June 10, 1992, 11:00 AM, Outskirts of Remords de l’Âme Prison, France…
“Will this really work?” The man beside Matthias said in a thick, Italian accent as he walked beside the assembled group. “I’m not so sure we can do this.”
“Have some faith, Ricardo.” Matthias said, sending him a steady look. “Have we given you any cause to feel such doubt in the time you’ve known us?”
“Well, no…” Ricardo said, running a hand through his thinning, brown hair. “I am only, ah… What is the word? Practicing… La prudenza. No, no, what is it…”
“Prudence…?” Matthias said, though he wasn’t too sure. “Safety?”
“Yes, yes!” Ricardo said, nodding. “Safety. That is the word. We need to ensure our safety.”
A crack sounded behind them, and the group turned to see Grindelwald, looking a lot different than he had the last time Matthias had seen him.
His bleached, white hair had gained a hint of blonde, and the color of his skin had returned in full force, as if he had come to life again.
Gone were the effects of his long-stint at Nurmengard, Matthias realized as he ran his eyes over his leader’s form. But how did he achieve such a thing?
“My Lord.” Ricardo began as he tried to bow, only to be stopped by Matthias. Ricardo gave Grindelwald’s second-in-command a strange look before shrugging.
“Thank you, Matthias.” Gellert Grindelwald spoke as he strode forward to them. “There will be none of that, Mr. Ricardo. To you and everyone else, I am only Gellert Grindelwald. I do not seek to subjugate my brothers and sisters— but to liberate them.”
“Yes.” Ricardo said, nodding with wide eyes. “Mr. Grindelwald.”
Gellert nodded before turning to Matthias. “My friend. Are all the preparations complete?”
Matthias gave an emphatic nod. “Yes, sir. I moved the requested items into position.”
“Very good.” Gellert said and turned to the rest of the group. “We gather here today at one of the Wizarding World’s most atrocious of sites.”
Far in the distance behind the man, stood a tall, wide tower of ivory in the shape of a heptagon, and circled by no less than three expansive, thick walls.
Matthias and the others looked towards the ancient prison as Gellert continued to speak. “‘Remords de l’Âme’, the French named it centuries ago. It was thought that the prison would serve as a place for the breakers of the law to quietly contemplate their actions and find the remorse hidden deep within their souls; a noble intention set forth by our ancestors.”
He paused for a moment, walking among them with such grace that Matthias had to do a double take. Just what had happened to the man in the time he’d been away?
Gellert had requested to have a week alone as Matthias went about gathering all of the wizards and witches who’d answered their call to action. Matthias stifled the urge to grimace.
Less than a dozen had come. All of their hard work, and this was what they got?
“And yet.” Gellert said, sending Matthias a look of confidence. Immediately, the man felt reassured; he somehow knew everything would turn out all right.
Faith. Matthias told himself, just as he had told Ricardo beside him.
“Even those with the best of intentions can be led astray… and eventually, corrupted.” Gellert said, sending the prison a meaningful glance before turning to the gathered men and women before him. “Though the prison is still used to house those few who have crossed inexcusable lines in our society, it has also gained another function: as a tool of political suppression, to be used by the corrupt.”
Gellert paused for effect. “Over the ages, it has been a host to those who opposed the reigning leadership. Their words, opinions and dreams were not welcome in the imposed order of past French Ministries, and this vile tradition has continued to this day.”
Matthias nodded, now getting a true understanding of why Gellert had requested so many news articles which were released after his incarceration. All of it was to study the geo-politics of the modern Wizarding World.
“It is these institutions which we fight against.” Gellert said, gesturing at the prison. “If we, as wizards and witches of good conscience and stout moral fiber, do not stand against them, then these corrupt organizations will endure. They will always remain, and always flourish, and always oppress you, affront you, and degrade you, because you are nothing to them. Cattle— beasts of burden.”
Matthias felt his ire and righteous anger rising at Gellert’s proclamations, even as another wizard spoke in an Arabic accent. “What are we to do, then, Mr. Grindelwald? We number less than a dozen while they have entire nations backing them.”
Gellert turned his gaze towards the man and gave him a nod. “Too true, Mr. Rafiq. We are few, and they are many.”
He let the silence reign in the air, making everyone stare at each other with rising uncertainty.
“The European Ministries, however.” Gellert said, cutting through their tension with an ease borne from practice. “Have grown lax— even lazy— from their previous successes. They have enjoyed their prosperity, to be sure, but in doing so, they have forgotten the feeling of true hardship. They no longer know what it means to toil for every scrap you have. Magic no longer speaks to them as it once did their forebears.”
He stepped away from the assembled group and spoke again. “They have forgotten much, but it is of no consequence.”
“I have not asked any of you to come here to fight alongside me, today.” He then said, baffling everyone but Matthias, himself.
“What do you mean, my— Mr. Grindelwald?” Ricardo said, frowning. “Surely you do not mean to accomplish this feat by yourself.”
Gellert only smiled before leveling his willow wand towards the prison’s outermost wall, where it was thickest. He gave it a flick and a slash, sending a spark of purple towards it.
He lowered his wand, and the entire group watched as the purple spark continued its flight path at a snail’s pace. “Oftentimes, the seeds of revolution are killed before they have the chance to germinate. The sparks do not have the chance to reach kindling.”
The spark wavered in the harsh winds, but continued to persevere, like weak candlelight fighting the endless void of black surrounding it.
“You’ll want to cover your ears.” Grindelwald said as he placed his index fingers into his ears. Matthias followed suit, without hesitation, and the rest were not far behind.
They watched as the spark collided against the wall and disappeared. A moment passed, and then another, before Rafiq stepped forward to speak.
And then it happened.
For a singular moment, Matthias gazed upon the purple radiance of a new Sun before his eyes screwed themselves shut on instinct.
A second later, he felt, more than heard, a great, all-encompassing pressure against his body, forcing him to shield his face— not that he felt much of anything anymore.
Closing his eyes and ears hadn’t been enough. He could hear nothing but a loud ringing, with an almost inaudible hum around him. He kept his breathing slow and started opening his eyes as his body adjusted and recovered from what had happened to it.
Only Ricardo had dared open his eyes, while the others were still in various states of dishevelment, shock and fear.
Matthias turned his gaze away from the group and directed it towards the prison. He knew what he would see; he had seen its like before, but he gaped anyway.
The front, outer wall of the prison had disappeared under a massive cloud of dust, molten rock and pure heat. If he squinted at it hard enough, Matthias figured that it looked a bit like a mushroom.
As he gazed upon such destruction, Matthias’ hearing began to return to him.
“—at in Merlin’s name was that?” One of the witches, Vanessa, said; her face was white with shock and a healthy amount of fear.
“Such destruction…” Ricardo said from beside Matthias.
Gellert turned away from the devastation he had wrought and moved closer to the group again, making a few of them take a step back in fear.
“Do not fear, my friends.” Gellert said, his voice as calm and serene as it had been before he had spoken to them. “As long as you are with me, no harm will come to you.”
“What…” Ricardo said, eyes flitting between him and Grindelwald. “What was that?”
“That, Mr. Ricardo.” Grindelwald said, gesturing towards the slowly dissipating cloud of dust and smoke. “Was the spark of revolution kindling into a Gubraithian Flame.”
“You did not need any of us.” Vanessa said, her Russian accent thick with fear, awe and, dare he say it, desire? “You wanted to— demonstration?”
“In part.” Gellert said, nodding a little. “But this has also served as a test for you all; of courage and bravery, as well as character and faith. I wanted to see who would dare go against the European Ministries— risk it all for the slightest chance of a better world. You have all passed.”
“I see.” Vanessa said, swallowing and tucking a lock of red behind her right ear. “And now what?”
“Now.” Gellert said, turning and walking towards the destruction, sending another weak, tiny spark towards the second wall. “We free our brothers and sisters.”
All who were gathered followed the man without question.
Same Time, Hogwarts, Ground Floor, Transfiguration Classroom…
He took a deep breath as he walked away from Professor McGonagall, feeling the woman’s gaze glued to his back. Harry wondered whether that was a good sign or not.
What if I fail? He thought, nodding to Ron, who was waiting his turn to do the practical. Will I have to attend all of the First Year classes, all over again?
Harry shook his head after a few moments and passed through the classroom proper, where he saw the last few First Year Gryffindors finishing up their written portion of the exam. He kept quiet even as he retrieved his pack from where he had left it.
He hefted the bag over his shoulder and left the premises, feeling the stress leave his body with every step he took. Once clear of the classroom, he gave a sigh of relief.
Five tests down. Harry thought. Two to go.
“Harry!” Hermione said from his left, and he turned to see her waving him over. She was standing around all by herself, looking stressed.
“Hermione.” Harry greeted her back with a smile and joined her. “How was it?”
He regretted his words immediately, as Hermione went off in a rant on how she was sure that she messed up on the seventh question. “I knew I should’ve prepared more!”
Harry snorted, drawing a glare from the girl.
“Hermione, you’ve been studying non-stop for the past few weeks.” Harry said, shaking his head at the ridiculousness of the situation. “You’ll do great.”
Hermione opened her mouth before closing it; her expression turned a little unsure, showing the nervousness she had been trying so hard to hide.
“You think so?”
Harry nodded with the sort of confidence that only a child could possess. “Yes. If you don’t do well, then there’s no hope for the rest of us, I reckon.”
That got a smile out of the girl. “I suppose you’re right.”
Humble, too. Harry thought to himself, amused. Clarke is rubbing off on her.
He wasn’t sure whether that was a good or bad thing.
“How did you do?” Hermione asked.
“I think I did pretty well.” Harry said. “It didn’t feel as tough as I thought it would be. And the practical was very good, too. At least, I think so.”
He wasn’t sure whether Professor McGonagall was impressed with him, or not. There were times where he thought the old woman was giving him strange glances, but he’d brushed them off as the usual Boy-Who-Lived nonsense that everyone else seemed so obsessed with.
Maybe there was something else to it? He remembered her demeanor the day that she had gathered them all to bring to Professor Dumbledore. She had been livid, and teetering on the edge of losing her cool and professional demeanor.
Harry had never seen anything quite like it. Sure, his Uncle Vernon got angry every now and again, but he would deflate not long after, especially if there was anything to eat and sate him in some way.
McGonagall’s anger had been contained, but so very raw that it left a lasting impression on the bespectacled boy.
“Hey.” Ron’s voice came from the entrance of the class.
“Ron!” Hermione said. “How did you do?”
Ron grimaced and shook his head. “I’m not sure I did well, but at least it’s over.”
Harry nodded, his previous thoughts discarded as Ron approached the two. “Yes. Just two more exams in the afternoon and the school year is done.”
“Almost there.” Ron said, joining the three; they made their way to the Great Hall for lunch.
“I’m going to have to do some last minute revision.” Hermione worried her lip as they walked through the halls. “I want to be a hundred percent prepared for the History exam.”
Ron rolled his eyes, an action that was spotted by the girl.
“You can’t be prepared enough, Ronald!”
“Yes you can.”
Harry shook his head. “I’m following Adam’s advice, really.”
Hermione blinked her annoyance away and turned her gaze to Harry as they reached the open doors of the Great Hall. “His advice?”
“Oh, yes.” Harry said and mimicked his friend’s speech. “‘Make sure to rest well before every exam, or you won’t be able to recall a thing when it matters most.’”
He saw their amused expressions and grinned. “How was that; not too bad, huh?”
“Seven out of ten.” Adam’s voice came from behind him. “Needs work.”
Harry stopped in his tracks and turned to the boy, as well as Tony and Su, with a startled gaze. “Adam!”
“You need to work on your condescension a little more.” Adam said in greeting, smiling. “Hi.”
“Hey.” Harry replied, feeling lame as he turned his attention to the others. “Hey Tony, hey Su.”
“Hello.” “Hey guys.” Su and Tony greeted everyone with smiles and waves. “Finished your Transfiguration exam?”
“Yeah.” Ron said. “You?”
“Tony and I just finished Potions— Adam was waiting for us.” Su said, looking a little downtrodden. “My parents are going to kill me when they see the grade.”
“Why?” Harry asked, frowning.
“I messed up one of the instructions and the end result wasn’t the expected shade of purple.” Su sighed and looked towards the Ravenclaw table. “I’m going to eat and hope to Merlin that I haven’t failed.”
“I’m sure you did fine.” Clarke gave the girl a pat on the shoulder. “You’ve been studying very hard, you know.”
But Su did not seem convinced. She moved away to her House’s table, muttering to herself in dissatisfaction.
Clarke and Tony shared a look of amusement before following her, but not before sending the others a wave.
“We’ll talk later!” Tony called for them.
Harry, Hermione and Ron stared at the three Ravenclaws for a long moment before sharing smiles between each other.
“Do try not to stand in the middle of the Great Hall, children.” Professor McGonagall said as she came in through the doors, followed by the remaining Gryffindor First Years. With a wave of her wand, the doors closed.
“Sorry, Professor.” The three said and moved towards their table with a sense of haste.
“I’m starving.” Ron said the moment they sat at the table and gazed at all the available food.
“You’re always starving.” Hermione rolled her eyes and reached towards her book bag before thinking better of it. She huffed. “I can’t just… not study! This is awful.”
“You know.” Ron said, mouth already stuffed with as much food as he could get his hands on. “You could always not follow Adam’s advice.”
Hermione sent him a disgusted look before shaking her head at the question. “No, Adam’s right. I’ll just mess everything up and get confused when the tests begin.”
Harry nodded, not having anything to say.
“You excited for the summer break, Harry?” Ron stopped to say. “Since you’ll be moving in with Black and all.”
Harry nodded, not sure how to respond to something like that. “I think so.”
If he were honest with himself, he had no idea on what to expect. True, he dealt with Adam on a day-to-day basis, so he at least could feel a little comfort in knowing that, but he didn’t know what the boy was like when they were not in school.
Would he want to hang out and play some games? Would he just study all summer? For that matter, what was Sirius like? Harry had met the man a total of once.
Well, him and his friend, Remus Lupin. Harry thought. Friends of my father.
He wasn’t sure how all of that would translate into his future home life, but it had to be good, right? Anything was better than the Dursleys, at this point.
“Yeah.” He said again, nodding with a little more confidence, this time. “I think everything will be fine.”
The moment those words came out of his mouth, something came through one of the many windows. It wasn’t a dog, for Harry had never seen a dog so wispy and white. Was it a Gytrash? Harry shook his head.
If anything, this thing looked more like a spirit animal or a ghost.
Is this… a corporeal Patronus? Harry thought, remembering something he had read up on when he’d been researching Dementors and their counter. And the creature… Maybe a badger? Looks like a badger.
The maybe-badger-Patronus hopped onto Dumbledore’s table and began to speak into his ear. Despite the dead silence of the Hall, no one could hear what it was saying.
No one but Dumbledore. Harry reckoned, seeing the man’s eyes widen with surprise, and then narrow with steely intent.
Dumbledore stood from his seat, turning his gaze to Professor McGonagall, as well as Professor Snape. The two gave the man a nod before he disappeared with a loud crack.
No one said a word for a long moment before the silence was broken by a deluge of whispers and chatter.
“…What just happened?” Ron said, flummoxed by what they had all just witnessed. “He just Apparated?”
“I don’t know.” Hermione said, just as confused. “I thought you couldn’t Apparate or Disapparate on Hogwarts Grounds.”
“He can, apparently.” Ron said. “Maybe a perk of being Headmaster?”
“Better question.” Harry said, getting the two’s attention. “Who’s going to protect the Stone with Dumbledore not there?”
Professor McGonagall began to address the student body. “Students, Professor Dumbledore has been called on by an international authority for aid, and so, I will be assuming control of the school as Acting Headmis—”
But the Professor never got to finish her statement as the Great Hall erupted with a bright flash of light. Forced to close his eyes, Harry felt himself get thrown off of his seat, crashing into the unforgiving stone floor with a loud smack.
He flailed in pain as he heard the shouts and screams of all the students around him.
And then a loud boom overtook the Great Hall, followed by McGonagall’s thunderous voice. “SILENCE!”
Harry felt hands on him, lifting him up to his feet. Harry finally dared to open his eyes, blinking them at a rapid pace as he tried to cope with the lower level of light.
After a few seconds of this, he focused his gaze on Professor McGonagall, who was standing at the head of the high table.
“Prefects.” The Deputy Headmistress said, her face grim. “You will lead the students to their respective dormitories in a timely and orderly fashion. The remainder of the exams have been postponed until further notice. Go, now.”
There was a moment of silence before Percy made himself known. “Come on, everyone. Don’t forget your things. Let’s go.”
The other prefects of the respective Houses began to do much of the same.
“Where’s Claire?” Percy said, looking displeased. “She was just here.”
“Not sure.” A Sixth Year said to him as he looked around. “A lot of the other Prefects are missing, too. Some of the students, as well.”
That doesn’t seem good. Harry thought. Where have they gone?
Harry didn’t know just what was going on, but he knew that he did not like it.
“No matter.” Percy gave a quick sigh before turning to the Sixth Year. “Would you mind helping me?”
“Of course.” His fellow student said, though he did not seem particularly pleased by the new duty thrust upon him.
“Thank you.” Percy said before turning to the First Years. “Come along, now.”
Harry looked towards the teacher’s table and saw that Professor Snape was missing. With wide eyes, he turned towards Ron and Hermione.
“I saw.” Hermione said even as they exited the Great Hall. “He’s not there.”
“What do we do?” Ron said, looking to him for guidance. “With Dumbledore gone…”
There won’t be any stopping Snape. Harry finished for him, making up his mind. “We go.”
Harry nodded. “No choice. We can’t waste any time.”
Now, all they needed was a good opportunity to ditch the crowd…