July 4, 1992, 1:45 PM, Study, Phoenix’ Roost
I stared at the top of the table for a second, and then another. Time passed me by at a snail’s pace, the boredom tearing gouges through my mind with its wicked hooks. The journal lay open in front of me, and yet the pages were blank.
It had been provided to me by one of Grindelwald’s aides, but I’d never written a single word inside. I flipped back to the first page, looking at the random doodles with a bit of a smirk. I’d drawn those the same day the journal had been provided.
The gift was likely supposed to have been a helpful one that was meant to make me feel a little safer and comfortable, but suspicion gnawed at my mind every time I thought about writing in it.
I doubted that anyone thought I’d be stupid enough to write down my secrets in there, and so they’d probably given me the journal to have something to do with my free time— an olive branch in an attempt to secure my goodwill, or at the very least reduce my animosity towards them?
That seemed to be the only logical conclusion. Still, I couldn’t help myself.
It’s a shame. I thought. If I’d kept my summer homework with me and not handed it over to Sirius, I could have already finished it— not that it would’ve taken me very long, in the first place. Then again, my kidnapper might not have bothered bringing them along…
I sighed, looking down at the sketches again before deciding to draw some more.
They couldn’t glean anything from those, after all. I imagined one of the wizards going through the pages and seeing nothing but the random illustrations of a child.
A mischievous smile came to my face, unbidden. Perhaps I should write in it, but it’d all be misleading gibberish. It’d be hilarious to send people all over the planet in search of things that don’t exist.
I could see it now: Grindelwald’s best and brightest going forth to look for something ridiculous like Excalibur or the One Ring, or the Stargate, among others. Trolling them could prove to be adequate entertainment.
I shook my head, not dismissing the idea outright, before starting my drawing.
I began with a few silly doodles of stick figures charging Kamehamehas before just losing myself in the process and drawing whatever came to mind. A few pages of drawing increasingly worse renditions of cool swords later, I began to draw my chains again.
After months of staring at floating chains in the Room of Requirement and practicing in my notebooks, this was the only drawing I was good at.
My pencil danced with quick, confident strokes, creating every link and making the material appear sleek and smooth, yet harder than any material on this earth. I drew chains in increasingly complex patterns, remembering just how they swirled and moved at my command.
I paused for a moment, biting into the back of my pencil as I considered my skill with the spell.
The other recruits here had been badgering me to see it in action again, but I hadn’t dared cast that particular spell ever since I’d used it to crush Guffries’ limbs.
It wasn’t that I was scared of using it or anything, but I just didn’t want anyone here to have any information on me— well, any more information, anyway.
Obviously, the higher ups here knew the full extent of my skill and power, as they’d seen me in action against Vanessa. There was no helping that.
I frowned, placing the pen down as I thought about that fight again, running through it my mind over and over and over as I tried to understand just what went wrong.
I had her trapped. I thought, flipping to a new page and taking my pencil in hand again. I drew the simplistic contours of the courtyard before placing two dots left and right of the center to signify myself and Vanessa on that fateful day.
“She started with…” I murmured, drawing arrows that emerged from her dot as well as my own. I marked each one with a number to signify the flow of the battle. “A feint, there. She… no. Was it a feint, or was it an accident? Yes, had to be. Either that or she’s really good at improvising and using her mistakes to her advantage.”
My lips pursed in frustration. Now that the fight was no longer fresh in my mind, it was harder to grasp the exact sequence of events. Still, I forced myself to remember as much as I could.
The more I drew, the more I realized just how badly she had outclassed me in that fight. I couldn’t recall the events of the duel in perfect order, but even so…
I ran through the sequence from the top, murmuring words of grudging respect at every stage. “It’s uncanny. Every move she makes— even the stupid flip above me wasn’t just her showing off her agility. She had an attack ready and waited until the perfect moment, to strike from the perfect angle. And it wasn’t even to kill me.”
I leaned back in my chair. This was a hard pill to swallow.
I knew that I had a long way to go, of course.
It was true that, at the end of the school year, I had been able to subdue the upper year Hogwarts students, but that had been only after they’d dueled McGonagall and Snape, and after they’d been further softened up by the Gryffindor trio.
As for Quirrell, he had been fighting me seriously enough, but not to kill. It was only when Voldemort had ordered him to stop wasting time that Quirrell had brought his full might to bear, laying me low. The fact that Helena had distracted him with a rock was the only thing that had allowed me to seize victory on that day.
The battle between myself and Voldemort’s soul… I thought for a moment before shaking my head. It doesn’t count. We were both as strong as our soul projections made us out to be. Anything we could imagine and think of with any degree of understanding was given form and power— and that’s hardly consistent with the real world. It’s not like I can summon an army of monsters on command like I did in the soul scape.
If that battle had taken place in the real world, I would have been dead in under ten seconds, so no; it just didn’t count. However, I made myself yet another mental reminder that I needed to figure out what I’d done at the end.
Whatever happened to my chain at the end… I thought.
I couldn’t explain it properly, even after much thought on the matter. All I knew was that something strange had happened to my chains. The magic in them had changed; as if they’d become far more dense and powerful in a way I could not understand or quantify, and I needed to know why.
I needed to be able to test it out and figure out exactly how to reproduce that effect. I hadn’t had the time after the events at Hogwarts because I was under some fairly heavy scrutiny by all of the professors, not to mention the Aurors when they’d invited themselves over.
It’s the same here. I have eyes on me, probably even when I think I’m safe. One of these people could be watching me right now. I thought, sweeping my gaze over the remainder of the large study, spying a few other wizards deep into their books as well, including Elena. That’s something that will have to wait until I get out of here; maybe until the start of the next school year.
I sighed, and my eyes fell back down on the drawing again.
In the previous battles, my losses had been mitigated by the fact that I’d eventually found a way to achieve my overall objectives.
The one against the Russian Rogue had ended with such a clean and decisive victory in Vanessa’s favor that it was eating at me.
And now I could see why. I traced my fingers over the numbered arrows again, marveling at the woman’s sheer grace and economy of movement. I needed to research Clan Zhenya when I was out of this place and back in friendly territory.
I didn’t know how those people did what they did, but perhaps I could either recreate and incorporate their techniques into my own repertoire, or figure out a way to counter them. That, however, would be a mid-to-long-term goal.
For now, there was a more pressing matter. Vanessa had somehow broken my chains, and I didn’t have the faintest clue how she managed such a feat.
I stared down at the arrows, running through the final sequence of the battle, in which she’d essentially manipulated me into wrapping my chains around her.
I frowned, remembering odd little things she would do that I hadn’t picked up at the time. It was possible that I wasn’t remembering the events correctly, but she hadn’t done anything like that at the beginning.
I closed my eyes and tried to recall every little detail, every movement. I nodded to myself. Strange flicks of her hands at odd times… That was all I could remember. I resisted the urge to groan, wishing I had a Pensieve with me.
Something like that would definitely come in handy right about now. I thought, taking a breath as I placed my pencil down and tried to suppress the frustration welling up inside of me. If only I had access to one, I could study that fight much more thoroughly. I’ll have to ask Sirius about those; if that doesn’t work, maybe Alef can create a Pensieve for me in the Room of Requirement.
I nodded. It was certainly within the genius loci’s capabilities, though I didn’t know for sure. Pensieves, as far as I could remember, were rare in the story.
Perhaps they were just that hard to make?
I’ll know before too long, I suppose. I thought as I heard the chime of the building’s clock, signaling that it was two in the afternoon. I nodded to myself and closed the notebook before getting up and leaving.
I dropped by my room, leaving the notebook atop of the bed before I exited, making my way outside of the mansion, where a few people were waiting for me. I squinted, the Sun blinding me for a few moments and forcing me to adjust.
With the light came much heat and humidity, providing an ideal environment for all of the plant life to thrive. I passed by the gardens and was forced to rub my nose a few times to ward off the urge to sneeze.
Whose bright idea was it to put the smelliest flowers in existence, here? I thought, hurrying up. I’d like to have a word with them.
Soon, I was clear of the pungent plants and found myself standing in the same field of practice I’d always gone to in the mornings when we all trained under the watchful eye of Rafiq.
Only this time, the man wasn’t there. Instead, I found a large group of people— some I recognized, some I did not. What was going on?
This isn’t what I expected when Diallo told me to show up here for some fun. I thought as many of the group noticed my arrival.
“Clarke.” A familiar voice came from the group’s center. A moment later, Diallo emerged from the throng, giving me a wide smile; the excitement was so plain on his face that it elicited a similar, if less intense, reaction in myself. “Great news!”
“What’s going on?” I said, frowning. “I thought you said—”
“Yes.” He cut me off, still with that same grin. “I was getting together a few people to do some spell practice— since Rafiq is currently occupied.”
“Yes, I know.” I nodded. “On his super secret mission.”
Diallo mimicked my action and continued speaking. “Anyway, many more people overheard my conversation at dinner yesterday, and now it’s become this.”
I absorbed his words for a moment. “And, this is…?”
“This little gathering, Mr. Clarke.” I heard a sultry voice coming from behind me. “Is now a tournament!”
I turned swiftly, my eyes beholding the same woman that had been on my mind for quite some time. “Miss Zhenya.”
Vanessa smiled, her eyes crinkling with a mixture of amusement and glee as she approached. “Surprised to see me?”
I actually was. There had been no sign of her for a while; I imagined that, much like Rafiq, she had been on a mission.
I did not answer her question, however. Instead, I frowned. “I thought this was going to be just practice.”
“Things change; a fighter must be able to adapt to any unforeseen complications in the mission.” Vanessa gave an uncaring shrug as she stood before me. “Besides, I imagined that this would be a very good send-off for you, Mr. Clarke.”
“A send-off?” I said, frowning in confusion. “There’s still about a week until I have to leave.”
“You weren’t told?” Vanessa looked behind her, to where I saw Grindelwald himself approaching, bringing the excited whispers of the large group down to a halt. “You haven’t told him yet?”
“I was going to.” Gellert said, shaking his head in a mixture of resignation and mild annoyance. “Later.”
“Oh.” Vanessa shrugged and moved past me. “Well, he knows now.”
“Indeed he does.” Gellert murmured in annoyance before he gestured for me to approach. “Come, Mr. Clarke. Let us walk.”
“All right.” I said and followed the man away from the large gathering. I caught some whispers that made me roll my eyes.
“‘Grindelwald’s protégé’?” Grindelwald said and gave a chuckle as we walked along the well trodden path of the exercise zone. “Is that what they’re calling you now?”
“Seems that way.” I said, frowning. “Strange title, considering you haven’t taught me a single thing.”
“And yet, perhaps I have, if only inadvertently.” Grindelwald stopped and produced his wand. He gave it a simple twist, and I watched as a Shield Charm in the shape of a small square appeared. “You, of course, recognize this spell.”
I nodded. “The Shield Charm.”
Grindelwald raised the wand to eye-level with me, and I watched as the square shield began to spin in place, shifting between many different shapes and consistencies so quickly that it boggled my mind.
I need a lot more practice, don’t I?
I thought I’d mastered that particular bit of magic, but it seemed that I still had a long way to go.
“Look familiar?” Gellert said, smiling when I gave him no answer. “Similar to a certain spell in our own repertoire, is it not?”
“It might be.” I said, wondering just what his game was. “What of it?”
“Though the level of my skill was known far and wide in the wizarding world.” Gellert said, the charm changing into a perfect sphere of liquid, and then dissipating in a translucent, silver gas which swirled into the air before collecting at the top of his wand again, reforming into the same square he had started with. “They did not know of my understanding of magic itself— but you seem to.”
“Anyone can figure out the states of magic with enough motivation and the right mindset.” I said, arguing. “It just needs testing and the drive to find the answers.”
“Yes, this is true.” Grindelwald said. “This is something many notable wizards and witches understand, of course. Gaining mastery over magic requires much study, and oftentimes instruction in the art for those who cannot grasp said concepts. You, however, have grasped the meaning behind this power in under a year— your very first year of schooling, in which students struggle to even levitate feathers, let alone this.”
“I see what you mean, but…” I said and shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve always progressed very quickly at things I like to do. Magic is something I love, so…”
“Of course.” Gellert gave a smile as he stared into the woods, ignoring the sound of the excitement coming from the large gathering behind us. “I, too, was considered an uncommonly talented individual, and yet it had taken me years of practice and study to reach a high level of skill. The same for an old friend of mine.”
He was talking about Dumbledore, I figured.
I frowned. “Maybe I’m just—”
I didn’t finish what I was about to say, realizing that it was probably insulting to the extreme to what was, essentially, the most dangerous man in the world.
“—better?” Grindelwald finished for me, tearing his eyes away from the forest to rest them on me. “I daresay that would not be an idle boast, or even arrogant of you to think, considering all you’ve accomplished.”
“Still, better not to get a big head.” I said, staring down at the burns on my arm. If I had been faster, or better at dealing with spiritual entities like the thing Voldemort had become, I would not have been burned by Lily Potter’s protective magic.
There were many things I needed to study when the time came to return to Hogwarts. If I wanted to stand a chance against people on the same level as Grindelwald or his officers, then I needed to practice harder than ever before.
I needed to research anything and everything that would allow me to increase my chances against the likes of Voldemort.
A small part of me bemoaned such a fate, but a much larger part of me could only feel excitement at the prospect of new challenges to overcome.
“Quite so.” Grindelwald continued to speak, unaware of my true thoughts. “Though I do indeed possess great talent, there are likely people in this world with far more. You could be one of them, and yet…”
The square ignited in a blaze of familiar blue for a few moments before winking out of existence completely. I forced myself to stay still, not willing to show any weakness to this man.
“Interesting. You recognized that spell.” Grindelwald said, smiling in triumph. “But I’ve not shown it to anyone in many decades. How is that?”
“It’s just a fire spell.” I said, denying it. “Lots of people have seen those.”
“And yet your recognition speaks for itself.” He said, his white eye glinting in the Sun. “Any other wizard or witch would have taken a step back from a normal flame. You did not, for you knew how it would react to attempts at escape.”
He was reading my body language, then? Crafty old fucker.
“And, though you are not bound by the threads, something of their energy still lingers in you— enough to make accurate interpretations.” Grindelwald added.
I didn’t answer immediately, taking the time to measure my response with care. “Or, maybe I’m just showing you what I want you to see.”
“Possible.” Grindelwald allowed. “But unlikely. You have gained some skill in controlling yourself, this is true, but you are still raw. Unpolished.”
He went quiet for a few moments before speaking again. “You know things that, by all rights, you should not. I have had visions ever since I traveled to the Abyss and back— visions of things I shouldn’t have been able to know. And yet you seem to have had knowledge even before your own trip to the Abyss. How is this?”
I looked away, not really knowing what to say to that.
“Perhaps I should not have pushed for answers.” Gellert said, shaking his head before he grasped my shoulder. “I am not your enemy, Mr. Clarke.”
“You’ve said that.” I said, staring ahead for another moment before turning back to him. “But you’re pretty much intending on destabilizing the world order, which will end up putting me in danger, at one point or another. Wouldn’t that alone qualify you as an enemy of mine?”
“I suppose it might, if you view the world through the lens of a lax fool.” Gellert said, uncaring. “The world needs to change. It must; for too long has corruption been allowed to fester in this world. For too long has the pursuit of magic been slowed and regulated by wizards and witches who could not match the weakest of our recruits.”
“And I’m not saying I disagree with that.” I said. “But your methods…”
“I do not deny that I am causing many people untold amounts of suffering which they do not deserve.” Grindelwald said, and I was surprised he even admitted to that. “I am well aware of the possibility that, even as we speak, one of the many criminals that were released from Remords De L’Âme could be committing unspeakable crimes.”
“It is necessary.” He said. “For the future.”
He believes what he’s saying. I thought, feeling a shiver of unease go up my spine. Grindelwald was far more dangerous than I thought. He actually believes every word. I can’t detect any lies.
“But, I feel we have tarried too long on this particular topic.” Gellert said, changing the subject and raising two fingers. “Two things. The first, as Miss Vanessa has revealed, is that you will be leaving sooner than expected.”
“Indeed.” He confirmed. “The paperwork to finalize the custody change has arrived at your orphanage, and their preparations have begun. We have two days until we can return you without arousing any suspicion.”
“I see…” I said, frowning. “Have the orphanage workers been harmed?”
“Not in any way.” Grindelwald said. “Our operative is simply under Polyjuice, pretending to be you, while another is posing as a new hire and keeping the other workers from asking too many questions. He will be ‘losing his job’, soon enough.”
I frowned, remembering the strange man from the ride home. I had imagined that it was him who’d done it. “The new hire… the man who met me at the station, then? Did he even give me his real name?”
“Of course not.” Gellert said, shaking his head in amusement. “But yes, it is indeed him.”
I absorbed the words for a moment before sighing. “And the other thing?”
“This… impromptu tournament.” Grindelwald said. “I am sure that you are uninterested in joining. However, know that Miss Vanessa has offered an invitation to her Clan for any who impress her enough.”
My eyes widened. “Really?”
“She is looking to expand.” Gellert said, smiling. “Clan Zhenya used to be one of the most powerful battle clans of the Wizarding World; that was, until, well…”
“The purge.” I said, surprising the man. “Mr. Rafiq told us about it.”
“He is fond of regaling everyone with great tales.” Grindelwald said. “A fine quality in an officer.”
I nodded. “The tournament is starting now?”
“In a few hours or so.” Gellert said, gesturing at the people working to set the place up. Multiple areas were being cleared, and comfortable seating was being conjured up for any who wished to spectate.
“Seems a little overkill, doesn’t it?” I said, staring out at the arenas being built.
“I do not agree.” Gellert said, and I could see a fond smile on his face. “Tournaments are a celebration of magic, and the power that each wizard and witch has accumulated in their lifetime. Those who enter the arena put everything they have into their battles— and we should honor them by making the best venue we possibly can.”
I frowned at that, watching the people who were excitedly getting everything prepared. “I suppose so.”
The urge to join in the tournament warred with my need to keep my skills a secret from the people here.
“I will not force you to join.” Gellert said. “But I think it would be a great learning experience for you, Mr. Clarke.”
“… I’ll think about it.” I said, shrugging.
Seems that I have a decision to make, huh.