrap himself in. 'Just do your best, we'll do the rest'. The Deutsche Sprache class, and Rolanda Hooch telling him there wouldn’t be a German commentary during the Ravenclaw-Hufflepuff match. (And him blinking sheepishly because that was the first time he had heard about the idea. And then, the ridiculous gossip about him being questioned under Veritaserum.)
Remorse hit him with full force, realizing his entire life could have been like this, had he been just a little wiser.
Harry wrote that his godfather had been released from hospital and had moved to an incredibly dusty old house under Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, and while it had ‘all sort of protection' against invading people, nobody had bothered to ward it against dust or doxies, and the shape (or more like, the lack of it) of his boggart scared the overly worried godfather half-mad. Then 'Padfoot' had owled Dumbledore claiming that, as a compensation for his false statement of Sirius having been the Secret-Keeper, he could maybe come over and spend the Christmas break cleaning up the entire five-story house, all by himself.
The aged prisoner, once revolutionary, winced at the thought of the Elder Wand being used for house-cleaning, although the menial task was good enough a punishment for Albus. Maybe it would give him a lesson in humility that seemed to have been missed since 1945.
The next day, Fawkes arrived with a letter that Slytherin's locket had been found in an abandoned house elf nest in the Black family's kitchen. Judging by the aura of anger around it, it must have contained a good chunk of Voldemort's soul. (If such thing exists.)
Before the Easter holidays, it was Minerva who sent a letter with Fawkes. As she explained, the NEWT class of Transfiguration had requested their exam to be held at Nurmengard, which couldn't be allowed for bureaucratic reasons, so as a compromise, they would come for a 'little practise Mr Wood insisted on' a few weeks prior the tests. That was foreboding, that vagueness of the letter and the lack of correspondence with his pupils. He calculated the years: Wood was about to finish school while the Weasley twins and Jordan were in their OWL exam years. There was some sort of plotting behind his back, and that was unnerving. But what could he do? He wrote back that he'd be at home. He also wrote to the werewolf teaching in the accursed position, and suggested him leaving willingly before the end of the exam weeks. It might feel anticlimactic but with his fluffy health condition, maybe he shouldn't take an unnecessary risk. If the werewolf was half as much a responsible person as he made himself appear, he would prefer apparent cowardice over possibly biting a student.
He trusted his letters to Dumbledore's phoenix and settled in the 'boys dormitory' for the night.
A few hours later he woke to a horrible headache. The wards around his prison fortress were crumbling, and the silence felt unnatural – not even a breeze. As if someone had put a sound-dampening spell on the cell in which he resided for the night. A very powerful dampening, he noted; as if it had been cast with the Elder Wand.
WHAT WAS ALBUS DOING IN HIS HOME IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT?
He rushed to the window, but it was pitch dark outside. He reached out with his magic, only to sense half a dozen people working all around the steep hillside, and just as many of them were flying around on brooms.
Later he would note those brooms should have been a dead giveaway.
He went back to sleep, as there was nothing he could do. The yielding materials of his own castle continued to give him a migraine.
He rose later than usual, only to find both Albus and Minerva gone. There only were students with gleaming faces of all four Hogwarts colours, and Wood stepped forward to speak in the name of his team. “Professor Wohl, thank you for all the help you offered throughout our education. I'm proud to present you the changes we've done as the joint effort of the Transfiguration class, and I'm looking forward to playing here in the future.”
With that, Wood indicated at the window, that Grindelwald now approached with trepidation. Oliver's words hinted at something quidditch-related (well, Wood was talking about quidditch even when he didn't say a word) but he was completely unprepared for the sight.
The lower levels of Nurmengard, the surrounding mountain sides, the valley below... Those had been turned into a fully equipped quidditch stadium overnight.
There were seat rows in the hillside. Two former ammunion reserves had been fashioned into changing rooms, and two others for the team mascots. The former cells had been repurposed as small but presumably comfortable hotel rooms. The most amazing was the pitch itself, a standard size oval area marked with dimly glowing magic, and below that, the valley was still clearly visible.
“The cushioning charm that forms the base of the pitch needs to be recast every few years,” a sixth-year explained. He didn't have either of the important exams, but as the captain of the Hufflepuff team he must have been involved in the project from the beginning.
“Anyone falling off their brooms has an additional few hundred meters to stop, and this way the cushioning spells don't interfere with normal gameplay,” a Slytherin explained. “Interfering spells are a concern with purpose-built stadiums all over the world. It won't be a problem here.”
“It’s too late to change the location of this year's world cup finals, but you can propose Nurmengard as the site for 1998. No more tent camps and issues with secrecy. I told you, professor, this place is meant for quidditch. You drilled us to act on the opportunity when we see one.”
“We’ve done so,” grinned Frederick Weasley.
“Do you guys understand we're now standing in the VIP section?”
After the death eater attack in the Ireland vs Bulgaria final, the prospect of proposing the prison site as an alternative didn't seem as far-fetched as it had a few months prior. In his letters, Harry wrote that his scar was bleeding again, and he had to put up his occlumency shields to keep the sight of the traitor Pettigrew from coming into his field of vision in some cases. Voldemort was regaining his power and Harry couldn't tell how much of their connection registered to the malicious wizard. Did he even notice that half of his remaining soul was being kept safe by his prophesized nemesis?
Draco Malfoy wasn't among the students to send letters regularly, but it was from his mail that he'd first heard about the Triwizard Tournament. The young pureblood was enthusiastic about the visit of the two other schools although he was free with his frustration at not being able to compete himself.
His father had eventually decided against pulling him from Hogwarts and sending him to Durmstrang instead (which was a very wise decision, in Gellert's opinion, the boy would have found a million ways to get himself killed with his lack of survival instinct) but the current headmaster was still a friend of Lucius's, a term that could be translated as 'one of the very few death eaters Karkaroff didn't betray to the British Ministry.’ He wrote back a few extra tips (and a few reminders) about how to act like a disciplined young pureblood without insulting the guests, and a list of suggested topics to chat through. The next morning, his sight showed young Malfoy gaining his first real friends in the visiting Durmstrang students, an accomplishment the boy had failed to manage with his own schoolmates.
Nurmengard was quiet once again. Its sole inhabitant had set up the panorama-projecting charm and spent his days meditating, only rising to use the hot-water tap of the office as some partial replacement of a shower, and to welcome an occasional owl from one of his students.
In one of the visions, he saw Albus shouting angrily at Harry, but he couldn't make out the words. Hedwig brought the explanation the following morning: somehow Harry's name had been chosen by the Goblet of Fire. Apparently, some misguided force of magic had thought the boy should compete against three other champions of all three participating schools, regardless of the fact he wasn't of age, and would have picked quidditch over the Triwizard Tournament if anybody offered him a choice.
He considered sending a howler to Albus for this fiasco (he still believed it would have been a proper payback for blurting the Secret out over a year before) and the only thing that held him back was the lack of a wand. He wished he'd spent more time sharpening his wandless magic skills, when he had had the time.
Two days later it was Charity who shared the general presumption of what must have happened: as the Goblet had been enchanted to choose from representatives of each school in attendance, it might have considered Harry as the sole student of a fourth school with all the private training Gellert had provided him. In the same letter, Charity noted that Headmaster Karkaroff looks dashing with spilled beer foam all over his pristine cloak. Just a few hours later a hawk arrived with Igor Karkaroff's mail, and it wasn't hard to deduce that the grandson of his late yearmate was all over the harmless-looking witch who could duel Durmstrangs like she was one of them.
Two days later he saw Harry being cuddled by Albus in what was a reassuring acceptance, and a formal letter informed him that Harry Potter, trained in Nurmengard, would be partaking in the Tournament that'd no longer be really 'Triwizard'.
Harry's next mail included that the basilisk he'd released into the Forest had spotted dragons being transported, and a question as to whether he could use Grindelwald's signature lightning charm in the oncoming dragon duel. Gellert reassured the boy that the lightning wasn't his own privilege to use, even though it had been his trademark at some point. Harry was more than welcome to apply it, and anyway, if he checked his own forehead in the mirror, he might find that the spell matched him just as much.
He received the Daily Prophet after the morning of the first task, covering the international event. How much Harry had grown in the one year since he'd been here! And that robe with the Deathly Hallows mark on the shoulder quite complimented the young master of the Cloak of Invisibility. He wondered whether Dumbledore or the students had chosen it for 'his' champion; some of them seemed inordinately proud to have been taught by him.
For the second task, the screeching sound's recognition as above-water mermish took them some days. It was really unfair with Harry that all other champions' teachers were there in person, but the ICW wasn't likely to let him travel to Hogwarts again. He did send a request that he'd be present at least for the third task, but he was certain it'd be denied.
Once Harry made sure it was mermish indeed, they had two more weeks to figure out how to teach the boy to swim without his teacher being present. In the end, the boy came up with the best idea: no need for swimming, he had talked with the giant squid in the lake. That creature would do the wet part of the challenge for him while he wouldn't even leave the shore. Legilimency was a great thing, and a cooperative animal really wasn't hard to understand or talk to.
Later Karkaroff complained that the Nurmengard champion should have solved the task by himself, instead of enlisting a creature the other schools' students couldn't have possibly known about. Gellert wrote back that this conflict between Durmstrang and himself had predated him being expelled, and Harry replied in high spirits that if he'd learned one thing from Grindelwald it's to be unbothered by points that were supposed to be given and collected. From the Legilimency lessons he also remembered that his tutor had some spectacular memories regarding his late school, Gellert leaving a huge Hallows symbol near the entrance being one of them. With the same owl came Charity's baffled statement: apparently the Durmstrang headmaster was trying to impress her by finding more points for the Hogwarts student, and it was Moody, the one-eyed Defence teacher for this year, who put a stop to this unorthodox display of chivalry. The next letter included a photograph taken by young Mr Creevey: a photograph of Karkaroff firing one hundred heart-shaped fireworks under Miss Burbage's window.
Then came the third task.
His sight wouldn't show him more than '2:0’ printed on some sort of paper, and this lack of information was irritating. He expected Albus to send mail with Fawkes as soon as the Tournament was over, whether Harry eventually won it, or not. The last task had supposedly started at ten in the morning, and by the headmaster's estimation, it should have been over fifteen minutes before! What took so long?
He walked up and down in the sole accessible level of Nurmengard, looking out at his empty quidditch stadium before turning back to the dark walls again. What was Harry doing right now?
He was hit, not by a vision, but what felt like a wave of unprompted Legilimency. He was in the boy's mind, despite the huge distance between them, and simultaneously Harry had reached out to a shared memory: sitting on that office desk, demonstrating a spell with Harry's wand. 'It calls on your ultimate, primordial and unlimited magical powers to defend yourself and those at your side.’ Harry was half-sitting in damp grass, one hand on a trophy to which Cedric Diggory was also holding on to. 'You cannot hurt a loyal friend with it.’ Harry was staring at a rat-like man that Grindelwald couldn't recognize. But that wizard wasn't important, it was the shared memory that mattered. 'The incantation is....'
“Protego diabolica!” a desperate Harry yelled, so far away, drawing a crooked line on the ground between himself and the rat-man just as the stranger cast some curse in his direction. A wall of sky-blue flames rose, of course it was nowhere near a full circle, but against one enemy it should suffice.
Half an hour passed, with no more information but the printed '2:0’ and it was getting on his nerves. He was so distracted that he didn't even notice the trio of strangers approaching from the stadium's lower area, not until the wards surrounding his level were breached.
Three aurors were standing in the corridor, one wizard in pristine ICW uniform, the two others wearing the badge of Magical Britain – the taller one he'd met already, on the excursion to buy wands for Longbottom and Ronald Weasley. That man gave a small nod, but his face was unreadable.
“Gellert Grindelwald!” the leader of the three announced. “The British Ministry of Magic demands your presence. You have one minute to pack your things.”
“How’s Harry? What happened to him? ANSWER ME!”
“Fifty seconds,” the auror coldly replied.
He hastily grabbed the Hogwarts Song blanket and the panorama charm from Flitwick, and slid them in his mokeskin purse.
“I doubt anyone would dare harm Potter, after what he has done,” the dark-skinned auror shared, but his face was still controlled and it would have been very unwise to attempt reading him.
Seeing he didn’t move to collect more belongings, the third auror handed him a waistcoat: an impressively elegant way of putting something traceable on him, and not as easy to get out of as it would be to shield against a conjured rope.
He complied without further questions, and the four of them marched down through the lower levels (the quotes from famous quidditch players on the walls throughout the building felt ridiculously out of place, but that's what one can expect from Oliver Wood) out to the reception area. Either the aurors had extreme faith in the waistcoat's magical abilities, or they were forgetful to a fault, because there were no other security measures, not even a single handcuff.
As soon as they were out of the portkey wards, the waistcoat glowed up a bright blue, and landed him in an office hall at what could only be the Department of Magical Law Enforcement of the British Ministry of Magic.
What he saw could only be described as headless chaos. Aurors, hit wizards and other officers were twirling around a corridor that exuded waves of repulsive, corrosive magic.
“This way,” the shorter British auror, the one who had been holding on to his activating portkey waistcoat, directed him in the other direction. “You will have time for You-Know-Who later.” Without further explanation, the auror pushed him into what looked like an office hastily emptied for him. There were sheets of parchment and muggle paper all around the small room, two chairs that must have been used by a pair working together, and a desk with a tray, on it a glass and a jar of cold orange juice. In general, it didn't look like a place built for interrogation. For one, it didn't have any sound-dampening spell: the loud background noise from the corridors came in at full volume.
Then the auror plainly turned around and would have left, if not for the taller brown-skinned one who entered the room just as the other was about to leave. Quickly, the brown one took a step back to let his colleague out, then walked up to him.
“There are few people whose judgement I trust as much as Garrick Ol...”
“Kingsley!” a middle-aged auror with hair resembling a lion's mane bellowed from outside. “Get your lazy aft back here! Making friends can WAIT!”
The dark-skinned man just rolled his eyes, and tossed something wooden into Grindelwald's hand unceremoniously before rushing out of the office, yelling “I’m coming!”
His magic recognized what was in the wooden box even before he'd taken off the lid. He took a moment to marvel at the box on which Hogwarts' silhouette had been etched.
Inside, of course, lay a twelve and two-third inches long wand, rowan wood with thestral tail hair core, its swishiness belying its age. He took it out with reverence, and the wand greeted him with happy silver and gold sparks, reunited with its second, grudgily-accepted master.
“Professor Wohl!” That voice was familiar. When he looked up, he saw one of the many boys he'd taught in the German lessons, and who had attended the duel club along with his girlfriend. “Sorry, I mean... Mr Grindelwald.”
“Mr Percival Weasley,” he greeted the young man.
Outside, the chaos quieted down a little, perhaps the noisy crowd had moved elsewhere.
The red-head shook his hand excitedly. “It’s a crazy day, Professor. I'm glad you're here! Look, sir, the press conference is scheduled for three o'clock, I'll go and get you some sandwiches.”
“That’d be very nice of you, Mr Percival Weasley, but could you please tell me what's going on?”
The younger wizard's gaze fell on the desk, which was empty apart from the tray and the orange juice. “You haven't seen the Midday Prophet. I'll get you one even if I have to take it out of the Minister's own hands!”
With that rallying cry of pronounced loyalty, Percival Weasley rushed out of the office and didn't even close the door behind himself. Gellert had to slam it shut with a wave of his rowan wand, if he wanted a moment of relative quiet to put together his thoughts. He was being treated as harmless on a level that was almost insulting. And not one mind around was organized enough to tell him anything about what was going on.
Then, despite the background clamour, he heard a sound so characteristic he'd recognize it anywhere: somebody falling over her own legs. He wondered what camouflage would Miss Tonks choose to visit him without being spotted, but she was wearing her usual pink when she entered.
He'd expected a variety of behaviours from an auror... Being cuddled wasn't on the list, and she was hugging him so hard that he feared he'd suffocate. Then she let go, morphing into Potter's appearance (the boy had really grown since he'd last seen him and he’d had an awful haircut) and hugged him again.
“Harry sends two hugs and a huge thank-you,” she exclaimed, returning to her usual pink shade of hair, “and this one's from me,” another suffocating hug, pressing the air out of the old wizard. “Professor Wohl, thank you so much! For everything! Did Percy tell you about the press conference at three? I'm so sorry I have to go now...” A flash of a clear thought from her: the one-eyed, scarred old auror being escorted to the floo by the Hogwarts matron. “I must really go to St. Mungo’s. Do you think you can do the entire conference with Minister Fudge, or do I need to jump in for you? Anyway, thank you again and I'll be back as soon as I can.”
She rushed out just as Percival Weasley rushed back in, triumphantly waving a Midday Prophet.
“I hope you didn't kill a minister for that, Mr Percival Weasley.”
“No, it's from the senior undersecretary,” the red-head grinned. “Sandwiches,” he remembered, storming out again.
Until this minute, Grindelwald was fairly certain there was no such thing as a Midday Prophet, only an evening edition of the Daily Prophet for important events. But then, he remembered, that one will cover a press conference with him at three. At least, if Harry sent hugs and a thank-you, then he was doing well, even if he was preoccupied with something.
The Midday Prophet's front page proudly announced, ‘Harry Potter vs Dark Lord: 2:0’
The photograph below showed the Hogwarts quidditch stadium, transformed into a maze for the last task. At the entrance, in the front of the picture, stood Cedric Diggory with the Triwizard Cup, behind him, ducking behind the bushes to hide from the photographer, there was Harry, and at his wand-point, a properly stunned, paralyzed, and, for good measure, bound weak man that had to be Voldemort, judging by the rudimentary body he wore.
“I’m certain we will work splendidly together in the future,” Minister Fudge announced in a tone that had been irritating for the first time, and maddening after two minutes. A quarter an hour into the press conference, Gellert regretted turning down Miss Tonks's offer to jump in for him, but the young auror had yet to return from St Mungo's.
On the far side of the Minister sat Albus Dumbledore, master of the Elder Wand, at the moment shamelessly entertained by his former nemesis's irritation. Harry, sitting between the Minister and Gellert, seemed to long for a quiet nap more than for yet another round of questions, and his tutor couldn't blame him: apprehendingTom Riddle should have been enough to demand from a fourteen-year-old wizard.
“As we've heard from several of his followers, Voldemort applied a then-unidentified sort of extremely dark magic to make sure he wouldn't be killed,” Albus explained to the crowd of journalists and photo-reporters. “Two years ago, my friend over there –the one grimacing right now – pointed out to me the exact details of how this had been achieved.”
“Which couldn't have been possible, had I not been the Defence teacher at the time,” Grindelwald interjected. He tried to sound as cooperative and tame as possible, so he continued, “Albus not only spared my life when he had all the right to take it in 1945, not only offered me a second chance at the risk of losing everything he had gained with my defeat, no. He proved to me that the worst dark wizard of the century can still be redeemed. And that, mark my words, makes him the greatest transfiguration talent in the world.”
“How would you describe your relationship?” a witch from the Spellbound asked before the British minister could have gone on with the explanation of twisted wizarding law and how a war criminal had been permanently transferred to his country.
Gellert fought back the word that first came to his mind as a reply to the journalist, it wouldn't do if he said...
“Inspiring.” That was Albus and his common sense.
“Hopeful. And stained,” he corrected the other wizard.
“Controversial,” was Albus's reply. “Balancing.”
“Devoid of hero worship.”
“Two sides of the same coin,” Harry eventually said. “They’re like twins!”
“What are your plans regarding We-Know-Who, now that he's captured?” a blonde witch queried.
“First and most important is that he'll be kept in this physically weak body,” Albus replied. “How that will be done is up to Gellert.”
“If this body would die, Harry would be back to chasing a ghost,” Grindelwald explained. “A temporary solution you had for thirteen years and made no progress in that time. Please understand I can't say more, it's essential that we don't paint target marks for his followers on our backs.”
“But there is one known method and that will require Voldemort understanding the meaning of true remorse,” Harry added. “The alternative is not something I wish on him even though he murdered my parents.”
“Harry...” Albus whispered while the crowd voiced a number of questions.
“Witches and wizards, this is Mr Potter on a normal day,” the former Professor Wohl reminded everyone. “How he will force remorse on Riddle is yet to be seen but he has my unconditional faith and support. Next question?”
A blond man from the Quibbler rose.
“Did you give up on your quest to find the Deathly Hallows?”
“Currently, only the Stone needs finding,” Gellert replied before the loud murmur would have erupted. “Uniting them is a tougher question: I certainly won't commit such a deed. The master of the Cloak expressed an explicit desire to stay in the shadows, a request anyone superficially familiar with the Hallows' origin will more than understand. As for the Elder Wand, its master will part from it in the near future and leave some sort of a challenge for the next worthy witch or wizard to beat. I can't tell if that person has been born already.”
His eyes met with Dumbledore's, who demanded to be told more. Gellert sent back his sheer determination that he won't let the headmaster tempt himself to try and steal the Cloak again: as soon as the Stone of Resurrection was found, Albus would need to part from the Wand, and Gellert would see to that even if that's the last thing he would do.
Thank you for coming along with us for Wohl's journey! Now, all that's left is the epilogue. There will also be some left-out scenes (and a few 'happy ever after' moments) in the Extras, outtakes, oneshots collection.
Chapter 24: Epilogue
Filius Flitwick, Charity Karkaroff and Gellert Grindelwald sat next to each other at the high table, enthusiastically clapping their hands for every student being Sorted.
“Now, for the announcements,” Albus rose. “Miss Burbage has gotten married to Durmstrang’s Headmaster Karkaroff, so please remember that her name has changed.” There was some modest applause, but the wedding was old news for everybody.
Then the headmaster turned to the witch on his left. “As usual, let us welcome a new Defence Against Dark Arts professor: Dolores Jane Umbridge.” There was a disappointed grumble from all four tables, noted by everyone except for the witch in question. Gellert eyed the next to-be victim of the curse with a slight disdain. When he had asked Percival Weasley about the woman in the pink cardigan, the wizard asked him to 'give her hell from the entire Ministry'. It looked like the Senior Undersecretary would provide plenty of opportunities for that.
Dumbledore continued, “And last but not least, we welcome back Gellert Grindelwald, or Professor Wohl as most of you knew him, who will take over History of Magic, not for the first time.”
“Yes!” Miss Granger shouted before the storm of applause could have suppressed her voice. She had always been a bit more enthusiastic than her peers.