July 3, 1992, 11:00 AM, Training Ground, Phoenix’ Roost, England
Watch her patterns. Study them. I thought, taking a step to the right to avoid a jet of gray light before sweeping my wand to the left, deflecting the following spell and sending it flying away into the treeline.
The air filled with the sound of distant cracking and thudding as branches found themselves cut away from their respective trees, having no other way to go but down.
My foe huffed for a single moment before resuming her assault, cheered on by her friend from the sidelines.
“You can do it, Elena!”
I filed the girl’s name in the back of my mind as she squared up to start another round. The encouragement seemed to light a fire in her.
Elena quickened her spellcasting, snapping off a combination of spells in quick succession.
If I had been a spectator, I would have given a whistle of appreciation. As it was, however, I settled with a smile of anticipation. I moved forward, sidestepping her first spell and deflecting her second and third— straight into the path of her fourth.
The three jets of light collided, exploding against each other and sending dirt, pebbles and rock flying every which way. I felt myself get covered in them and realized a second too late that my mouth was open.
I grimaced in disgust, but did not allow myself the luxury of spitting the dirt out, instead being forced to step to the left and feeling a burning pain in my shoulder as whatever yellow spell she sent just barely grazed me. A few more were sent by my foe, but they went wide.
She’s just firing blindly. I thought as I took a step back and brought myself low to the ground, so I could present as small of a target as possible as the cover slowly began to disappear.
A few more seconds passed, and the smoke had thinned enough that I could finally see her— and she was preparing another salvo of spells to throw my way.
This one’s a fiver. I thought, readying myself as I got back to my feet, already moving to the left to avoid her first spell, a Piercing Curse, which harmlessly drilled through the dirt beside me.
The second will be… I thought and swept my wand to the left, blasting her Stunning Charm to the ground beside me.
As I had predicted, opportunity presented itself in the form of her third spell; one I wasn’t familiar with, but took longer in terms of its wand motion.
I took advantage and thrust my wand forward. Flipendo!
The jet of blue light flew true, striking the surprised woman center mass before she could get the next spell off. She fell backwards with a thud, but I wasn’t done. Expelliarmus!
The red spell struck the downed woman, who cried in frustration. I raised my hand, snatching her flying wand before finally spitting out the dirt in my mouth.
That’s disgusting; it’s going to take ages to get the taste and texture of dirt out of my mouth… I thought as Mr. Rafiq began to speak.
“The match goes to Clarke.” He declared as I went back to the girl, holding my hand out.
Elena huffed and stared at it for a moment before shaking her head and taking it. “Thank you.”
I realized my mistake when I tried to help her up, almost falling down in the process due to my small stature, but somehow managed to stop from embarrassing myself. I laughed at the end of it. “I guess I need to get a little bigger before I can do that.”
“That’s true.” The girl smiled a little as we disengaged, dusting herself off before extending her hand, giving me an expectant look. “My wand, please.”
“Oh.” I said, holding her wand out for her. “Right. Here you go.”
“Thank you.” She took it with a nod before we both went back to our original spots within the assembled group.
“Sit.” Rafiq said, and we all did so. The man himself took his spot on the boulder beside him, towering above us all.
He didn’t say anything for a few moments, looking at each and every one of us with a discerning eye. “You have all witnessed this duel. You!”
He pointed to a random recruit, who stammered and went quiet as Rafiq continued speaking. “What did Miss Elena do wrong in that engagement?”
“‘I, uh’…” Rafiq repeated, getting annoyed. “Is not an answer!”
Elena raised her hand. “Sir!”
“We’ll get to you in a moment, Miss Tanner.” Rafiq said, waving her off. Elena lowered her hand with a frown, but nodded regardless.
“Miss Wagner!” Rafiq barked.
Rebecca nodded from beside me, lowering her hand. “Sir. Elena was blinded.”
Rafiq grunted in approval before speaking again. “Good; elaborate on that.”
“Yes.” Wagner said and proceeded to do just that. “The spells colliding caused a lot of dust and dirt to fly, which impedes your vision. They hid Clarke’s movements until it was too late for Elena to react.”
“The fact that she launched spells blindly into it only made matters worse.” Diallo added in, getting a nod of agreement from Wagner.
“Correct.” Rafiq said, holding up a single finger. “That’s one reason. What else?”
“She tried to fight someone far above her level?” One of the mid-level recruits said, and laughter followed. I saw that Elena’s face went red with shame at the mockery.
“And you think you would fare any better against him, Mr. Carlos?” Rafiq’s question cut through the laughter, killing it within an instant. He glared at the recruit. “Care to demonstrate?”
The guy who’d cracked the joke, Carlos, looked at me for a moment before turning his gaze back to Rafiq and shaking his head. The man’s ears went red when the group snickered at his cowardice.
“I didn’t think so.” Rafiq said and addressed the group again. “It is true that Mr. Clarke far outclasses many of you in this group. Unlike you, he has already faced deadly opponents more than twice your age; and he’s learned valuable lessons from said encounters, as you can tell from the way he moves, carries himself, and appears.”
He let the statement hang in the air for a few seconds before continuing. “One day, you may be called forth to do battle against wizards and witches who are superior to you in every way. What Clarke has shown you is but a taste of what you might face in the future. The smallest of tastes, at that. Not even his battle against Mr. Guffries is indicative of how powerful our opponents are bound to be.”
The tension raised at that particular statement.
“But I would not worry about that, just yet.” Rafiq said, clapping his hands hard and startling some of the recruits. “With proper training, discipline and focus, you will stand shoulder to shoulder among our best and brightest. You will face down those who have wronged you and show them just what you’re fighting for!”
“Yes, sir!” Many in the group shouted, and I winced at the volume.
“It warms the heart to see such enthusiasm.” Rafiq said, before finally gesturing towards Elena. “Now, on to you, Miss Tanner. What do you think you did wrong?”
“Well, Rebecca and Diallo were right.” Elena said, giving the two unofficial squad leaders a nod. “I made an error in judgment when I launched spells into an unknown area. I could have retreated and gotten my bearings, but I wanted to get the upper hand before Adam could figure something out. I let my panic get the better of me, and it clouded my judgment for the rest of the duel.”
“An understandable tactic.” Rafiq nodded with a knowing look before addressing the group. “Listen well, all of you. It is not wrong to be afraid on the field of battle! In fact, fear saturates it. Both you and your foes will be swimming in it, when the time comes. The question is, will you let it drown you?”
“No, sir!” They all cried out but he didn’t look convinced. It took more than a little bit of shouting to get the man’s approval, after all.
“With that said… Your tactic was not entirely without merit, Miss Tanner.” Rafiq said, surprising the girl. “Depending on the situation, you may not have had the luxury to be able to retreat, ruminate and then re-engage your opponent. Sometimes, the situation forces you in a single direction: forward. We will cover such situations in the future, but keep it in your mind at all times— this applies to all of you!”
Everyone nodded, including myself.
“Clarke!” Rafiq said. “What were your mistakes in that engagement?”
I frowned and looked down for a few moments while I replayed the events of the duel in my head. “…I spent too long studying her movements. Trying to find Miss Tanner’s pattern. Playing defensive.”
“That’s the right answer.” Rafiq said, clapping his hands together. “There were several points in that battle in which you could have seized your advantage and beaten Miss Tanner without much damage to yourself.”
I frowned, trying to remember any points before her final combo in which I could have seized opportunity. “I can’t think of them, sir.”
Rafiq humphed. “Anyone else?”
“Sir.” Wagner raised her hand and Rafiq grunted for her to continue. “He could have used his chains from the beginning and ended the fight in an instant.”
I bristled at the girl’s words and bit off my reply.
“True, he could have.” Rafiq said but shook his head. “But what good would that do for Miss Tanner, a relative beginner? We are in training, after all. There is nothing to be learned if you are defeated within an instant.”
I nodded in gratitude, feeling justified.
“Of course.” Rafiq sent me a glare. “You would not be holding such magic back in the heat of true battle, would you, Clarke?”
“No, sir.” I said. “In a real fight, I wouldn’t be holding back at all— but it’s as you said; there is no point in going all out in a training setting. Neither of us would learn a thing.”
“And yet.” Rafiq said. “Taking it easy during practice might create bad habits that you would possibly exhibit during the real fight itself. You must endeavor to keep such habits from forming— do not grow lax and comfortable. Do you understand?”
I nodded. “Yes, Mr. Rafiq. I’ll do my best.”
Rafiq hummed for a moment before nodding. “Very good. Now!”
The man looked up at the sky. The Sun stood at its apogee, signifying that it was noon. “Time for lunch, I believe. You have the rest of the day to yourselves.”
The group broke into excited whispers at that. Words like ‘important’ and ‘mission’ floated in the air, charging it with mystery.
“Sir.” Wagner said, getting the man’s attention again.
“Yes, Miss Wagner?”
“Are you going on a mission?” She asked, and I could feel the eagerness coming from her voice.
“As it happens…” Rafiq said, pausing for a moment. “Yes. I am.”
The whispers grew more intense until Rafiq’s upraised hand put a stop to them. “I will not take any more questions on that topic— consider this an impromptu lesson. What is one of, if not the biggest factor in the success of a mission— at our organization’s current state?”
Dead silence met the man’s words as everyone tried to figure out the answer.
“The composition of the team.” Diallo said with confidence.
Rafiq gave the man a nod and an approving grunt. “Certainly important; having the right wizards and witches in their optimal position is a great factor in whether a mission succeeds or fails, indeed. But that is not the answer.”
“Combat skill.” Elena called out, and I turned my eyes towards her, seeing the woman subconsciously rubbing her ribs.
She probably needed to get them checked, or at the very least get some rest— I hadn’t been particularly gentle with her.
That was definitely a bad fall. I thought. She’s lucky the training ground is mostly soft earth and not stone.
“Also important. Your team needs to be able to deal with any obstacles that arise.” Rafiq said, gracing her with a short smile before shaking his head. “But no, that is not the answer, either.”
Another recruit gave it a try. “A solid plan.”
“Close, but not quite.” Rafiq said before his eyes moved to me. “Any idea at all—”
“Secrecy.” A familiar voice came from the back of the group, and I turned to see the same man who had cast the Cruciatus Curse on me, a few days prior.
He met my eyes for a single moment before turning his gaze away from mine and directing it back to Rafiq.
“That…” Rafiq said, pointing at the source of the answer with a look of acknowledgement. “Is the correct answer. Well done, Mr. Guffries.”
There was a moment of shocked silence.
“He got it right?” “Can’t be that…” A few people muttered, displeased that it was the group’s new pariah who had been the one who was right.
Rafiq glared, and everyone went quiet. “Yes, Mr. Guffries is indeed right. Secrecy. In our group’s current state, secrecy is paramount.”
“I don’t understand, sir.” Diallo said, and Rafiq gave him a nod.
“Of course you wouldn’t.” Rafiq said, shaking his head. “I didn’t expect any of you to be able to answer this question correctly. I’m surprised— perhaps Mr. Guffries has indeed turned a new leaf and is taking things seriously.”
The man in question looked annoyed and uncomfortable as the group’s gaze bored into him.
“Know this.” Rafiq talked over Diallo, raising his finger in the air. “The best plans are those which are being executed outside of your enemy’s notice.”
A bit ironic that he’s telling us he’s on a mission while also saying that secrecy is paramount. I thought, my lips quirking in amusement for a moment before I shook the feeling away.
For all I knew, him telling us about this mission was a way to root out possible moles. I had no doubt that Grindelwald had a squad or two of his subordinates running counterintelligence.
This could be one of their ploys; relay just enough information so that any undercover operatives will go to their superior officer. Grindelwald would then take note of the result of this reveal of information, and take action— not that it mattered to me, either way.
I had no one to report, and even if I did, I wouldn’t put myself at such a risk.
Besides. I thought, suppressing a scoff of derision. With how the Ministry operates currently, I think it could use a few kicks in the ass to wake them up.
“I believe I’ve wasted enough time, at any rate.” Rafiq said, waving us away. “I’m going to eat now.”
With that final bit said, Rafiq turned and left. I watched him go for a few seconds before our ‘class’ began to scatter into smaller groups.
I watched them go for a few seconds before grimacing. Ugh. There’s still dirt in my mouth.
Sighing, I brought my wand to my lips, and focused. Aguamenti.
It took a few casts, but I was able to finally have a somewhat clean mouth— and drenched myself in the process. I was checking if there was any more cleaning to be done when I felt a tap against my shoulder.
I stopped what I was doing and turned to see Elena and her friend standing there. “Elena, was it?”
“Yes.” She said with a nod before gesturing to her friend. “And this is my friend, Akari.”
“Nice to meet you.” I said automatically. “I’m Adam. I would shake your hands but, um… I’m a little wet.”
“We can see that.” Akari said in a soft voice, a far cry from the almost obnoxious cheering she’d showered her friend with during the duel.
I snorted at her answer. “Yeah, well, some of the dirt got in my mouth from the fight.”
“I’m sorry.” Elena said, but I shook my head to stop her from saying any more.
“No, it’s fine.” I said. “It’ll teach me to keep my mouth shut in the future.”
We all shared a laugh before Elena spoke again. “I wanted to thank you for the duel, Adam. I learned a lot.”
“It’s no problem.” I said, confused by the girl’s motivation. She just wanted to thank me? None of the others had bothered with anything like that.
Maybe she’s just a nice person and likes to talk? I thought, not showing any of my confusion to her. What’s her game?
My eyes went to Guffries, who was already on his way back to the mansion. We shared a look for a moment before he shook his head and resumed his journey.
Did he regret what he’d done? Was that why he’d been throwing me glances ever since he left the Infirmary? I just couldn’t figure him out. Ever since the incident he’d just stared at me; no anger, no resentment, no smarmy comments.
Nothing but stares of confusion.
“I was hoping you’d join us for some lunch.” Elena’s voice cut through my thoughts, and I turned my gaze back to her. “How about it?”
I shook my thoughts of Guffries away and nodded. “Sure. I’m a little hungry.”
Doesn’t matter whatever his deal is— as long as he doesn’t try to fuck with me again. I thought, walking alongside the two women at a sedate pace. I’d be just fine with that.
“So, Miss Akari…” I said. “That’s Japanese, isn’t it?”
“Yes.” Akari said, nodding. “That is my homeland.”
“You studied at Mahoutokoro, then?” I said, seeing her nod again. “Tell me about it.”
“Well…” The girl’s eyes lit up as she began to speak. It was going to be a nice day today.
Late Evening, Unknown Forest, Albania
Kersil The Snake
It had been days, but Kersil finally saw a golden opportunity.
The two vile, detestable men who had taken her friend from her had finally decided to sleep in a spot near a good deal of undergrowth, which would conceal her approach quite well.
They will pay for what they’ve done to Corsan. Kersil thought, but kept herself from attacking them as she approached their shoddy camp. But I must be patient, as my Master has commanded me to be.
She felt a thrill go through her long spine, from tail to head, at the prospect of being chosen by a Speaker. They were a rare breed, capable of understanding them and lifting their minds to new heights.
Kersil could not imagine a life without her Master anymore. She would not wish to return to such things. Shaking these thoughts away, Kersil focused on the mission at hand.
Information gathering. Kersil thought, her tongue forking out as she tasted the air for any other creatures. She tasted the forest’s floor and found nothing but the scent of a few squirrels and mice. Good. There seems to be no one else but these men and a few rodents.
Ignoring her own hunger, she slithered underneath a long, moss-covered log which led straight to the two’s encampment and stopped just at the edge. She could still hear the damned fools speaking to each other and did her best not to lunge at them when she saw her old friend’s skin hanging off one of the sticks.
They had kept poor Corsan as a trophy!
I will have revenge— I will, but I must be patient. I must be patient. She thought, keeping her eyes on the two men as they continued to talk.
“I’m getting sick and tired of this place.” The one to the left said as he peeled the skin off of a potato before quartering it and throwing the uneven pieces into a pot of boiling water. “How much longer until we’re allowed to leave?”
“Hard to say. We have to at least make sure that there’s nothing here.” The other man, a grizzled, slightly older fellow with a rough gaze shook his head. “I know how you feel, but it’s not like we can be derelict in our duty to Mr. Grindelwald. He freed us, after all.”
“Freedom?” The younger one said, spitting to the side. “What freedom? All we ever do is what he tells us to do.”
“Beats rotting in Remords De L’Âme, does it not?” The older one said, his gaze unwavering. “Being cooped up for another fifty years— for what, daring to have dreams of our own?”
“I was going to be out in ten, maybe fifteen years.” The younger one argued. “I’d have had plenty of time to do whatever I wanted.”
“And yet you left the prison with the rest of us, Marco.”
“Seemed like a good idea at the time.” The younger man, Marco, muttered before turning to the other one. “Come on, Andre. Surely you don’t think there’s anything here? We’ve been searching for days, and we haven’t found anything but pests and misery.”
The grizzled man, Andre, gave a frown for a few moments as he considered Marco’s statement. “Fine.”
“Fine?” Marco said, his eyes raising in surprise.
“Fine.” Andre’s face twisted in a grimace in the firelight. “We will leave at first light tomorrow. We won’t return to the base until five days from now, so as not to arouse suspicion… But you’re right. We won’t find anything of value here.”
“Yes!” Marco said, raising his hand in the air. “Thank y—”
“Don’t bother with any gratitude.” Andre cut him off. “You’re going to owe me for this.”
Marco suppressed the urge to groan and nodded. “Fine. If it gets us out of this stupid forest faster, I’d be happy to owe you a favor.”
“That’s what I like to hear.” Andre said, grinning. “Now, how’s that dinner coming along—”
Kersil watched them speak for a minute longer before she turned and slithered away, heading to her Master’s camp. It took her a few hours, as she had to avoid one particularly hungry owl, but she managed to get back to the small den in one piece.
Her Master was exactly where he always was, floating at the center of the den. Beneath him lay his newest kill, a small, baby rabbit, which had shriveled up to nothing.
“Master.” Kersil announced, getting everyone’s attention. “I have returned.”
The floating cloud of black vapor stirred and began to form the face of a man, which regarded her with a frown. “You are early.”
“Yes, Master.” Kersil hissed. “I bring urgent news.”
“Yes.” Kersil hissed. “The two wizards no longer believe that there is a treasure in the forest; the younger one complained enough that the older one has decided that they both will leave at first light, tomorrow.”
There was a moment of silence before her Master spoke again. “Is that so? And when was this?”
“Two hours ago, Master.” Kersil said. “I came as quickly as I could, but I was set upon by an owl and had to take measures to stay alive.”
“Of course.” Her Master said. “What were they doing when you left?”
“They were preparing dinner, Master.” Kersil hissed back.
“I see. I see.” Her Master said, his spectral face giving a nod. “Then we shall move in the dead of night, when they are deep in their slumber and most vulnerable to our assault.”
“Yes.” Lord Voldemort gave his servant a wicked smile. “Your vengeance will soon be at hand, child.”
“Thank you, Master!” Kersil said. “I will not fail you!”