June 26, 1992, 6:30 AM, Unknown Location, England
I woke abruptly to the sound of the door smashing into the wall as it was flung open by the shouting man behind it.
“Yalla, yalla!” He shouted in Arabic, a language I was intimately familiar with in my old life, making me open my eyes slightly to see a somewhat aged man with a large nose, a scraggly beard and a large, red, brimless hat which hid his balding head. “Time to wake up, young Clarke.”
I blinked my eyes in confusion and irritation and sent the man a glare, before the expression changed into one of fright when I felt the Stinging Hex strike my hand.
“Get up, you!” He once again shouted in Arabic as I quickly vacated the bed.
“What was that for!?” I said, rubbing my hand, now fully awake.
From the fire erupting in his eyes, I assumed that I was about to get hexed again, but the man pocketed his wand with a smile that was promised much worse than the Stinging Hex. “Time to train, boy.”
He threw workout clothes onto my bed and sent me a glare. “Get dressed; you have five minutes; otherwise, I will drag you out in the nude to train with the other recruits.”
My eyes widened at the threat and I quickly started getting dressed. I heard the man’s chuckle as he closed the door behind him.
These people have to be fucking with me. I thought as I frantically put on clothes, trying to push the grogginess and unease out of my limbs. They hold me prisoner, I almost kill one of them, they stop me, test my skill, and now they want to train me.
I huffed and put my pants on. It was a size too big, so I tightened the drawstring and moved around, making sure everything was in working order. I pocketed my wand, the rush of warmth calming me and making me feel ready to take on the new, sure to be crappy day.
I exited the room with a minute to spare. The Arab man scrutinized me with beady, black eyes for a few moments before nodding with a grunt. “Acceptable. Come.”
He turned and began to move, expecting me to follow without him saying a word; and, I did. I followed him down the sets of stairs, wondering just what this was all about.
It was Grindelwald’s soft pitch, most likely. This was his way of saying he’d be delivering on his promise to train me by showing me a taste of what’s in store— if I accepted his proposal, of course.
The Arab man led me through a few corridors and outside of the building proper, where I saw a group of men and women between the ages of seventeen and twenty-five waiting patiently.
“Mr. Rafiq.” One of them greeted the Arab man with a nod of deference. “I have instructed them on the early exercise, just as you said.”
Rafiq. I thought, staring at the man’s stern and almost angry countenance. You do not live up to your name, at all.*
“Good, Miss Wagner.” Mr. Rafiq said with a tight nod. “Fall in line. That goes for you, too, Clarke.”
I blinked and nodded, taking my position in one of the open spaces left by the group, while Wagner took the other.
Rafiq paced in front of the group twice before addressing us all, hands held behind his back as his pace slowed. “Some of you already know me. Some of you…”
His gaze lingered on a man in the back, and then it moved towards me. “…Do not. I am Rafiq Rahman, and you will address me as Mr. Rafiq, or sir. Is that clear?”
“Yes, sir!” The group said, though I mumbled my reply, earning me another stinging hex.
“Is that clear, Mr. Clarke?” He moved to stand in front of me, his looming form dwarfing my own.
“Yes, sir!” I said through gritted teeth, sending the man a venomous glare.
The man smiled at the sight of my hateful countenance. “Good! That’s the kind of energy I want to see, boy! Channel it in your training, and you will do well. Fall behind, and feel the sting of my magic.”
He stared at me for a second longer before gesturing towards the massive field. “Begin by running laps. New recruits, follow the old ones, and if I find that you are being lazy…”
Mr. Rafiq thrust his wand towards a nearby tree, sending a flash of orange light crashing against it, stripping a bit of the bark off. I felt myself swallowing in nervousness at the sight.
“Fascinating magic, is it not?” Mr. Rafiq said. “A spell of my own make— to whip up insubordinate men and women into shape. One hit of this, and you’ll never slow down, ever again.”
The woman beside me, Wagner, flinched at the man’s words. I stared at her; had he used it on her before? My eyes went towards the others, and I checked their own reactions before realizing that, yes, he most likely had.
“Begin!” He said, waving his wand and Summoning a chair over as the group sprang into motion. I followed them as well as I could, running a few laps around the large clearing, but it was obvious that I would never have been able to keep up with them.
I was much smaller than them, so I lagged behind almost instantly; still, I pushed myself as hard as I could manage with my small limbs, managing to get five laps in before I started to feel tired.
I began to slow down, my body acutely aware of the cool air brushing against the shirt which was clinging to my skin. I shivered and pressed on, knowing I still had a bit of energy left in me.
A flash of orange flew right at me, and I flinched, only for the spell to miss me by an inch and strike the man who had just passed me on his ass cheek. He fell to the ground with a loud cry of pain, clutching at it for a few seconds before Mr. Rafiq’s voice reached us.
“Don’t think I don’t see you slacking, Mr. O’Connel!” Mr. Rafiq said, glaring as he jumped out of his chair and took two steps forward, eyes shining with menace. “Now, get up and run, or receive another lashing.”
The man got up quickly after that, running at twice the speed he’d managed before. I quickly followed suit, trying to be fast so I didn’t get hit.
“Clarke.” The man called out, and I turned my head to see him shaking his head. “You had a good pace, boy. Keep to that.”
I swallowed dryly and nodded to the man, slowing down and resuming the course at my previous speed. I managed to get another three laps completed before I just couldn’t move anymore, collapsing on the spot.
I managed to get up on one knee, panting with exhaustion. One more lap. Just one more lap and I’m golden.
My body, however, didn’t get the memo, refusing to budge an inch no matter how hard I tried.
Feeling my heart leap into my chest every time I tried to swallow, I just let my body calm itself down, half expecting the man to hit me with that spell, but his dreaded magic never came. Instead, I heard the sound of booted feet crunching against the grass.
I turned my head to see Rafiq looking at me with an uncompromising, stern expression. Shit, he’s gonna whip me, isn’t he?
Surprisingly, he didn’t.
“Here, boy.” He said, pointing his wand to the right before directing its tip to me, as if he was tugging a string. A moment later, a canteen of water dropped in front of my face. “Drink.”
I blinked, confusion settling into my expression at the man’s show of kindness. What was his game?
“Thank you.” I croaked up, and slowly got myself back down into a seated position. I twisted the cap open and took a short draught of water, coughing a bit as it struck my parched throat.
“The idiocy of children.” He said in Arabic before kneeling by my side and patting my back. “Dying from water would be a pathetic end for someone with such potential, child.”
I absorbed his words.
“Ironic, sir.” I couldn’t help but say before taking another draught of water. “That water, the giver of life, could just as easily also be the one which ends it.”
“Just so.” The man scoffed at my attitude before pointing towards the track. “Walk; your legs will thank you for it.”
I nodded and, with a great deal of effort, got to my feet. I guess I really did need that momentary reprieve.
I started walking, resuming the same course I had before and hoping my legs didn’t give out on me. They felt weak at first, but the more I walked, the more my muscles relaxed and adapted to the new strain.
“Everyone, walk!” Rafiq said, and the recruits stopped running, slowing their pace gradually. One of them, Miss Wagner, stopped her own run a small distance ahead of me, but slowed down further so that I would eventually be walking beside her.
“Hello.” She greeted me with a German accent, though she sounded quite breathless. “Mr. Clarke.”
I nodded towards her, not trusting myself to be able to speak at that moment. Instead, I drank more of the water, clearing my throat afterwards.
“Miss Wagner.” I tried. My voice was a little off, but good enough to speak with. Still, I took another drink of water, letting her speak.
She, however, would look at me before looking away.
I frowned. “Is something…”
I cleared my throat again, getting rid of a mild blockage before speaking again. “Is something the matter, Miss Wagner?”
“Well…” Wagner trailed off, looking unsure. “Is it true that you dueled Mr. Grindelwald?”
That stopped me short. “What?”
“Everyone has heard of it, you know.” She said. “A great duel in the courtyard, with only a few eyes to witness it.”
“That got out?” I said, before shaking my head. “I thought it was supposed to be a secret.”
Of course, it would get out. I thought, annoyed. Lips flap loosely among trusted allies.
This was concerning; just how long would it take until my presence here was discerned by anyone outside of this building? Surely, at least one person here did not truly subscribe to Grindelwald’s views or agree with his methods?
If not now, then later. I thought. There will come a day when one of these… upstanding members of Grindelwald’s order decide that they don’t agree with what’s being done here anymore, and they will shout their story to everyone in the high heavens.
It was only a matter of time.
Wagner shrugged. “A duel of such importance cannot be swept away as a secret so easily. After all, you were personally invited here to be trained by Mr. Grindelwald, himself; a great honor.”
Is that the story being fed to everyone here? I thought, disgusted. I guess if you count being kidnapped as a personal invitation, then Grindelwald did indeed personally invite me here.
“Well, you’re half right.” I said. “I didn’t fight Grindelwald. He was in the audience.”
“Oh?” She asked, frowning at that. “Then, who did you do battle with?”
“I…” I said, noticing some of the other recruits catching up with us and pretending to not be listening in.
“Don’t mind them.” Wagner said, rolling her eyes. “They’re a nosy sort.”
“You try doing nothing but training all day and night.” One of the recruits, a bald, dark-skinned man with tattoos covering his entire face, said. The other recruits nodded in fervent agreement.
Wagner looked at him and shook her head with fondness. “Yes. It can get somewhat irksome, Diallo.”
My annoyance softened at that. I understood how it felt to be isolated with no way of knowing what was happening in the outside world; it was boring, mind-numbing and soul-crushing.
“So, Who did you fight?” An eager recruit beside the one known as Diallo spoke. “Tell us.”
I opened my mouth to answer as we all stopped to sit down near a silent Rafiq, who seemed to be reading from a newspaper.
I looked at him for a moment longer before shrugging. “The Russian Rogue.”
Whispers broke out in the group. “Miss Vanessa, herself!”
“Very few wizards can match her in skill…”
“I take it the rogue’s famous?” I said, not really knowing what to say to that.
Though… I supposed, recalling the fight. The way she moved, with such deadly grace and honed intent… It’s probably not a surprise that people know her name.
“You shouldn’t call her that.” Wagner said. “She really doesn’t like that name. Don’t ever say it in her presence.”
“Why?” I asked and saw Diallo cringe in response.
“Rebecca is right, Clarke.” Diallo said, nodding towards Wagner— Rebecca. “I once saw a man call her that… By the time she was done with him, he was…”
Rebecca elbowed the man, shaking her head at his annoyed look.
“It is probably not something we should speak of.” Rebecca said, sending me an uncomfortable look. “At least, until you’re older.”
I frowned at that, but then I remembered the way the woman pressed into me, and how every word that came out of her mouth always toed the line between the sexual and the extremely menacing.
“Right.” I said, moving back to the subject at hand. “I fought her. It was a test by Grindelwald to see my skill level.”
“And you lived?” One of the recruits in the back said.
I shrugged. “Was I not supposed to?”
Everyone turned to Wagner so she could explain. Rebecca sighed, and did so. “Miss Vanessa is the last surviving member of Clan Zhenya.”
“Clan Zhenya?” I repeated the name. Greengrass had said that no one used the term ‘Clan’ anymore, so what was the deal with this? “I’ve never heard of them.”
“I suppose you wouldn’t have.” Wagner shook her head. “You are, as I understand it, Muggleborn? And one far removed from the troubles of Eastern Europe.”
I nodded, and so Rebecca sighed.
“To explain it simply…” Rebecca said and stopped to consider her next words. “The Clan Zhenya are… were an old Clan, dating back two thousand years, at least. Composed of the strongest wizards and witches alive, they were not like Houses, which only spread their teachings to their descendants.”
Diallo nodded. “Anyone was welcome to join them— if they could survive the training and tests which lay ahead.”
I frowned. “Powerful wizards and witches, then?”
The two nodded before Rebecca spoke. “Ask your next question; I already know what it is.”
I gave a small smile that lasted for all of a second. “What happened to them?”
“They were attacked.” Rafiq said, his sharp voice cutting through whatever Rebecca was about to say. The other recruits turned and stood at attention. I frowned at their sudden change in behavior before turning to the man.
“Attacked?” I said, and the man’s face scrunched in the kind of anger one had when thinking of a friend’s misfortune.
“Yes, boy.” Rafiq said, moving to stand before me, his expression turning even more severe. “Clan Zhenya never abided by the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy ever since its inception, Mr. Clarke.”
The other recruits nodded.
“For centuries, they maintained their position against the Statute, stating that their relations with the Muggle Tsar were nothing short of exemplary.” Rafiq said, nodding to himself. “And for a time, the other Wizarding nations let them be. Not many of the Muggles there knew about their existence in the first place, so it was moot whether they abided by the Statute or not.”
“It didn’t last? Sir.” I added quickly at the man’s stern look. “The other nations attacked.”
Rafiq looked at me and gave a solemn nod. “When the first Great War of the Muggles began, the Tsar, suffering defeat after defeat, turned to Clan Zhenya for aid, which they were happy to provide.”
He shook his head. “The Confederation of Wizards did not take kindly to such interference. Four hundred and fifty, they sent.”
My eyes bugged out at the number.
“Yes.” Rafiq nodded at my wide-eyed shock. “Every member of Clan Zhenya was powerful in their own right— the epitome of what wizards and witches aspire to be— and yet, even they could not withstand such a task force. A Clan admired all over the world for its acceptance and magical prowess… Gone in one night.”
Rafiq began pacing, looking at each one of us with a serious look. “One night was what it took to tear it all down. But Clan Zhenya did not go down without a fight, no… Out of the task force, only three survived, with two dying not long after.”
I took a breath as Rafiq finished. “Miss Vanessa is all that remains of her Clan. The Granddaughter of the last leader, taught how to fight by her father as they were forced to flee from the Confederation at every turn.”
The recruits shifted in agitation.
“Miss Vanessa’s story is but one of many.” Mr. Rafiq said. “Injustices like these occur on an everyday basis, and our respective Ministries of Magic sweep them under the rug, the dogs! They whittle away at our history and heritage with every breath they take— and we will no longer tolerate it. We will not.”
“We will not!” The recruits all shouted, and I realized that I was also feeling agitated by this story. Much as I didn’t wish for it, I felt a small sliver of sympathy for these people.
Was I wrong about them? Sure, Grindelwald was an absolute nutcase— someone who’d seen the Abyss and was traumatized by it to the point where he wanted to shape the world the way he wanted.
But the people here just seemed like regular folks who’d been trodden upon by oppressive governments. Surely they couldn’t all be lying?
“That’s what I want to hear!” Rafiq clapped once, smiling. “That fire in your eyes; taste it, savor it. Use it to reach for greater heights. Now, Wagner, Diallo; duel practice. The rest of you, watch and learn. Soon it will be your turn to battle.”
I saw the two move forward, bowing to each other before the clearing filled with multicolor light and the sound of the two fighting.
Am I wrong about what’s going on here? I wondered, seeing these youths fight, unaware of a pair of gray eyes locked onto me from the entrance— that was, until I turned and looked.
It was a familiar young, blonde boy, standing some distance away from two other blondes which I assumed were his parents, a small group of mean-looking wizards, and Grindelwald’s men, one of which was Matthias, his right-hand man.
The Malfoys? I thought, focusing on Draco. What are they doing here?