June 25, 1992, 7:40 AM, Goldstein Residence, City
He woke just as he always did— despondent and hungry. Tony opened his dark eyes to stare at the ceiling above for a total of ten seconds before he sighed with a note of sadness.
He slowly got up, picked at the sand in his eyes for half a minute before swinging his legs off of the bed. He stared at it for a moment, realizing that it was far smaller than he remembered.
Or maybe it’s me who’s grown. Tony thought, his eyes sweeping over his room to take notice of all the toys and knick knacks he had accumulated in his childhood.
I can almost imagine Adam saying something like ‘you’re still a kid, Goldstein’. Tony smiled for a moment as he took a few steps forward, stopping in front of the coin collection he had laid out on his desk.
He dragged his fingers over the clear plastic covering the coins. Tony smiled, remembering the time he was working on completing this page. Old Italian coins from the 1700s.
As he began to tidy up his bed, his thoughts turned to the past.
He had lucked out when his father told him he knew an old couple who lived out a few minutes down the street; they were from southern Italy. The couple had refused the boy’s request, at first, but Tony’s sad face had somehow convinced the old man to ask to see his collection.
Tony had happily obliged; to say the old man had been impressed was an understatement. Coin collection was everything to Tony. He hadn’t been able to connect with any of the other kids his age in any meaningful way, and so this was what he had turned to for solace.
True, no one had been overtly cruel or physically abusive to him, but Tony nevertheless learned what it felt like to be invisible to everyone around him— to be ignored like he wasn’t even there.
To be nothing. Tony exhaled and closed his eyes, trying to push old heartache away. But it’s not like that anymore. I have Su and Hermione and Ron and Harry. And Adam.
Tony remembered the first time he had properly approached Adam. He had already been at Hogwarts for a month and had dismissed Adam as Terry’s friend.
Terry Boot was like some of the boys in primary school; brash, possessive of their friends and more than willing to hurt people like Tony to make them stay away. He’d seen this particular thing happen to many of his peers, at the time.
And so, Tony had kept his distance the whole time.
He got along fine with the other boys, but they weren’t really his friends, even if he might have been theirs for some time. Sure, they ate together, didn’t fight and may even have shared some form of a bond, but it was one borne of familiarity, not a willingness to spend time with one another.
In fact, they had thought that his coin collection hobby was a little odd.
And then Terry and Adam had gone through some kind of fight. At the time, he hadn’t been sure of what exactly happened to cause this rift between the two boys, but the signs pointed to Terry being the instigator.
As Tony had correctly predicted, Terry had not been very accepting of Adam hanging out with someone outside of their House, and had taken it out on Adam by enlisting help from Slytherins to teach him a lesson.
Needless to say, it hadn’t gone well.
Even now, Tony could not understand Boot’s mentality.
After having spent months being friends with the three Gryffindors, Tony couldn’t imagine the possibility of not making friends wherever one could find them.
And it’s all thanks to Adam. Tony thought, smiling for a little more before he finished cleaning everything up.
He could smell breakfast coming from downstairs and felt his stomach grumble with impatience as he got dressed. Calm down, you little monster.
Tony let out a chuckle as he exited the room, moving past his parents’ room and going down the stairs. The aroma of eggs, toast and sausage was stronger than ever, making his mouth water with anticipation.
Hogwarts food was good, of that there was no doubt, but Tony knew that he preferred his father’s breakfast above all else. Even his mother, with all of the magic at her fingertips, could not make a meal as good as her man.
‘That’s why I married him, you know.’ She would jokingly say to the man before sharing a kiss with him. It always made Tony giggle when he was younger.
“If it isn’t the champion of monkeys, himself!” His father Bartholomew said as Tony came into the kitchen. The man was hard at work in the kitchen, seasoning the eggs he was cooking up with a confident, deft hand. “You hungry?”
“Yes.” Tony said, beating his chest with a smile, his previous sadness gone at the prospect of a meal from his father. “Monkey hungry. Monkey must eat to be strong.”
His father stopped what he was doing to look at him in amusement. “That one’s new. Where’d you learn it?”
“Adam taught that one to me.” Tony said, and his father gave that a hum of acknowledgement.
“Sounds like a funny lad.” His father said. “Hand me the oregano, would you?”
Tony did as he was asked.
“Thanks, monkey.” Bartholomew said, smiling as he started to put the final touches on the eggs; a pinch of salt, a little bit of pepper, and just enough oregano to give it all a sharp kick— just the way they all loved it. “You mind helping me set the table?”
“Sure, dad.” Tony said and began to retrieve the plates from the cabinet before placing them on the table— enough for three.
“Set it for five, kid.” Bartholomew said, looking outside of the window to his left. “Seems we’ll be having guests.”
Tony stopped what he was doing for a moment before he looked at his father, the obvious question in his eyes.
“Your Great-Aunt and Uncle are here.” His dad said, and Tony felt his excitement rise at the news.
“Auntie Tina and Uncle Newt!?” Tony said in excitement before he stopped. “Or is it Auntie Queenie and Uncle Jacob?”
Tony remembered meeting all four of them a few years ago. His mother and father had taken him to the States for a Goldstein family reunion. He’d never even known he had family beyond his parents, back then.
“That’ll be Tina and Newt, monkey.” Bartholomew said before staring at the half-set table with a smile. “Go on and say hello.”
It was then that Tony noticed that he’d only set half the table.
“Don’t worry about it.” His dad said, reading him like a book. “I’ll finish up here.”
“All right, dad.” Tony said, put the forks down and ran to the door, bursting through it with the excitement only a child could have. “Auntie!”
The couple standing in the entranceway before him looked almost as old as Dumbledore and McGonagall, Tony thought as he rushed the two, almost bowling them over with his exuberance.
Porpentina Goldstein somehow didn’t budge from his charge and held her great-nephew tightly, a fond smile playing at her lips. “Is that really you, little Tony?”
“Yeah.” Tony smiled up at the two. “Of course it’s me!”
“I don’t know.” Tina said, looking down at the boy with warm, brown eyes. “You look a lot bigger than the Tony I remember.”
“Well, I have grown, you know.”
“That you have.” His Great-Uncle’s soft-spoken reply came. “It’s been a long time.”
“Too long.” Bartholomew’s voice came from behind him.
“Bartholomew.” Tina greeted his father with a smile. “You look well.”
Bartholomew smiled. “The same goes for you— what I’d do to stay fit at that age…”
There was a moment of silence in the air as everyone basked in the warm energy of the reunion before Tony’s father spoke. “Come. Let’s all get inside. I’ll wake Amanda up, and we can have some breakfast.”
It seemed, however, that his mother was already awake.
As everyone shuffled into the kitchen, they saw that Amanda was already sitting at the table, nursing a cup of coffee like it was her lifeline. She looked tired and disheveled, as she always did in the morning.
“Love, we have visitors.” Bartholomew said, chuckling a bit as she turned wide eyes to the people before her.
“Aunt Tina!” Amanda said, almost tripping over herself as she got off her chair and moved around the table, her coffee left behind for the moment.
“No, no.” Tina said. “Don’t get u—”
Amanda stopped the woman’s words with a big hug, before she then moved to Newt and did the same. “I’ve missed you two!”
The old man looked fairly uncomfortable with this, but resigned himself to patting her back a few times. “So have we, Amanda.”
The gesture reminded Tony of Adam.
“Come.” Bartholomew said as Amanda gave poor Newt some room to breathe. “We can catch up over breakfast.”
“Of course.” Tina said, and so they all took their seats, letting Bartholomew serve them.
“So, how long will you be here?” Bartholomew asked after he’d served everyone, leaving himself for last. “Do you need a place to stay?”
“Oh, no.” Tina said, and Newt was quite happy to let her take over as he began to dig into his eggs. “We have some business here in the UK, and we won’t be here for too long, but we definitely wanted to visit you all, first.”
“Yes.” Newt said, wiping his mouth with a napkin before giving Tony a small pat on his shoulder. “We heard about what happened.”
Tony lost his smile then, remembering that day. “Oh. I’m all right; I got a little hurt but it wasn’t anything serious. Adam, um… My friend, Adam, he’s the one who got really hurt.”
“Yes.” Amanda said with a nod and took another sip of coffee, ignoring the food beside her for now. “You should have seen the poor boy. Terrible burns all over his arm, and his right eye… Well, it was white.”
Tina and Newt froze at that nugget of information before sharing a serious look between each other. Tony gulped, feeling something in the air shift.
The two turned towards Tony, and the boy felt his hairs stand on end at their expectant looks.
“Could you tell us more, Tony?” Tina asked.
Tony gulped at the look in her eyes before shaking her head as she realized how intense she was being. She gave the boy a soft, apologetic smile. “What am I doing; I should be congratulating you on finishing your First Year, not giving you an interrogation.”
“Of course.” Newt said, also having picked up on the tension. “We’re sorry.”
Bartholomew and Amanda shared a look, not really sure of how to respond to this, so Tony decided to take the initiative. “It’s all right, Auntie. But can I tell you later? I’m starving.”
“Oh, of course! Of course.” Tina said, seizing the opportunity she was given. “Eat up!”
Tony smiled and returned to his meal as the conversation shifted towards more palatable choices. Tony made eye contact with his father, seeing the man smile, as if to tell him he did well.
Same Time, Unknown Location, England
I followed Grindelwald out of the room, my mind whirring as I tried to make sense of where exactly I was. I went down a large, spiraling staircase, seeing wizards and witches of all walks of life going to and fro, each one busy with whatever their assigned task was.
“Yes.” Grindelwald commented as we continued our way downwards. “Many have indeed joined our cause; it has been incredibly heartening to see.”
“And what cause is that, exactly?” I said, trying to figure out what his play was.
There wasn’t very much that was known about Gellert from the canon when I was still in my previous life. The books had portrayed the shell of the man he had become, and the movies tried too very hard to make him seem like… Well, a Disney villain— a joke, in other words.
But what’s the truth? I thought slowly as we continued to go downstairs. What really happened almost fifty years ago? How did it all play out?
These were questions I could not possibly hope to ever get the answers to. I was sure that the various governments of the world were too busy painting themselves as the ultimate arbiters of truth, good and justice— but I knew that, in my own experience, governments were massive money sinks which actively attempted to suppress anyone with any dissenting opinions.
I was also certain that Grindelwald, himself, would do much of the same. And so the entire exercise would be what it always was; piecing together the full puzzle from what either side has said.
I would have preferably seen the memories of these events, myself, but that was wishful thinking. We passed the second floor, seeing more and more people hard at work, laying down enchantments on… newspapers?
My eyes rested on the man’s back again as we went down the final spiral. Seems he’s indeed sharing his own version of what ‘the truth’ is. Propaganda from either side.
Sometimes, I really hated people.
I wanted to confront him right now, but without a wand, and knowing that I was in hostile territory which housed no less than a hundred more wizards— by my count this far— I realized that my chances were slim to none.
Nada. Bupkis. Zilch. I thought as we reached the main floor, where there were yet another ten to twenty wizards and witches going about their business, stopping at Grindelwald’s approach and giving him greetings and bows in various languages. I’d have to be a few sandwiches short of a picnic to try anything as I am now.
We passed into one of the doors to the side of the ornate entrance hall and entered a massive chamber— one almost as large as the Great Hall of Hogwarts. More people still lined the long table set at the center of this room, partaking of their meals before it was time to get back to work.
“Come.” Grindelwald said and led me to the head of the room, where a raised table stood. Grindelwald’s table, I’m guessing.
As we made our way there, the people’s whispers began to reach my ears.
“Who’s the boy?” “Why’s he with Mr. Grindelwald?” “Is he a new recruit?” “His eye…”
Grindelwald didn’t even seem to notice what they were saying as we reached our destination. He pulled a chair back for me and gestured at the modest, yet varied amount of dishes laid out before me.
I had been expecting an ostentatious spread of foods which were hard to pronounce, but instead I was treated with everyday breakfast dishes.
“You seem surprised.” He said as the two of us sat down.
I opened my mouth to answer before realizing how quiet the rest of the room had gotten. Turning my head to the left, I saw that all eyes were on us, watching with varying levels of curiosity; some idle, others almost ravenous in their intensity.
Grindelwald gave them a single look, and their gazes shifted away; soon enough, the room filled with their chatter, once again.
“You must forgive my friends, Mr. Clarke.” Grindelwald said in a genial tone as he put a few sausages onto his plate. “They can be quite curious.”
I didn’t answer immediately, trying to come to grips with everything. Not only was I in the presence of Grindelwald, but the man was keen on parading me around so brazenly!
Fuck. I thought, feeling a little helpless. Dumbledore’s going to know about this before the day is over.
“Are you not hungry, Mr. Clarke?” He said when he noticed I wasn’t touching a thing. “Ah, do not worry so much. Your presence here is quite the secret.”
My gaze turned towards the man, but I refused to look him in the eyes. “How do you…”
“I’m sure you have seen it by now, yes?” Grindelwald said, taking another bite of his food before wiping his mouth with a napkin. “As humans, we have the ability to control ourselves, both physically and mentally. This allows us to, in both theory and practice, shield our innermost thoughts and desires from the world around us. Many call this the art of Occlumency, while others give it the more general definition of a stout mental defense.”
I frowned. “But…?”
“But.” Grindelwald smiled, grabbing the goblet beside him as he gestured towards where I knew my thread was. “The soul… is a completely different story.”
I wanted to say something, but realized that he was right.
I remembered my fateful chat with Snape, when he’d confronted me after the events had taken place. While his face and voice and demeanor had both projected an aura of purposeful calm and serenity— at least before he’d brushed up with the void inside me— his thread had been erratic, swirling around his body to make him look larger, much like the bristling of an animal when confronted with danger.
“You do understand that much, then.” Gellert said. “Mastering this skill would be one of many, many things I would be inclined to share with you, should you accept my proposal.”
“…That proposal being?”
But Grindelwald only smiled, pushing a plate of eggs towards me, his own thread moving in a way that made me think he was either amused or exasperated with my constant questions. “All in good time, Mr. Clarke. For now, you must eat.”
I stared at the food, and then at him before gritting my teeth and doing as the man wished. I speared through a sausage, lifted it warily to my face before taking a slow bite.
It took all of my self control not to shove the whole thing into my mouth— after a few days of eating the supremely bland, tasteless crap they served at the orphanage, this was a much welcome change.
I guess I’ll eat well while I’m here, at least. I thought, biting into a forkful of egg and savoring the hearty meal.
Before I knew it, I had already gone through half of my plate. Grindelwald cleared his throat to get my attention.
“To elaborate further on your current situation here, Mr. Clarke.” He said, stopping his own meal for a moment to speak to me. “Your absence from the orphanage will not be noted.”
I licked my lips, absorbing his words for a moment before speaking. “Polyjuice.”
“Just so.” Grindelwald said, a smile playing at his lips. “The reports said that you were a sharp boy. It is heartening to see that they were correct.”
I frowned at that, reaching up and pushing my fingers through my hair, trying to find a missing— There it is.
It was at the back of my head, I realized, feeling a small clump missing underneath the flowing hair.
“How long have you been keeping tabs on me?”
“Not particularly long.” Gellert said, waving my concern away. “You have certainly drawn my curiosity, young man. Even discarding the events which initially brought you to my attention, many in your community have already noted that you are a boy with great potential.”
The various articles depicting me came to mind, and I suppressed a grimace.
“‘Staggering potential’.” Grindelwald said, leaning back in his chair as he gave me a piercing look. “I believe was said, at some point? It would be a shame for it to be wasted.”
He saw the flat look I sent back and showed a genuine smile— that much I could tell from the wriggling of the thread above him. “But, I digress. We’ll leave the recruitment speech for later; I will have you show me your skill, soon enough.”
I stared at him for a second longer before forcing myself to eat.
Show you my skill, huh. I thought. First Quirrell, now this guy… The Hell do they all want from me?
No answer came.