Ashes of Chaos
Year 2: The Sacrificial Slytherin
Chapter 33: The Legacy of Katalysator Part I
aka the megachap… part one
Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction based on the Harry Potter universe. All recognizable characters, plots and settings are the exclusive property of J.K Rowling. I make no claim to ownership.
Acknowledgement: Thank you as always to my editor Fezzik, as well as my other betas Luq707, Athena Hope, Yoshi89, and Raven0900 for their incredible work on this story.
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I don’t like doing these prior to chapters, but I feel it’s necessary here:
Both parts of this chapter are darker than what I normally write. There is nothing graphic in this first part, but it deals with very dark themes and ideas. I would like to warn all of you of this now, as well as make very clear that I do not support any of these ideas. My characters and plots are not always reflective of my beliefs, but what I feel is best for the story.
With that out of the way, read on!
October 6, 1939
Six-year-old Gideon Lockhart was jolted out of his sleep when he felt his shoulder being shaken with the vigour one might expect from a child holding a shiny new trinket. He was immediately snapped out of his idle dreams with the suddenness of a well-disguised land mine despite having been deep in sleep only a moment before.
“W-w-what is it?” he asked sleepily and through a rather comical yawn. On a normal occasion, the yawn may have drawn a laugh from his mother, Avigail, but now, she did not smile or laugh.
Even young Gideon wasn’t naive enough to miss the fact that something was different about this morning. His mother didn’t look angry, per se, though she was wearing an expression that Gideon had never seen before. It was an expression that confused his young mind, but he could at least realize that something about this morning was different.
“Gideon, get dressed, now!” Her voice was not loud, but it was as commanding as it had ever been, and Gideon quickly scrambled to obey.
“Mama, what’s going on?”
“Your tata and I will explain it to you later, but you need to get dressed now. Just wear those.”
She pointed at the clothes that he had carelessly discarded on his bedroom floor the night previous. This confused Gideon even more. His mother was usually very strict when it came to keeping everything neat and clean, and his young brain was quickly sounding alarm bells. She had not only ignored the fact that he had thrown his clothes on the floor, but she was actively telling him to wear them. He had always been a sharp boy for his age, and he was smart enough even at six not to ponder for too long. He just ran over to the pile of clothes and slipped into them as quickly as he could.
“Okay, now come with me,” his mother said, taking a painfully tight grip on his hand and dragging him out of his bedroom and onto the second-story landing of their home.
The Lockhart family was reasonably well-off. They weren’t rich by any means, but Avigail worked as a healer in the magical sector of Warsaw. Gideon’s father, Gavriel, worked as a lawyer in the muggle world. Their two salaries were enough for the little family to live in a modern, elegant, and fairly large home on the outskirts of the city. For the Lockhart parents, it was the perfect place to raise a child. Much of Poland’s wizarding population lived near the outskirts of the capital city, as it provided them with some seclusion from the muggles who would have become suspicious if they saw too much. It was all too easy to take their young son into the city proper once or twice a week to allow him to acquaint himself with muggle culture as well as wizarding society. It was something Avigail and Gavriel had been insistent about for as long as Gideon could remember.
Gideon was more than happy. His room presented him with a rather splendid view, and he enjoyed the excess of land that came with the Lockhart family home. He was a very active boy and much of his time was spent running freely through the massive field that took up most of the property.
Unfortunately, on this day, living on the outskirts of Warsaw was not such a blessing.
Poland had been under fire for several weeks now, both on the muggle and magical side. The muggles were quickly losing their battle with the German and Soviet troops, and the magicals weren’t in much better shape. They had nearly fallen the day before last but had just managed to force Grindelwald’s soldiers back out of Warsaw.
Now, two days later, the sun began to rise over the Polish capital and sparkled prettily off of the early morning dew, which seemed to glint and twinkle under its all-powerful beams of light. None in Warsaw were prepared for what would come next.
Being on the outskirts of Warsaw put the Lockharts on the front line, so to speak, but it also gave them easy access out of the city. Not to mention that they would be among the first to hear the approach of the red-cloaked figures with large hoods and magical masks.
Six-year-old Gideon Lockhart understood none of this as he allowed himself to be sleepily led down the stairs, through the sitting room, and out towards the front door, where his tata was waiting for his wife and son.
Without a word, the man quickly passed his wife a jacket as he coaxed his son into his own coat. “You stick with me and your mama!” his father told him sharply. The tone of voice took Gideon aback. His father was an extremely cheerful man and he had rarely — if ever — spoken to his son in this manner. “You understand me?”
Gideon nodded as angry butterflies began to flutter and swarm inside of his stomach. His young instincts were screaming at him that something was terribly wrong.
“Yes, Tata,” he said, earning himself a curt nod in return as his parents both pulled long, wooden sticks from their sleeves. Long, wooden sticks that Gideon instantly recognized as their wands.
The two parents exchanged looks before Avigail retook Gideon’s hand and the three Lockharts marched quickly out of their home.
Gideon could hear screaming from somewhere nearby. It made the hairs on the back of his neck prickle and his heart beat faster. It was a raw, high-pitched sound; one that could only be elicited through the most heinous of actions. There were other sounds too. More distant shouting, but not necessarily screaming.
“Quick,” said Gavriel, indicating an alleyway down the street that would lead them through a cluster of low-ceilinged buildings. “There!”
Before the Lockharts could move, hell arrived in Warsaw.
The very air seemed to shimmer as a translucent barrier rose on all sides, encompassing the whole city as it did so. The Lockharts froze at the sight, but it wasn’t the part that would haunt Gideon’s nightmares for some time.
That particular trigger would be the sun being snuffed out.
Or, that was what it looked like, at least.
All at once, the city was plunged into complete and total blackness so absolute that Gideon’s eyes couldn’t perceive anything at all. He idly held up his hand, but he couldn’t see it, no matter how he held it. Pitch-black wasn’t a strong enough phrase. This wasn’t nightfall or any such instance that might trigger a relative absence of light. This was something different altogether. This was like if the very air had been coated with a layer of black paint so thick that no light could penetrate it.
That was when the real screaming started.
Thunderous explosions rang out on all sides, and more screams than Gideon could comprehend followed them in short order. The dark world around him had been transformed into something out of a horror movie. With one’s sight being torn away from them, but their hearing being assaulted by a cacophony of horrible, never-ending screams.
“Kurwa!” cursed Gavriel. “Avigail! Gideon! Where are you!?”
“Here,” called Avigail, reaching out blindly and somehow managing to find her husband’s hand.
“Lumos,” hissed Gavriel. His voice was soft, for he was trying to make as little noise as possible as they scampered through the now crowded streets like scurrying rats fleeing a dangerous predator.
There wasn’t even a sign of his wand flickering, which made the man curse again. He muttered the incantation for a second time, but there were still no results.
“Gavriel, the alleyway,” whispered Avigail.
Gavriel nodded, though none could see him do so. The sounds of oncoming danger were drawing closer, so he hastily uttered his agreement before the three Lockharts staggered blindly down the street, trying to ignore the mounting panic as trouble drew nearer.
They stumbled into men, women and children along the way, but they did eventually reach what they thought was the alleyway.
“Quick,” hissed Gavriel, and they increased their cadence.
This particular alleyway was dark at the best of times, and it was quite long. It took one through a larger sector of the outskirts of Warsaw, by far the quickest and most efficient nearby way of leaving the city.
Despite the fact, the Lockharts’ first move wasn’t to scamper down the alley to safety.
“Gideon, hold on tight.” his mother told him. Gideon clutched at her hand like a lifeline as she whirled around on the spot, focusing with both deliberation and determination on a very specific destination.
Nothing happened once again.
“Kurwa!” cursed Gavriel. “Whatever they have up around the city is containing us. That barrier; it’s probably connected to the darkness, and it obviously has some sort of anti-apparition ward tied in.”
“Let’s keep going,” said Avigail. “There’s no way they covered all of Warszawa in anti-apparition wards, that’s not p—” but as she said it, the wall beside them exploded.
Gideon and Avigail screamed as they were pulled to the ground with a shocking amount of force. Avigail’s grip on Gavriel’s hand slipped, and he was lost to them almost at once.
Though neither Avigail nor Gideon could see it, Gavriel was thrown to the side. Avigail, still maintaining a hold on Gideon’s hand, quickly dragged them both to their feet. She made to run but faltered. It was too dark to see, but both mother and son felt the magic soar just inches from their face, though not even the faintest impression of it penetrated the all-consuming blackness hanging in the air all around them.
Gideon heard scuffling from both sides. On one side, multiple heavy footfalls were obvious. Red-cloaked men were approaching through the hole he had blasted in the nearby wall, though of course, none of the Lockharts could see this. These men, on the other hand, could see through the darkness without much issue, courtesy of the countless number of small, intricate runes lining the masks they wore.
Gideon himself was more focused on his other side, where he could hear a hastier sounding scramble as his father stood up again. There was an odd sort of scent hanging in the air that Gideon could not place. He would have been rather terrified had he been able to see the copious amounts of blood oozing from his tata’s shoulder. There was far more blood than the countless number of times Gideon had fallen and scraped his knees.
Gavriel seemed not to notice, at least to the men who could see what was happening. With an odd, snarling noise, he hurled his own jet of magic back in the direction of the other new scuffling sound in the alley. A man in a red cloak barely managed to step to the side in time to dodge the Stunner which only his companions and he could see. He saw and stepped towards a garbage can as he dodged.
Gavriel only knew it was coming at him due to the sound it made as it flew through the air. It wasn’t loud but in the absence of sight, one’s hearing tended to pick things up it would normally have missed. He sent flames towards the oncoming sound, which quickly lit the garbage on fire. A Banishing Hex just managed to graze it, but it was still enough to send it soaring back towards the man who had initially used it. The man’s cloak brushed against the flames and he cried out in pain as the fire licked at his leg. Before he could put it out, he had been hit with a jet of purple light and slumped to the ground. His scream had given him away, and he was an easy target because of it.
The other sounds were not far away now. They were on top of them and coming from all sides and angles. Other walls and structures of similar variety were blown to pieces and people continued to scream. Gideon was clutching his mother’s hand so tightly his own knuckles were white. The boy was doing all he could to hold back terrified tears.
“Gavriel?” asked Avigail, her voice shaking. “Where are you? Are you… are you—”
“It’s not important, let’s go.”
Gavriel stumbled towards his wife and son, working off of hearing alone as he tried to ignore the burning feeling in his shoulder, as well as the bits of debris that had lodged themselves in his skin.
“We need to get to the edge of the city,” Gavriel told his wife and son as he neared them, now reaching his unoccupied hand out, trying to feel for them in the darkness. “If we can get to the edge of the city, we might be able to get through—” but he never got to finish his final thought.
Even Gideon sensed the shift in the world around him. He felt something fly past him, though not as close as the magic from earlier. This time, it felt different. It felt… evil. The very air seemed to sing of its malice, and Gideon shuddered from the odd feeling he got just by being near the spell.
Neither Avigail, Gideon, or Gavriel could see it, but this one bit of light was not red. It was what, in normal circumstances, would have been a blinding flash of green.
Avigail screamed a scream of utter despair when she heard her husband’s body hit the ground nearby. Somehow, she intuitively knew what had just happened. Meanwhile, her son felt utter confusion. He knew it wasn’t good, but he had no idea what was going on.
Two more men entered through the hole in the wall, though the surviving Lockharts could only tell that there was more than one and the direction they came from because of their heavy footsteps.
One was exactly like the man who Gavriel had sent to the ground. He wore a pure, blood-red cloak with a black hood and the same mask, runes and all. The other was dressed in the same blood-red cloak, but his had a silver trim, and his hood and mask were of the same red colour.
He was the one with the wand out; the one who cast the Killing Curse. “Take the boy,” he said calmly.
His companion nodded silently and rushed towards Gideon, who backed up quickly as he subconsciously realized what was going on.
His mother, though clearly lost to despair, was not yet oblivious and her wand was aimed at the advancing figure a second later. A jet of red light flew towards him, but the man sidestepped as the figure wearing silver trim quickly took aim at Avigail. Though she was no duelist and was absent of sight, Avigail still managed to get off the first curse in their rather short altercation, firing blindly in the direction of the man’s shuffling.
Instead of shielding or dodging, the silver-trimmed man simply allowed the curse to smash into him. For a second, he drew back; all of his features contorted in agony. Then, a split second later, his mirthless laughter filled the alleyway.
“Foolish girl! You think an incantation is enough to unleash the most powerful of magics? Ha! Allow me to demonstrate properly!” Several curses flowed effortlessly from the man’s wand and before she knew it, Avigail found herself backed into the alley’s corner. Without sight and thereby the ability to dodge, she had no choice but to shield.
It was at that precise moment that the man in silver trimming, Igor Shevchenko — the right-hand man of Gellert Grindelwald and the man who would later be known as the Warlord of Warsaw — made good on his promise as he slashed his wand towards the final surviving adult of the Lockhart family.
Dimly, as Gideon distraughtly cried out for his parents and the man bore down on him, he knew that neither one of them would ever draw a breath again. He could not explain it, he simply knew.
With this realization came a flash of red light the boy couldn’t see, and Gideon thought no more.
October 14, 1939
Gideon had woken up in an odd room. It was completely white and the only light came from dimly-lit torches on the walls. It was a windowless room with a door that led out into a corridor with similar doors leading off into rooms that he assumed were much like his own.
He wasn’t awake for long before the guard came. He was another man in a red cloak — like those who had hurt his parents and taken him here — but he didn’t wear a hood. He had a rather plain-looking face and he told Gideon in heavily accented English that he was not to leave his room. He had threatened the boy with consequences that Gideon had never even heard of before, but he understood the man’s tone of voice well enough to know that they would not be pleasant.
He had also been told that there would be a more thorough explanation in the coming days.
Food was delivered three times a day at what felt like the same times each day. Unable to leave his room, Gideon was forced to use a bucket in the corner of the room when he needed to relieve himself. By the second day, the smell had permeated the small space and was unbearable. Gideon frequently found his stomach churning in horrible, nauseating ways.
Books had been dropped off to Gideon with what must have been dinner on his second day, evidently to serve as entertainment, enlightenment, or both. Frankly, the books were very far above Gideon’s reading level, but he valiantly did his best to work through them. From what the young boy could piece together, they were mostly books on spells and history. He had not made it overly far into any of them when a guard entered his room, eight days after he had arrived, and tersely told the boy to follow him. The guard’s nose was upturned and he eyed the unkempt, unwashed boy with a look of disgust.
During the first three days, Gideon had dreamed of escaping from the people who had taken his parents away from him. He hated them more than he hated anything in the world, but Gideon was also a smart boy. He realized that if his parents hadn’t been able to stop these people, he certainly would have no more success than they did — at least not yet.
Patience was not a virtue any six-year-old on the planet was overly adept in, and Gideon was no exception. Still, he understood enough to know that one day, if he followed instructions well enough that they didn’t hurt him, or perhaps do even worse, Gideon might just be able to make his escape from this place and take his revenge against those people who had taken his parents away from him.
That realization had not stopped the tears from flowing freely down his cheeks. It still hurt immensely to think about his parents, but by this point, Gideon was fairly certain that he had no tears left to cry.
Gideon’s thoughts broke off when they came to what must have been their final destination. It was a very large and open room, designed much like a gymnasium but on a much grander scale. Gideon was directed to take a seat on one of the many sets of bleachers that lined one wall. He was one of the first to arrive, but it became evident to him very quickly that many more would follow.
Before long, the bleachers were completely packed and children began to take spots on the floor in front of them. That was another thing that Gideon noticed.
Everyone who entered the room and took a seat were children. The guards stayed too, but they leaned casually up against one of the walls a ways away and conversed amongst themselves in low voices quietly enough that none of the children could overhear. The room continued to fill for what seemed like ages before, finally, one of the guards nodded and left the room. Simultaneously, another turned towards the bleachers with a hand raised for silence as he pointed his wand directly at his own throat. His voice rang loud and clear through the chamber with no need for the muggle devices that Gideon knew existed in Warsaw and other major cities around the world.
“When the speaker enters, you will all stand and bow your heads in respect. This is not a choice, it is an order. You will wait quietly.”
And that was it.
He didn’t need to threaten consequences, the tone of his voice implied more than enough; even for a room full of children between the ages of five and thirteen. With that in mind, none of the gathered children dared to utter a whisper or move a muscle. When the doors to the chamber opened five minutes later, every single one of them stood and bowed their head respectfully before their collective attention focused on the newcomer.
He was not wearing a red cloak. Instead, he was wearing elegant grey robes. He had aristocratic features, platinum blonde hair, and odd, enchanting eyes. Gideon had never seen eyes like these. They were a bluish-silver with odd specs of the latter colour dotted around the iris. When the man smiled at them, he did so with a fair amount of warmth. He had a soft smile that could immediately put any room at ease. The kind of smile that could quickly speed along with the proceedings of a peace treaty between warring nations.
“Good morning, my friends,” the man began, spreading his arms wide as if to embrace the entire room. With a permissive nod of his head, the children clambered back into their seats.
“Welcome to the beginning of a new and truly fabulous journey. A journey of enlightenment, of truth, and of conquest. My name is Giaus and it is my job to make sure that you are all integrated smoothly into the society which the great men and women of our organization are building as we speak.” He looked at many of them in turn. “I know that many of you are wondering why you were here. Perhaps you are even angry that you are here at all? Perhaps you are upset with how you came to be here.”
His face suddenly took on a more serious expression, and Gideon flinched back in his seat. His visage had gone from one of warmth and compassion to a cold, calculating one that practically screamed of finality.
“The truth, my friends, is often a painful but oh-so-glorious thing. On this occasion, the truth is that your parents’ vision was not the one that was best for you, nor for the world at large.” Several children cried out in fury and protest, but they were quickly silenced and frozen in their seats with a few waves of the guards’ wands. Gideon was not foolish enough to react in such a way, even though he felt a bubble of righteous fury swelling within his chest. “I know it is hard,” Giaus’s voice was dripping with false sympathy, “to see the reality of the situation. To overcome the beliefs you have been conditioned to follow.
“I am asking you, each and every single one of you, to put such foolish beliefs and meaningless pasts behind you. You are now a part of something greater than yourselves, greater than your history. Do not reflect so on the path that could have been. Instead, look forward to the future that will be! The future that will come forth through the contributions of each and every single one of you in the coming years. We, as a united front, will build a society from the ashes of the polluted foundation that we have burnt to the ground.
“Your new life, my friends, starts today! Help your lord, help every single one of us who believe in his vision. Help the world enter a new era that every single one of you will spearhead and continue. All you need to do is commit every bit of your effort into what we ask of you and repeat four words after me: FOR THE GREATER GOOD!”
“FOR THE GREATER GOOD!” echoed through the chamber as many of the children screamed back at him. Some did so merely because it was fun to play along. Some of the older and smarter children did so because they knew it was their only safe option. Some children, like Gideon, simply mouthed along but didn’t say anything at all.
October 16, 1939
Gideon was told, as were all of the others, that they would begin their formal education that Monday.
Some of the older children asked what kind of education they would be undertaking, but the guards — and Giaus — had been rather vague. Gideon had only been through a year of school, but he had liked it quite a bit. He was looking forward to when he was older and magical school was an option, but he had enjoyed the muggle primary school that he had been enrolled in. His father’s parents didn’t have magic, so he knew all about the muggle world. Gavriel had always told Gideon how important it was that he understood that world. He figured that was why his parents had sent him off to a muggle school while he waited to grow big enough and old enough to begin formal magical education.
When Gideon reached the room in which he was supposed to have his classes, the door was already open. When he peered inside — around the guard who was standing in the doorway — it looked quite a bit like his classrooms had in his muggle school. The most prominent difference was the fact that there was no window. At his old school, every classroom had a window, but this one did not. Those rooms were also illuminated by electrical lighting, whereas this room’s walls were lined with torches and balls of bright blue fire floating ominously in the air.
There were several other children who all appeared to be around Gideon’s age gathered around the door. None of them said anything; all of them looked extremely nervous.
“Your name?” the guard asked Gideon in heavily accented English.
“Are you asking me or telling me, boy?”
“Telling you, sir.”
The guard nodded. “Your name must be changed with all the others, but at least you have manners.” Gideon’s eyes widened as that sentence sunk in. They were going to change his name? “Perhaps Wernher?” the guard queried.
“I quite like Sigmund, for this one,” said the voice that had lectured them all in the chamber just a couple of days earlier. The children jumped and turned to see the man striding towards them with a smile. “He does fit the image of a noble swordsman, doesn’t he?”
The guard looked over Gideon, allowing his dark eyes to roam over the boy’s golden blonde hair and peer at his deep blue eyes. “It fits,” he agreed, putting away his piece of parchment that he had read the name Wernher from. Suddenly, Gideon realized that all of the children gathered were wearing what must have been nametags on their chests. They were all, he assumed, names that the guard had chosen; probably from that bit of parchment he had been holding. The guard waved his wand, causing a name tag just like all the others to appear on Gideon’s chest. It read:
“Splendid,” Giaus said with a smile, gesturing for the children gathered to enter the classroom. “Go on, my friends; we have much to discuss and much to learn.”
The guard stepped aside and allowed all of them to enter the room. Gideon was the last child to step inside, followed only by Giaus, who closed the door quietly behind him before instructing them all to sit in alphabetical order by their name tags. This process took some time, but with the help of Giaus, the class managed it. Once they had taken their seats, Giaus stood in front of them with his hands folded over his chest and began his lecture.
“Welcome to the first day of your education. We will be covering a wide range of topics in this class.” He smiled at them all conspiratorially. “One day, we will even cover magic.”
This got the attention of the young children gathered. Many of them still looked rather depressed, if truth was to be told, but they had all perked up at the mention of magic. It was as if they all just forgot how they had gotten here. “Unfortunately,” Giaus told all of them, “that is still a ways off. Before you can learn the magic that will help to change the world around you, you need to understand that world itself.” He looked out all of them with a pensive expression. “Who here can tell me what a muggle is?”
Gideon — no, was it Sigmund? Either way, he rose his hand into the air with great apprehension, as did a few others.
Giaus pointed at Gideon. “Sigmund?” Right, Sigmund.
“A person with no magic.”
“Correct. A muggle is a person who has no magic at all. They are not special; not like us. We have magic that can help us change the world. We have magic that can easily help us do things that would otherwise take large periods of time and a lot of effort. Muggles do not have that magic. Therefore, muggles are lesser than us. Can anybody tell me what ‘lesser than us’ means?”
Giaus indicated a different boy with a wave of his hand to answer that question. “Not as good as us?”
“Correct. Muggles are weak, but they are sneaky. Back in the very old days, muggles used to hurt witches and wizards. They would catch us by surprise and outnumber us. Then, instead of us witches and wizards punishing them for their crimes, we just let it go. The powers that be left muggles alone for a very, very long time; all because it seemed like too much effort to do something about them.
“Now, we have let muggles get stronger. They are still weaker than us, but they are stronger than they have ever been before; no longer helpless. They hurt us in the past because they were jealous. They were jealous that we had powers they could never have. They were jealous that we could do things they could never do. They were jealous because we were better than them and they were lesser than us.” He looked out at all of them. “Do you know what they think of us now?”
No one’s hand rose into the air.
Sigmund — yes, that was his name now — was confused. His parents had always told him that muggles were just like wizards but without magic, not that they were lesser. He had met his father’s parents and they were very nice to him. But this man, Giaus, was telling him that they were lesser?
Sigmund didn’t believe him.
He didn’t know why he would lie, but the people who had taken away his parents hadn’t been nice, so it stood to reason that this man might not be either. He couldn’t think on the matter for too long though, because Giaus was talking again. He talked a lot.
“Muggles think nothing,” he told them. “You remember that I told you instead of paying them back, instead of seeing justice, we let them all be?” The class nodded to confirm they remembered. “Well, a long time ago — the date is not important, at least not yet — witches and wizards decided to make sure that muggles could not find out about magic, just in case they decided to get jealous and start trouble again. The problem is that their plan was not perfect.
“Sometimes, when they are extremely lucky, muggles can have children just like you all. Children who are special, children who have magic. When this happens, they find out about the world of magic. There are other problems too. Some witches and wizards are careless and do not protect our secrets nearly as well as they should. This plan to keep muggles ignorant is not a good one. This plan will fail if we do not make changes soon.
“But we are making changes; we are making changes as we speak and you have all been brought here for the honour of helping us to make this change. Lord Grindelwald is forging a new world. A world where witches and wizards do not need to be afraid of the sneaky muggles who might find out about us and get jealous. We cannot hide forever.
“Hiding is showing weakness, hiding is giving the muggles a chance to hurt us again. We must come out of the shadows. Because of those who have not protected our secrets, we must get rid of the secret altogether. Under the banner of Lord Grindelwald, we wizards will exit the shadows. We have hidden from muggles for too long because we were afraid, but my friends, as I told you, they are sneaky, but they are weak — there is no need for us to be afraid.
“We must take control of the muggles and make sure that they will not hurt us, we can not leave this to chance. We have to do it for the good of witches and wizards around the world. We must do it for the greater good.”
September 2, 1940
After nearly a year in his current circumstances, the boy called Sigmund — formerly known as Gideon — had changed a great deal. For one thing, he no longer hesitated at his name. He was Sigmund now. A part of him still despised that fact. He had decided a long time ago that the views of his parents seemed more correct to him than the views of the people who had chosen to essentially imprison him, and he was still immensely angry with them for taking his parents away from him.
In the days, weeks, and months following their arrival here, Sigmund had seen several children rebel against the system, and on none of those occasions had it ended well for the child in question. The boy who had been renamed Bismarch didn’t return to classes for nearly a month after he was punished. The very thought of what the leaders here may have done to him made Sigmund shudder. If nothing else, the last eleven months had taught him a great deal about patience and self-restraint. As a matter of fact, he knew both better than any seven, nearly eight-year-old should.
Despite all of his teachings, Sigmund didn’t believe everything he was taught. It was a habit that separated him from most of his peers; at least those in a similar age bracket to himself. They had been taught a great deal about reading and writing, so much so that most in their age bracket were several years more advanced in each subject than they would normally be. It was hard not to advance quickly when they all spent six to eight hours a day being taught those skills. It also helped that their only real form of entertainment came in the shape of the vast number of books shelved in the library, to which they were all taken once a week to pick out three tomes of their choosing.
Beyond simple English and German, the children had been taught quite a lot about magical history. Sigmund was certainly sharp for his age. Though he was no genius, even he at the age of seven had started to notice a pattern.
Most of the history that they learned had to do with witches, wizards and their relationships with muggles. If one looked even deeper, these relationships were pretty much always explained to be bad for the wizards and, in most stories, the muggles were depicted doing awful things. The witch burnings, for example. Sigmund was not by any means defending those; they were awful. Some things though… some things seemed a lot more like Giaus’s opinion than history.
The man himself had taught them all about history and society. He had been their instructor on that since the day they had first entered his classroom and he would continue to be for years to come. In class, they were instructed to simply call him “Sir”.
At first, Sigmund had found this rather odd. All of his teachers in muggle primary school had gone by their surnames. When thinking about it, he had realized that Giaus had never even told them his surname. Sigmund found this strange, though he seemed to be one of if not the only child his age to do so. In his head, it just made him trust the man less than he already did.
Another thing Giaus taught them was the history of Gellert Grindelwald. Or, as they were to address him at all times and in all settings — Lord Grindelwald. Giaus often used words like “visionary” and “innovator” to describe him. He was portrayed as a sort of myth to them; a being of such power and prestige that to equal him was unfathomable. They also learned that Lord Grindelwald was the man in charge of the organization that was responsible for educating them, and others like them who had arrived over the last year. They were all of ages from about five to sixteen, from what Sigmund could tell.
Despite all that they learned, most of the children in Sigmund’s age bracket were rather disappointed that magic had not been on that list. They had studied some basic Charms and Transfiguration theory, as well as some math — which was apparently part of a type of magic that Sigmund could never remember the name of. It was hard to say and honestly, Sigmund despised math, so he wasn’t really that excited to learn it. Charms and Transfiguration though? And things like how to duel? They had been told that they would learn all of those things in due time, but as of yet, they had learned none of them.
How ironic that the very fact was about to change.
Sigmund was, as usual, one of the first to enter the classroom. Giaus was already waiting behind his desk, which came as no surprise as the boy formerly known as Gideon.
After the first few months, the children had been allowed to walk themselves to class. Granted, the guards kept a very close eye on the corridors and Giaus kept a very close eye on attendance to make sure that nobody was abusing that privilege. Even though Sigmund did not agree with a lot of what Giaus had been teaching them, he always arrived early. There just was not a whole lot to do outside of classes and, no matter what was being taught to them, they at least offered something interesting for him to pass the time with.
“Good morning, Sigmund.”
“Good morning, sir.”
When he took his seat, Sigmund retrieved a book on basic Charms and started to read. Technically, they weren’t supposed to take books on magic from the library before they actually started learning it, but Giaus had written him an exception for outstanding performances in class. A few others had also been granted this privilege, and it had earned them jealous looks from those who had not.
Sigmund did not have much time to read, as the rest of their class promptly made their arrival and Giaus called them to order with three sharp taps of his wand upon his desk. Sigmund immediately closed his book and slid it into his bag; the same bag they had all been given upon their arrival, in which they were to carry their belongings. Along with clothes and some basic books, it was one of the only things the children had been given to keep permanently.
“Good morning, my friends,” Giaus greeted the class. He waited for their customary response of “good morning, sir” before he continued. “Today, I would like to make an announcement. Very soon, we will be starting something that all of you have looked forward to for a very long time. Can anyone guess what that may be?”
From the looks on several of the faces dotted around the room, it was pretty obvious that many of the children had an idea, but none of them dared speak it. The possibility of having their hopes denied was just one that was too much for any of them to risk.
“Come now,” prompted Giaus with a wide smile, “I’m sure one of you has an idea?” Tentatively, a tall boy who Sigmund knew to be named Ivan raised his hand. He was another one of the select few who had been given access to the basic books on magic. “Yes, Ivan?”
The whole class held their collective breath as slowly, the smile on Giaus’s face grew even wider. “Correct.”
Just like that, the class burst into ecstatic whispers and in a very rare display of laxity, Giaus allowed them a moment of discussion before he fired off a bang from his wand to draw their attention.
They fell quiet at once, all looking up at him with wide, excited eyes. Even those who had rebelled against this system — and those like Sigmund who disagreed with much of it — looked on in awe, hope and wonder, leaving all of their fundamental disagreements behind.
“Yes, next Monday, we will be trying our first spell. At the end of today’s class, I will be giving you all a handout that I expect all of you to read and understand by next Monday.
“Now, you are all quite young to be casting magic, so I do not expect any of you to perform well, but Lord Grindelwald started young, as you all know. He believes that it is best for you all to at least gain some experience early. How often we work on magic at your current age will depend on how well or poorly the first few lessons go.
“To cast magic, you all need something that you do not have. Can anybody tell me what that is?”
This time, in stark juxtaposition to a minute or so earlier, almost every hand in the classroom went up, and Giaus’s smile turned rather fond as he indicated for Sigmund to answer.
“A wand,” he breathed, hardly daring to believe his own words. He would be practicing magic! He was going to get a wand, just like his parents had used!
The thought of his parents sent an all too familiar pang through his chest, but it was far less painful now than it had been at the beginning. Perhaps Sigmund had just learned how to cope with it, he wasn’t sure. Or perhaps the pain had just been replaced by anger since then. He had known at the time that his parents would not come back. Now, he understood a little bit better what all had happened.
“That’s right, Sigmund,” said Giaus. “We have a brilliant young wandmaker from a very old and respected line of wandmakers.” His expression suddenly became conspiratorial, as if he were about to let them all in on a great secret. “As a matter of fact, this man’s father sold Lord Grindelwald his first wand years and years ago.”
Most of the children chattered excitedly at that. Some of the ones who had rebelled and still held strong to the beliefs they had been taught prior to their arrival here — few as they were, were — found themselves in a similar mindset to Sigmund. He could care less who made and gave him his wand. The important thing was that he would soon have a wand and he would soon be learning magic.
September 6, 1940
Sigmund was retrieved from his room just minutes after returning from dinner the Friday following Giaus’s announcement about their fast-approaching foray into magic. The guard who fetched him led Sigmund down several corridors that he never saw before. It suddenly dawned on him how little of the massive complex that he was permitted to explore.
He had absolutely no idea what was going on until he reached the large oak door and was instructed to enter. He was fairly certain that he wasn’t being punished for anything, but he also had no idea what else he could be here for. Hesitantly, Sigmund pushed the oak door open after some prompting from the guard and stepped inside. Much like all of the other rooms that Sigmund had stayed in during his time at the facility called Katalysator, this room had no windows. It was far larger than most of the other rooms, though it was lit by far fewer torches. It was so dark that he didn’t even notice the other figure in the room until he spoke.
“You’re Sigmund, then?”
Sigmund jolted and quickly turned to find a tall, thick-set man standing in front of him. His hair was a light brown as was his beard. He had a larger, more bushy beard than anyone Sigmund had ever seen. “Y-yes.”
The man cracked a weak smile. “Don’t worry, kid; you’re not in trouble. The name’s Hephestentine — Hephestentine Gregorovich if you’re gonna be formal.”
By the man’s tone of voice, it sounded very much like formality was something that he wanted to avoid, and even young Sigmund could pick up on that much. Something else scratched at the corner of his young mind. The name… what was it about that name?
“Like… Hephaestus?” he asked, remembering the name from a book he had read about Greek mythology. “He was a god, right?”
The man let out a deep, booming laugh. “Hephaestus, eh? Yeah, he was the god of craftsmanship in Ancient Greece. That’s actually a good one, kid, I might just use that one day. But, nah, unfortunately, my name’s Hephestentine, not Hephaestus.”
Sigmund frowned. Maybe that wasn’t it then. What had the man said his last name was? G…Gre…Gregorovich? Gregorovich!
“You’re a wandmaker!” Sigmund breathed out in absolute awe. “Your dad gave Lord Grindelwald his wand.”
It was odd how reflexive it was to call Gellert Grindelwald his lord, as he didn’t subscribe to all of the stuff about muggles, but old habits died hard.
“You’re a sharp one, kid. None of the others figured that bit out; I had to tell them who I was and what I was doing here.” He nodded approvingly. “Let’s get started then, shall we?”
The wandmaker directed Sigmund to run his small hands over a flat surface of what appeared to be many varying colours of wood. He told him that the wood that was going to make up his wand would call to him — he said that Sigmund would know when he had found the right one.
The problem was, Sigmund didn’t.
Or to be more precise, he could not decide between two kinds of wood that called equally strongly to him.
“Both of them?” the wandmaker asked, sounding surprised and curious, though Sigmund failed to identify the latter.
Sigmund nodded excitedly but then looked apprehensive. “Is that not okay? Can a wand not work with two woods? Do I have to—”
“Calm down, lad,” the man told him, placing a comforting hand on Sigmund’s shoulder. “Nah, it’ll work just fine, it’s just very unusual is all. These two in particular… well, there’s nothing wrong with them mixing, but I’ve never seen or even heard of it before and my father’s told me more stories than days you’ve been alive.”
Sigmund had to stifle a giggle as the man peered speculatively at the woods. “Beechwood and ashwood,” he declared once it was evident that Sigmund had been put at ease. “I’ll give you a book to read up on after this that explains all the different woods and cores. Same thing I did for all the others.” Sigmund nodded eagerly. For all of the books he had read, he had never read any like that.
“For now, though,” Gregorovich told him, “let’s find you your wand core, eh?”
September 9, 1940
The first thing Sigmund had done once he had been given his ten and a half-inch wand, made from ash and beechwood as well containing a single hair from the tail of a unicorn, was to dive into the book that the wandmaker had given him and search out the components of his wand. What he found was fascinating, even if he had to read it a few times before he was reasonably confident he had understood the meaning.
The ash wand bows to its one true master and ought not to be passed on or gifted from the original owner because it will lose power. This tendency is extreme if the core is of unicorn. Old superstitions regarding wands rarely bear close examination, but I find that the old rhyme regarding rowan, chestnut, ash and hazel wands (rowan gossips, chestnut drones, ash is stubborn, hazel moans) contains a small nugget of truth. Those witches and wizards best suited to ash wands are not, in my experience, lightly swayed from their beliefs or purposes. However, the brash or over-confident witch or wizard, who often insists on trying wands of this prestigious wood, will be disappointed by its effects. The ideal owner may be stubborn, and will certainly be courageous, but never crass or arrogant.
The book contained a description just as in-depth for the other half of his wand’s wood as well.
The true match for a beech wand will be, if young, wise beyond his or her years, and if full-grown, rich in understanding and experience. Beech wands perform very weakly for the narrow-minded and intolerant. Such wizards and witches, having obtained a beech wand without having been suitably matched (yet coveting this most desirable, richly-hued, and highly-prized wand wood), have often presented themselves at the homes of learned wandmakers such as myself, demanding to know the reason for their handsome wand’s lack of power. When properly matched, the beech wand is capable of a subtlety and artistry rarely seen in any other wood, hence its lustrous reputation.
As interesting as all that had been, Sigmund would be lying if he hadn’t been a bit excited to read about unicorns. They had covered a few very basic magical creatures in class, but nothing like a unicorn.
Unicorn hair generally produces the most consistent magic and is least subject to fluctuations and blockages. Wands with unicorn cores are generally the most difficult to turn to the Dark Arts. They are the most faithful of all wands, and usually remain strongly attached to their first owner, irrespective of whether he or she was an accomplished witch or wizard.
Minor disadvantages of unicorn hair are that they do not make the most powerful wands (although the wand wood may compensate) and that they are prone to melancholy if seriously mishandled, meaning that the hair may ‘die’ and need replacing.
That had been the hardest of the three paragraphs for Sigmund to understand, as he had to look up several words in the dictionary they had all been given upon their arrival. Fluctuation and compensation had given him issues, but he now thought he had a pretty good idea of what the paragraph meant.
He had been more excited to get his wand than he had been for anything since his arrival at Katalysator. This morning, they would be learning about their first bit of magic. Apparently, they would even get to try it. He had read all about the levitation charm, both from the handout Giaus had given the class and from a basic Charms book he had taken from the facility’s library. He knew that Giaus said most kids their age wouldn’t be able to do it, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to give it one hell of a try.
When he entered the classroom the morning of their first lesson in magic, Sigmund was, perhaps for the first time, not one of the first three to arrive. As soon as he entered the room, he could practically taste the tension and the excitement in the air. The wait for the beginning of their lesson felt like one of the longest in Sigmund’s life, even though it was only a couple of minutes.
“I won’t waste too much of your time,” promised Giaus. “I can see how excited you all are, so we’ll just get straight to the point. I hope you have all done your reading?” They all nodded in confirmation. “Excellent! Well then, why don’t you all tell me everything you know about the Levitation Charm and how to cast it?”
Ten or so minutes later, each of them was given a feather. Their goal was simply to levitate the offending object off of their desk. As they quickly found out, it was not as simple as it sounded. None of them had achieved it after an hour, and when there were only ten minutes left in class, nobody had even come close.
Sigmund paused and closed his eyes, trying to tune out the chorus of voices chanting the incantation and focus on the magic itself. He wanted this to work… he wanted it so badly… he just had to focus.
With a precise flick of his wand, Sigmund’s feather jerked up off of the desk. It wasn’t truly levitation, but the feather shot up about five feet in the air before promptly falling back down to the desk. The entire class stopped what they were doing to look at him in awe. Giaus was on top of him in an instant.
Sigmund did not register what Giaus was saying, nor the words of congratulations from his fellow students. The only thing he registered was the immeasurably warm bubble of pride that was swiftly swelling within his chest.
He had done it! He had done magic! Not the accidental kind they had learned about a few months ago, but real magic!
He had never been so proud in his life.
January 5, 1942
Giaus had wrapped up yet another lesson on Potions and told the class to take a twenty-minute break while he left to prepare something for their next lesson, which he had not told them about. This was highly unusual. Normally, he told them exactly what to study to be ready for their next lesson. The gathered class, including the now ten-year-old Sigmund, were all fairly baffled as to what he could be preparing.
“What do you think he’s doing?” asked a boy named Simon from Sigmund’s right. He and Sigmund had formed a tentative friendship over the last year. Both of them were interested in Charms and they both performed quite well in classes, so they had gained additional access to the library. From discussing what they had read in there, the two boys had formed a tentative friendship. Simon was actually about six months older than Sigmund, but none of them really commented on that fact unless Simon needed to use it to win an argument — usually a petty one.
“I have no idea,” answered Sigmund. “Giaus is always prepared. I don’t think he’s ever done this before. Unless you can remember a time?”
Simon shook his head. “No, never. That’s why I was asking you, teacher’s pet.”
Sigmund pulled a face. He was good in Charms, the top student in his age bracket in fact — though it wasn’t really that close. Giaus had taken quite a liking to Sigmund and even gave him extra reading material on occasion.
“It’s not my fault that I’m good at Charms.”
“Uh, yeah, it is. You’re the one who studies all the time.”
“So do you!”
“That’s not the point.”
“What kind of argument is that?”
“A good one?”
Before the two could finish their bickering, the door opened and Giaus stepped inside. For the first time in any of their memories, he was not alone. The class fell deathly silent and Sigmund felt his heart begin to quicken. He couldn’t decipher why, but he felt an odd sense of foreboding simply from being near this man. He was sure he’d never seen him before, but an ominous air seemed to cling to him, nonetheless.
“Attention please, boys and girls,” called Giaus. At once, the class fell silent. “Today, we have the great honour of having one of the top men in our society here with us. A man who is treasured even by Lord Grindelwald himself, and a man who is here on behalf of the empire to help teach you all something I promised I would teach you a long time ago; something I know you will all be excited for — duelling.”
The silence in the room was broken as the children descended into excited and nervous babbling about duelling. Sigmund felt his heart rate speed up still further. He was quite good at Charms — better than all of these kids, as a matter of fact — so it should stand to reason that he would be decent in a duel, right? Therein lay the problem. He thought he ought to be, but in reality, he was as uncertain as any of the other chattering children around him.
“Now, I will go over some of the basics of duelling and Sensenmann Shevchenko will watch you all perform and point out errors when he sees prudent.”
And they were off.
Giaus showed them the proper starting positions in duelling, the correct stances and the demanded etiquette. He had them all practice the stances individually before he paired them off on Shevchenko’s suggestion. The man thought it would be best to allow them to give it a go. That way, he and Giaus could easily see where corrections were most heavily needed. Sigmund’s heart quickened, even more so than when he was paired off with Ivan.
Ivan was the only student who could really keep up with him in Charms. Sigmund was still the best in the class, but Ivan was a very close second. Ivan had also been going on about duelling nonstop for nearly a year now, so it would stand to reason that he may have read up on the subject. There was also the fact that Ivan and Sigmund weren’t exactly friends. The two boys didn’t dislike each other, per se, but they weren’t close either. Sigmund had even caught Ivan scowling at him several times when Giaus had praised his ability in the past. There was also something distinctly unpleasant about the odd gleam in Ivan’s dark eyes, even if Sigmund could not quite identify what it meant.
“When all combatants are ready,” Giaus called once they had all bowed to one another, “I will begin the count and you will commence. The duel begins in three, two, one!”
It was chaos.
None of them knew overly powerful magic. Tickling Charms and the like were the standards for what was thrown around, but Sigmund and Ivan were a bit different. Ivan opened with Tarantallegra, a spell that Sigmund himself had never actually mastered. The boy leapt aside and countered with a Stinging Hex that hit Ivan’s shoulder — causing him to flinch back. Sigmund didn’t hesitate, immediately shooting a Tickling Charm at his opponent. It barely missed and Ivan retorted with a Stinging Hex of his own. Their arsenals were still incredibly limited, but by the time all of the other pairs had concluded their duels, Sigmund and Ivan were still at a stalemate.
Both boys were growing frustrated quickly. They had pretty much expended the arsenal of spells that they thought would be of any use in a duel and nothing had come of it.
Sigmund allowed Ivan’s next Stinging Hex to hit him in the face. It was painful, and he reared back, but it had the consequence of Ivan pausing to bask in his smugness, which allowed Sigmund to use the spell that had first earned him Giaus’s attention.
Ivan’s eyes widened along with the rest of the gathered students when one of the chairs that had been pushed against the far wall quickly levitated into the air and shot towards Ivan. Ivan dodged to the side and Sigmund quickly lost control of the chair, but with a spark of inspiration, he levitated Ivan himself into the air before dropping him painfully to the floor. The boy cried out in terrible pain, and Sigmund froze in horror when he heard the obvious crack when Ivan landed on his arm — suddenly forgetting how much energy levitating a person had taken.
“Enough!” Giaus commanded, stepping forward to examine the now sobbing form of Sigmund’s opponent. “Broken arm,” he said after a moment. He ran his wand carefully over the boy’s arm and muttered something. The boy wailed in agony until the magic took effect and his cries quickly subsided.
“Shall we enlighten our young friends as to the competition?” Shevchenko asked Giaus with a rather twisted smile.
Giaus nodded. “I suppose we shall, since there is a rather clear winner. Don’t you agree?” Shevchenko nodded. “There was another reason Sensenmann Shevchenko was here today. You see, due to an injury attained during one of his most recent missions for Lord Grindelwald, he will be kept off of the field for several months. So, most graciously, he offered to train the most impressive duelist in this class.” Giaus smiled proudly as his approval landed on Sigmund. “I think it is safe to say that the winner is quite clear.”
All in the room looked towards Sigmund, but he was simply frozen.
Perhaps he should have been elated at the opportunity to train with one of the most vicious magic users in the world. Perhaps he should have been grateful, or awed, or dumbstruck, or any such number of things.
The truth was far less glamorous.
Sigmund was doing all he could not to charge at the man, or to cry.
As soon as Shevchenko had spoken, Sigmund knew exactly where the air of dread had come from. His voice was terrifyingly familiar; it was the voice he had heard in his nightmares most nights for nearly the past three years.
This was the bastard who had murdered his parents.
And now, Sigmund had to train with him.
September 20, 1942
Sigmund slumped with exhaustion the moment that Shevchenko told him they were finished for the night. For four months after that fateful first duelling lesson, Sigmund had been taught three nights a week by the psychotic lieutenant of Gellert Grindelwald. For the first number of weeks, Sigmund struggled through the lessons. Not just due to their brutal difficulty, but because every time he laid eyes on Shevchenko, Sigmund wanted to curse him, hurt him and cry all at the same time.
Eventually, those instincts had all but faded into the background of Sigmund’s mind. His feeling of hatred towards Shevchenko had become somewhat muted with the passing of time, but they were still very much there. Despite their presence, Sigmund knew it was much safer and easier if those emotions were not at all observable.
He recognized how dark those emotions were for a ten-year-old boy who would not turn eleven until the twenty-eighth of December, but he could not find it within himself to care. He had realized long before how dark it was that adults trapped a bunch of children in a location that they would refer to only as Katalysator. Especially after killing many of their parents, and then holding them in said location for years on end while they tried to brainwash them. Privately, Sigmund thought that if such a thing was acceptable, it was perfectly justifiable for him to lust after revenge.
Even after he had managed to focus entirely on the lessons, they had not gotten a whole lot easier. Shevchenko was, despite whatever else Sigmund thought of the monster, an absolute genius when it came to combat. He drilled Sigmund nonstop, even giving him physical exercises to complete on his own time because the man said it would improve him as a fighter.
That was another thing.
Shevchenko had told Sigmund that after training with him, he would be great at duelling for certain, but he had made it blatantly clear very early on that Sigmund was learning to fight, not duel.
“What good are pretty spells and etiquette in the real world?” he had asked.
Shevchenko believed in a more practical approach. Honestly, Sigmund didn’t care because he had come to enjoy the lessons — even if he despised how sore he was after each and every single one of them. Shevchenko would never heal him either. He had told him that dealing with pain was essential and he would just have to learn to cope with and fight through it.
Sigmund was presently picking himself up off the floor and shaking off a rather nasty bludgeoning curse that he had still not managed to master shielding.
“That will do for the night,” Master Shevchenko — as he insisted on being addressed as — said curtly. “You have performed admirably over the past number of months, Sigmund, and I would like for you to participate in the annual Tournament of Champions held in Berlin. The tournament is separated by age and the minimum age requirement is ten. You would be duelling ten and eleven-year-olds since each bracket is for two years.”
Sigmund hesitated. He was thrilled — and would have been touched by the first bit of genuine praise that Shevchenko had ever given him if he didn’t despise the man so much — but at the same time, he wasn’t sure that he was ready for this. Shevchenko had been thrashing him without any effort ever since the beginning and Sigmund had only ever duelled one person his age in his life. How was he supposed to know if he was ready?
“You-you think I’m ready, Master Shevchenko?”
“Do not stutter!” the man bit back sharply. “It displays weakness that is beneath you. Try again!”
“Yes, sir. You think I am ready, Master Shevchenko?”
“Better,” the man said curtly. “If I did not think you would win, I wouldn’t enter you.”
And that was it. That was all the man had said. Sigmund had to hide how his heart had leapt into his throat at that proclamation.
November 26, 1942
The Thursday before the Youth Tournament of Champions was set to begin in Berlin, Sigmund was up bright and early. Just as he was instructed to be. He was dressed in a brand new, rather expensive-looking set of robes that had been dropped off for him to wear on this journey the night before.
The news of Sigmund’s upcoming participation in the Tournament of Champions had spread like wildfire through the complex of Katalysator. Pretty much all of the younger kids and most of those in Sigmund’s year bracket seemed genuinely happy for him. He was praised openly during classes and at meals. A few in his year — mostly kids like Ivan, the boy he had defeated in their duel all that time ago — shot him dirty looks from time to time. Those a few years older were much less receptive and, in some cases, openly hostile, but they hadn’t acted on their obvious animosity as of yet.
Putting all of those thoughts behind him in place of the tumult of nervousness and excitement that was crashing through him, Sigmund left his room, where a familiar-looking platinum blond-haired man was waiting for him.
“Giaus?” he asked, taken aback. “I mean… sir, sorry.”
The man just smiled. “There is no need to apologize, Sigmund. I am sure you were expecting one of the guards?”
“That was the original plan, but I thought it only right that I see you off. Or, at least to the point where Master Shevchenko will take you.” Sigmund nodded as they began on a route through the corridors that he had never seen before. “I must ask you, Sigmund, not to reveal what you learn about the complex while leaving today. Truly, I should make you take an oath, but I have confidence that you will do the correct and responsible thing and keep the information to yourself.”
Sigmund nodded without hesitation. He couldn’t even imagine the consequences if he were to reveal secret information and he was certain that no amount of favouritism from Giaus would be able to keep him out of trouble. “Yes, sir, I understand.”
“Very good. If you are asked by Master Shevchenko, I swore you to a rather strict oath. Do you understand?”
Dimly, Sigmund noted how odd this behaviour was from Giaus. He knew the man harboured a liking for him, but he couldn’t imagine why he would break the rules for him — let alone tell him to lie to one of the most dangerous and high ranking officials of Lord Grindelwald’s empire.
“I understand perfectly, sir. I wouldn’t want you getting in any trouble.”
Giaus nodded, seeming satisfied with the response he had been given. “Be very careful, Sigmund.”
Sigmund’s face set in a hard line of resolute determination. “I know duelling like this is dangerous, sir. I’ll do my best.”
Something crossed Giaus’s face. Sigmund wasn’t entirely certain what it was, but an odd instinct within him thought that the man may want to tell him something. A second later, Giaus must have thought better of it. A second later he briefly shook his head.
“I am glad to hear it,” was the response Giaus settled for. It was the last thing he told Sigmund before he pushed aside an oak door, revealing a seemingly endless number of stairs leading upwards. “This is where I leave you,” he told Sigmund. “Follow these stairs to the top and you will find Master Shevchenko waiting for you.”
Sigmund nodded as the butterflies returned to his stomach. “Thank you, sir.”
Giaus seemed to hesitate before placing a firm hand on Sigmund’s shoulder and giving it a reassuring squeeze. “Be at your best, both in and out of the arena. Whatever happens, just know that I — as well as all of us here at Katalysator — are very proud of you.” And with that parting message, Giaus turned and began to briskly stride away, leaving Sigmund to climb the stairs and open the massive, metallic door at the top, admitting him into the sunlight for the first time in over three years as he exited the secret underground facility of Katalysator.
November 30, 1942
Sigmund stepped out into the centre of the duelling arena with a stone-hard expression of utter determination. For the past three days, he had fought tooth and nail to get here. Now, the time had arrived.
It was time for the finals of the Youth Tournament of Champions for the ten and eleven-year-old division.
Sigmund had gone through five duels thus far, with the first being on Friday morning and the final one taking place just hours ago. The first duel had been a cakewalk; the boy who had served as his opponent had seemed to have been barely competent with a wand. The second had been more difficult, but not too much so. The third had been, by far, his most difficult opponent. His opponent had knocked Sigmund down with a well-placed tripping jinx and hit him with several cutting curses before he was fully back on his feet. After that minor setback though, the duel had only lasted a few more minutes before Sigmund’s hand had been raised in victory. Now, he was face to face with a tall, muscular, dirty blonde eleven-year-old by the name of Alir Luxembourg.
The crowd sat in hushed silence as Sigmund and Luxembourg squared off and the official went over the rules one final time. Then, the two boys shook hands and stepped back before each bowed deeply to the other as they took their stances. When the blast from the official’s wand echoed through the arena, the duel began.
To Sigmund, it was all a blur. He remembered taking a Bludgeoning Curse very early on, then a Cutting Curse mere moments later. He remembered almost succumbing to a Stinging Hex to the nether regions, but he also remembered the other boy’s face growing red and blotchy. Sigmund knew within five minutes that despite having been knocked around for every second thus far, he was going to win this duel. He could tell without having to ask that this boy wasn’t used to his opponents sticking around for more than a minute or so. Shevchenko had preached the importance of physical and magical endurance and Sigmund — however much he hated his ‘mentor’ — had very much taken those words to heart.
After they had been duelling for eight minutes, Sigmund’s spells were suddenly effective and Luxembourg had not so much as touched Sigmund in the last two minutes. By the time ten minutes came about, the older boy was barely able to dodge anymore, let alone cast his own offence in return. And by the time thirteen minutes and forty-seven seconds had passed, Sigmund Lockhart had disarmed Alir Luxembourg and become the first ten-year-old to win the ten and eleven-year-old bracket of the Youth Tournament of Champions since his Master, Igor Shevchenko, had done exactly the same over thirty years earlier.
Speaking of Igor Shevchenko, he was smiling at Sigmund, giving the boy the first genuine smile he had ever seen on his face. That smile lasted throughout the entirety of Sigmund’s medal and plaque presentation and even until they got back to the dressing room.
When they entered, the room was not empty. Sigmund actually gasped at the figure he saw waiting for them.
The man was an inch or two taller than average, not particularly tall, but slim. He had platinum blonde hair, bluish-silver eyes that shone with intelligence, and sharp features that practically screamed of cunning, charisma, and danger. His plain black robes with a simple triangular symbol that was synonymous with his empire did nothing to dull the man’s appearance, and that was to speak nothing of their golden trim.
For the first time, Sigmund was grateful for the brainwashing that had been done at Katalysator. Without it, his shock would have been completely wiped away by logic and he wouldn’t have thought to kneel and bow his head in front of this man.
“Lord Grindelwald?” he breathed, barely able to believe it.
Grindelwald chuckled indulgently. He had a smooth, enchanting sort of voice that nearly managed to put Sigmund at ease.
“Rise, young one. It is not becoming of someone of your noble stature and future to find yourself in such a position of weakness — though I appreciate the show of respect and loyalty and applaud Katalysator for their marvellous teachings.”
Slowly, as if in a trance, Sigmund picked his way back up to his feet. He was careful to keep a straight and proud — but not at all arrogant — posture as he did so. He needed to appease Grindelwald, but looking too confident while in the presence of a man who had been depicted to him for three years as a god could easily be taken as disrespect.
“I am very happy to see that the time and energy the empire has put into Katalysator is manifesting itself into such hopeful prospects,” said Grindelwald. “Of course, much of the credit must go to your master, Igor, as well.”
Shevchenko bowed his head. “I do my best to serve, my lord.”
“We both know you do perfectly well, Igor. There is a reason you are regarded and trusted so highly.” Then, his enchanting, vaguely familiar eyes landed on Sigmund. “You have even begun the development of a protégé.”
Their eyes met for the briefest of seconds and though Sigmund couldn’t explain it, he suddenly felt even more vulnerable and even more exposed. It felt as if Grindelwald was peering into his very soul. “There are… areas that still need to be refined,” the self-proclaimed lord continued, “but you, Sigmund Lockhart, are the brightest prospect since Igor here. You bring pride to your instructors, your institution, and even your lord. See that, as the wonderful mysteries of the future reveal themselves, you continue to uphold everything that this great empire stands for.”
“Yes, my lord,” answered Sigmund, bowing his head forward.
Grindelwald smiled brightly. “I must return to my business, but I could not miss the opportunity to feast my eyes on the future. It is such a marvellous and enchanting beauty that stands alone on its immortal, untouchable pedestal.” Grindelwald reached into the pocket of his robes and withdrew from it a single, golden locket. After inspecting it for a moment, Sigmund realized that it was the same locket Shevchenko had worn the first day he had appeared at Katalysator. Or at least, the design was the same.
“As a token of my gratitude for representing the empire in such a manner, I grant you, Sigmund Lockhart, the Stern der Ewigkeit. It is a mark of the highest-ranking members of the empire.” He held it out to Sigmund.
Sigmund knew all too well what this amulet meant. It was worn by a very select few. Grindelwald himself, Shevchenko, and several other high-ranking officials. All he could do — despite the tumult of rage that boiled up in the presence of the man that had been the one truly responsible for his life over the last three years — was bow his head in forced respect and adoration. He had an odd compulsion not to meet his ‘lord’s’ eyes again.
Instead, he glanced towards the amulet that Grindelwald held out to him. It was gold, trimmed in silver, and in the shape of an equal arterial cross with arms bent at perfect right angles. They had learned about the symbol in classes with Giaus. It was apparently called a swastika, and it allegedly stood for prosperity and good fortune. It was one of the marks of Grindelwald’s ever-expanding empire.
Words were embroidered into the precious metal in the same silvery colour that lined the piece of jewelry. The same words that Grindelwald himself had just spoken — Stern der Ewigkeit. In English, the rough translation was Star of Eternity. Sigmund didn’t quite grasp the symbolism, but he assumed it had something to do with the recipients of the award being the metaphorical stars of Grindelwald’s ever-expanding empire.
“Thank you, my lord.”
“We shall meet again, my child. Fate herself has foretold it. I give you this amulet as a promise of the circumstances in which we shall reunite.”
December 4, 1942
Ever since his return from the Youth Tournament of Champions, Sigmund had noticed subtle changes in the facility which he had called home for more than three years.
Many of those in his age bracket looked at him with adoration and respect. The vast majority certainly respected and treasured him far more than they had before his international victory less than a week earlier. It was actually a fairly drastic shift. A number of them had approached him and all of a sudden been very friendly. Ivan — the boy whom he had beaten in his first-ever duel — was one of these children, which confused Sigmund quite a bit.
Simon was currently explaining to him exactly why that was the case, and it actually made a fair bit of sense; though Sigmund would never have thought about it in that way.
Not only had Sigmund proven himself a talented duellist and quite successful overall, but he had also obviously earned the favour of Igor Shevchenko. Shevchenko was revered by almost all in the empire. Especially those at Katalysator, as none of them had forgotten the way in which he had taught them that first day.
As Simon explained it, people viewed Sigmund as a person to latch onto. They viewed him as someone who was bound to have a great deal of future success, as well as a possible in with Shevchenko, which would doubtlessly be invaluable.
“What about the older kids?” asked Sigmund warily, glancing at a few of them at a nearby table. “They’ve been different ever since I got back. They’ve been glaring at me like I’ve done something wrong. A couple of them even tried cursing me in the back yesterday in the cafeteria while the guards’ backs were turned.”
Simon winced. “It’s… complicated.”
“Well… how would you feel if one of the younger kids started getting special training from a really important person and was suddenly given a medal by Lord Grindelwald and all the rest?”
Sigmund frowned. “I’d probably want to know if they deserved it, but—”
“Exactly,” cut in Simon. “That’s the thing; they don’t think you deserve it. They still think you’re just some random kid. They just think they could trounce you easily and whatever else. It bugs them that you’re getting all the attention when they feel like they’re so much better, just because they’re older.”
Sigmund crossed his arms. “That’s stupid!”
“I know,” placated Simon, “but it’s true.” He frowned. “I think it is, anyway. I’m just saying what I think the problem is.”
“So I’m just going to have to deal with people from our year trying to use me and older kids being jerks?” Reluctantly, Simon nodded. Sigmund huffed. “That’s ridiculous.”
“It is, but if it makes you feel any better, I’ll be right here with you. Even if they start cursing me in the back too.”
Sigmund looked gratefully towards his best and only real friend. “Thanks, Simon. That means a lot.”
He smiled. “Anytime, Sigmund. That’s what friends are for.”
December 3, 1943
A week after winning the Youth Tournament of Champions for the second straight year — this time with very little challenge — Sigmund had just completed yet another lesson with Shevchenko. Sigmund had naively expected that once success started to come in competition, the maniacal Shevchenko may let up on him a bit. As it turned out, the precise opposite thing occurred. Now, at nearly twelve years old, Sigmund could appreciate the teaching style of his ‘master’, even if he still wanted to do nothing more than to make him pay for all he had done.
It was baffling to think that he had lived in Katalysator for four years. It was true that in the last year he had at least gotten to leave the facility fairly often for duelling competitions — set up by Shevchenko, of course — but seeing the beauty of the world above only made that fact more surreal to Sigmund. Though Shevchenko managed to make every Sunday practice without fail, he had become busier with his more important duties for the empire over the past calendar year. As a result, Sigmund attended many of the duelling competitions under the watchful eye of Giaus while a substitute was sent to Katalysator to fill in for his training when the man was absent. Giaus had also begun to teach Sigmund privately two days a week, increasing the number of days he practiced duelling to three times a week. Sigmund was rather pleased with the arrangement. He really did enjoy duelling and he actually liked Giaus — which was far more than he would ever be able to say about Shevchenko.
Unfortunately, one effect this had was to slowly turn much of Katalysator against him. Sigmund bitterly remembered the day when Giaus had explained about the muggles’ jealousy and how it caused them to lash out. Though Sigmund still didn’t believe it entirely — at least not that all muggles were awful people — he had begun to see similar tendencies manifesting themselves within his peers. Many of his companions in his year level were now giving him the cold shoulder altogether. Some even dared to make hissed remarks under their breaths about favouritism and teachers’ pets, but none of them dared to do more than that.
Until tonight, anyway.
Sigmund turned a corner near the room that he and Shevchenko occupied every Sunday — and he and Giaus occupied every Tuesday and Thursday — when he froze and, against his better judgement, a terrified scream ripped from his lungs.
Laying unmoving on the floor in front of him, with pale, glassy eyes and was the form of his best friend, Simon.
Through all of the drama since his first victory at the Youth Tournament of Champions in late 1942, through most of Katalysator slowly turning their backs on their golden child, Simon had stayed strong with Sigmund throughout — just as he’d promised he would.
The two boys had talked endlessly in the library whenever they were allowed out of their quarters. They were always side-by-side in lessons and mealtimes because of their first names falling so close to one another in alphabetical order, and Simon had stuck strong with him through all of it. He had been supportive, kind, and even encouraging during the build-up to this last tournament, whereas Sigmund knew much of Katalysator was hoping he finally faltered.
Now, Simon — his kind, caring, supportive friend — was lying dead on the floor in front of him and all Sigmund could do was scream because he knew, just knew, that somebody had done this because of him. They had done it because of his success, because of Simon’s support and because of their own, bitter jealousy. He knew that it must have been somebody ator for their molder than both of them — or more than likely, several older people — but Sigmund could not find it within himself to care. All he could care about was his friend, dead on the floor.
March 26, 1944
It had taken Sigmund several weeks to even partially recover from the emotional shock of losing Simon. Katalysator had held a funeral for the boy and Giaus had been more sombre than Sigmund had ever seen him. He had also promised, in no uncertain terms, that if those responsible for Simon’s death were caught, there would be consequences the likes of which none of the children could even comprehend.
Giaus and the other officials running Katalysator had deduced that it had indeed been foul play that had led to the death of Sigmund’s best friend. Giaus had told him in the strictest of confidences during a lesson a few weeks later that the source of death had been traced to a spell designed to restart the heart. Unfortunately, when applied with ill intent and on a working, healthy heart, it could also have the opposite effect.
Ever since the death of Simon, Sigmund was lonelier than he had been in years — possibly ever — within the walls of Katalysator. Not only was he alone in the sense that he had no friends, but he was alone in the sense that most of the other children had turned against him. This was made evident one night in March when he was making his way back to his quarters one Sunday evening following his lesson with Master Shevchenko. A spell slammed into his back, causing him to fall to the floor in pain.
His muscles all seemed to have coiled and were spasming horribly. Vaguely, Sigmund thought through his haze of pain that he had a brief recollection of Shevchenko telling him about a curse that did that.
Before he knew what was happening, Sigmund was hauled to his feet and dragged through the corridors before he was thrust into a side room. Before he knew what was happening, Sigmund was bound and placed in a sitting position, staring up at five much bigger, much older boys. Vaguely, Sigmund recognized at least one of them as a boy named Marcus. Last he could remember, Marcus had been sixteen, so he was at least that old, possibly even seventeen by now.
“Well, well, well,” the boy in question drawled, “if it isn’t Giaus’s golden boy and Shevchenko’s protege.”
Sigmund grit his teeth. “What do you want?” he spat, trying to muster as much dignity as he could from his current position on the floor.
The lead boy snorted. “What we want is what this whole place has wanted for over a year,” he sneered. “Do you have any idea how sickening it is to watch Giaus parade around a twelve-year-old like he’s the lord of this damn place? Do you have any fucking idea how pathetic it is to have people treasure you for beating ten and eleven-year-olds and treat you like you’re the king of this place when anyone fifteen or older could trounce you with no effort?”
“That’s not my problem!” Sigmund spat back.
He could tell that arguing probably wasn’t a good idea by the look in Marcus’s eyes. It was disturbing and Sigmund knew that the boy and his friends had already made up their minds about what was going to happen. Nothing he said or didn’t say would change that because they didn’t care about him, not really. They cared about his position, they cared about what he represented to them, and no words he could speak would change that.
“You either die a hero or live long enough to become a villain.” Sigmund had read that in a book somewhere over the years he had been at Katalysator, and that quote flowed straight to the front of his mind. Idly, he wondered how Shevchenko would have reacted to that quote.
‘Live long enough to become the villain? How utterly ridiculous! Begin as the villain and craft yourself into a hero.’ Something like that would have been very in character for his “master” but either way, no amount of philosophical thinking was about to save Sigmund.
“What do we want?” Marcus asked, ignoring Sigmund’s protests, pretending to ponder the question. “What we want is this fucking pathetic worship of you to end. That’s not going to happen as long as you’re still duelling because, loathe as we are to admit it, you’re damn good for your age,” he sighed. “We tried to do this the nice way. We tried to do this without hurting you.”
“What do you mean? I haven’t ever said more than five words to you!”
“He’s a bit dim, isn’t he?” one of the others asked, prompting a chorus of laughter from the assembled teens.
“Just a bit,” Marcus smirked sarcastically. “We thought, you stupid little boy, that if we took your stupid friend away from you, maybe you’d quit,” he sneered. “We thought at least that you might take the hint that you had enemies who wanted you to stop.”
Sigmund’s mind was racing as tears of righteous fury welled in his deep blue eyes, looking almost like the warped reflection of sunlight on a calm, tranquil ocean. “You-you killed Simon!”
“It wasn’t hard,” a new boy answered. “We roughed him up a bit, practiced a few curses on him and then Marcus tied the knot.” He shrugged. “We left him where we knew you’d find him.”
“How did you know where I had lessons? That’s supposed to be a secret!”
“See? This is what we mean! You’re a fucking twelve-year-old brat who’s decent in duelling. You’re nothing special. You don’t even know what a notice-me-not charm is.” He scowled viciously. “Long story short, we followed you when you couldn’t see us. It wasn’t hard, you’re not exactly stealthy about sneaking to your lessons.”
Sigmund strained against his bindings even though he knew it would be of no use. Even if he managed to miraculously escape — a feat he knew to be impossible — he did not have a wand to fight with. He had his doubts on whether or not he could even take any one of these teenagers, there was no way he’d be able to take on all five at once.
“What are you going to do then?”
“Ah, now that’s a much better question. You see, we didn’t stop at the spell we tried on your little friend. We’ve been practicing some other spells too; spells that are just as dangerous, just as lethal and a whole lot slower to get the job done.”
Sigmund tried not to be afraid. He would not give these monsters the pleasure of seeing him cry or cower in fear during his final moments. If he was going to die, he was going to die the same way his parents died — proud and defiant until the very end.
“Shall we get started?” asked Marcus. When the others nodded, he trailed his wand on Sigmund. “Let’s not end it so soon, I’ve been dying to try out this one. Cruc—” but he never finished the incantation for the curse that the ICW themselves had deemed as unforgivable.
The door blew off its hinges at the precise moment that the hastily conjured wards protecting the room collapsed. Marcus wheeled around and attempted to fire the half-completed curse at his new target, but he never had the chance. Without saying so much as a word, the familiar man in the red and silver cloak simply slashed his wand and, with a terrible cry of agony, Marcus promptly lost the arm that was holding his wand. The other boys — who had their path of exit blocked by Shevchenko — did the only other thing they could and drew their own wands.
The duel — if one could call it that — lasted precisely ten seconds and, while Shevchenko didn’t immediately kill any of the teens, they were never seen again in Katalysator or anywhere else after that night. When they had all fallen, Shevchenko flicked his wand towards Sigmund and the ropes promptly fell away. He only told his apprentice one thing before levitating the unconscious teenagers out of the room.
“You must be more vigilant, Sigmund! This is precisely what can happen in the heat of war!”
April 24, 1945
Sigmund’s shoulders slumped with exhaustion as Giaus called time to their Tuesday night practice. After the fiasco with Marcus and his cronies over a year ago, Sigmund had seriously wanted to just give up duelling. That had lasted until Shevchenko had caught wind of that and scolded him for exactly how stupid of an idea that was. Loathe as he was to admit it, Sigmund had to reluctantly concede that the man had a point. If he wanted to be strong, to ensure that such an event never took place again, the best way of doing so would be to continue his training. Giaus had spurred him on too, and it was he who proudly smiled at his charge’s mastery of the Banishing Hex.
“Well done, Sigmund, well done! At only a few months older than twelve, you are casting magic that most do not learn until they are at least fourteen. This has been excellent work. We are done for tonight.”
With a tired smile, Sigmund bowed his head and thanked his instructor before making his way towards the door. Before he reached it, Giaus’s voice called out.
“Sigmund?” The boy in question froze and turned slowly to face the man whom he considered to be his real mentor.
Giaus had never hurt him nor had he been the one to kill his parents. Giaus wasn’t a monster. He was a genuine man trying to get by. An extremely gifted man, but genuine. Shevchenko was a monster.
When he turned to look at his mentor though, he saw a look in those eyes that he had never seen before. A look of urgency and of unmasked fear.
“Giaus? What’s going on?”
“Tomorrow,” he said, his voice little more than a whisper as he glanced left and right, almost seeming to check as if there were anyone else in the empty room, “be ready. Rise early, gather anything important tonight and have them in your bag. It will happen tomorrow.”
“I can’t say anymore, I am sorry. Be ready and spread the word if you see anyone on the way back to your room. If you don’t, do not dare leave your room tonight to spread the message. Lock yourself in, rise early and do not leave that room unless somebody fetches you. If they do… go with them, alright? Please, Sigmund, I am asking you to trust me.” The man’s face was completely impassive, but Sigmund had the odd feeling he was fighting back tears.
“I will, Giaus, I promise.” Then, in the most shocking event that had ever happened inside the walls of Katalysator, Giaus clambered to his feet and made his way towards Sigmund, pulling his apprentice into a warm, tight hug. “Giaus?” Sigmund gasped in surprise.
“I’ve never had a son,” Giaus told him. “But if I did, I would want him to be just like you. Go. You must rest and you must prepare.”
Thoroughly baffled, Sigmund did just that.
Once he had left, he didn’t see his mentor slowly and deliberately remove a swastika-shaped necklace. With a wave of his wand, Giaus reduced the amulet to little more than ash.
April 25, 1945
Sigmund had not known how early he was to wake. Giaus had never specified, so Sigmund decided 6:00 AM was a safe bet.
The night prior, he had packed everything that he considered to be his important things. It was depressing how few of those things there were. There were his duelling awards, some clothes, and a few books. After everything was packed, Sigmund had gone to bed. He awoke the next morning and waited tensely on the edge of his bed, half expecting his locked door to fly off of its hinges without warning at any second. He couldn’t force himself to pick up one of the books he planned to leave behind and start to read, he just couldn’t. He was too tight, too tense, too ready. He didn’t know what Giaus had been referring to the night previous but whatever it was, he knew it would be life-changing. Giaus would not have acted in that way for anything less — Sigmund was at least certain of that.
As if on cue, a terrible, ear-splitting noise suddenly pierced through the underground facility of Katalysator. Sigmund had never heard such a noise before but he could guess pretty well what it was — an alarm.
Instantly, his posture straightened and he took a firm grip on his bag with one hand and his wand with the other. He had been on constant alert since the day Marcus and his group of thugs had jumped him, but he knew that whatever was about to happen was far more serious than schoolyard drama — even if said drama had resulted in death.
It took a few minutes before other sounds made themselves present. There were loud bangs, cries of pain, scuffling and more. Sigmund had stood by this point with his bag slung over his shoulder. He heard doors being opened in his hall and somehow knew that his companions were being let out, slaughtered, or something else that involved strangers opening their doors. Just as that thought crossed his mind, the locking spell on his door disintegrated as it swung inwards. Sigmund quickly aimed his wand, but the figure was not wearing a red cloak. In fact, the figure was the absolute last person he would have expected in Katalysator.
It was a very tall girl who looked to be around the same age as Marcus was before his passing. Sigmund’s mind registered the fact she was very pretty, but it didn’t mean anything to him at his current age. Her skin was pale, but not unattractively so, and her features were somehow soft and angelic as well as sharp and well defined at the same time. She had a slim nose, full pink lips and dark, intense blue eyes. They were not like any he had ever seen. They weren’t like those of Giaus — whose silver eyes had an oddly blue hue and were dotted with what almost seemed to be specks of the former colour. They were solid blue and practically screamed of power and danger. She wore simple black robes that seemed to billow around her as if the air itself was charged. Sigmund’s wand hand faltered.
There was something about her… he just didn’t think attacking her was a good idea.
“I’m not here to hurt you,” she assured him, stepping inside and firing a spell at the door that caused a visible distortion in the air. Simultaneously, the sound of several locks slamming into place sounded and a blue, translucent barrier seemed to appear on their side of the door. “I’m here to set you free.”
Sigmund’s mind blanked at the very concept. “F-free?”
She smiled an award-winning, sympathetic smile that made his chest feel oddly warm. “What’s your name?” she asked him in a soft, gentle voice.
“S-Sigmund,” he said, “Sigmund Lockhart.” He realized it may have been the first time he had used his last name since his arrival at Katalysator, but he had never forgotten it. He supposed if this girl was here to set him free, he could have told her it was Gideon, but Sigmund had stuck… he liked Sigmund.
Her soft smile only widened as she stepped towards him slowly, as if to indicate she was no threat before offering her hand. “It’s lovely to meet you, Sigmund. My name is Emily, Emily Riddle. And my companions and I are here to set you and your friends free.” Her face darkened. “I don’t know what you’ve been told, or how long you have been here, but Gellert Grindelwald is not a good man. He is what we call a Dark Lord, and he is an enemy of every single witch or wizard alive.”
“I know he isn’t a good man,” Sigmund said darkly. “Some of my classmates don’t realize that, but I have… guesses about him and the empire.”
Emily Riddle nodded. “I’m glad I found a clever one,” she told him. “This would be much more difficult if you were too blinded to see reason.” She paused. “Do you trust me, Sigmund?”
“Uh… I don’t really know. Is that a bad answer?”
Emily let out a soft, melodic laugh. “No, Sigmund; that is a perfectly logical answer and the one I would have given in your place. With that being said, I am asking you to trust me. My companions and I mean you no harm. We’re here to put an end to Grindelwald and his reign of terror, and that begins with the liberty of each and every one of you.”
She was a good speaker, Sigmund would give her that. He could picture her at the front of a crowd; swaying a country to do as she wished or leading an army with words alone.
He took a deep, calming breath. “Okay,” he told her, more nervous for this than he had ever been for anything before in his life as flashbacks of the last time he was involved in a failed escape made themself present, “I-I’ll trust you.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Are you okay?” she asked suddenly.
He fidgeted uncomfortably. It was as if she could read his mind. “Yeah, just… bad memories.”
Curtly, she nodded, her smile slipping away to be replaced by a far more serious, far more determined expression. “Give me your bag, please.” He handed it over and, with a tap of her wand, she shrunk it to the size of a marble and handed it back to him. He pocketed it with a thank you and looked up at her expectantly.
Sigmund cast one last glance towards the desk in the room. Sitting atop it was the swastika-shaped amulet Grindelwald himself had given to him after his first win in international duelling. Emotions raged inside his stomach, churning like storm clouds until he decided to snatch it from its resting place. If nothing else, it could potentially be of some value at some point.
“Stay with me at all times,” she said. The soft, gentle tones of her voice were replaced with a staggering amount of authority. He could do little more than nod. “Alright, let’s go.”
She slashed her wand at the door and instantly the blue barrier dissipated and the door swung open. Immediately, two men in red cloaks tried to rush through. With a simple twitch of the girl’s wand, the two of them were sent flying backwards into the wall with such force that Sigmund heard several cracks and they slumped, unmoving to the floor.
“Come on!” Emily yelled, reaching down and taking a firm, vice-like grip on his hand. It felt odd. The last person to hold his hand had been his mother and he could barely even remember it now, but he realized now was not the time to think about it.
For one thing, there seemed like worse people who could be holding his hand than Emily Riddle. She was trying to help him, apparently, and she was very pretty. For another, they definitely had more pressing matters to attend to if they were to escape Katalysator. Clearly, the alarms had roused the guards, and it was very possible that the empire would send more outside help as well.
Emily didn’t bother with walking; she took the halls at a flat sprint, practically dragging the smaller boy in her wake. If not for her tight grip on his hand, he was sure he would have lost her. His hand was numb from the strength of her grip, but seeing as it was likely the only thing keeping him alive, he wasn’t going to be complaining any time soon.
Men kept popping up around the corner, but none of them lasted more than three seconds against Emily. Sigmund thought he was quite a good duellist and honestly, at this point, he felt like he could beat a lot of fifteen or sixteen-year-olds. He had even watched the sixteen and seventeen-year-olds duelling at the Youth Tournament of Champions, but he had never seen anything like Emily Riddle. Perhaps Shevchenko… though, he didn’t move even half as fast as she did. Three spells left her wand faster than Sigmund thought it possible to cast one. At one point, they had been cornered by six wizards and he thought for certain that he was about to die — that not even this Emily Riddle could get them out of this predicament.
It took her precisely one spell to prove him wrong. It was a spell he had never heard before, but it made him gasp when he saw the effects. Coincidentally, it was also the first spell she had spoken aloud this entire time.
The air around them seemed to distort and blur, blackening as if opening a portal to another realm. From the portal poured white-hot flames that were so dark a red they might as well have been black. They leapt from the portal-like distortion and seemed to cackle as they did so, twisting and contorting as they spread out in front of Emily and Sigmund.
Sigmund had never felt anything like this. He shuddered noticeably just due to his proximity to the fire. Along with the heat, there was a horrible aura emanating from the flames. It felt evil in ways that Sigmund couldn’t explain and whispered horrible truths in his mind as the ever-shifting heads of terrifying beasts did so audibly.
The flames’ cackling seemed to intensify as they coiled into the form of a massive, fiery serpent, shifting ever so slightly to absorb any spells coming their way. The men weren’t stupid enough to hopelessly try to combat the snake; the snake simply burnt its way through walls as it forged them a path that avoided all of the corridors altogether.
The fire seemed to joyfully consume everything in its path. It burnt through stone as if it were paper. Sigmund had never thought it was possible for fire to be so vicious. There was something else about it too. It terrified him in a way that he couldn’t explain. Near proximity with the serpentine fire made his blood run cold as it burnt through anyone or anything in their path. He tried not to watch as it engulfed a group of men in red cloaks — seeming to chuckle mirthlessly as it did so — swelling in volume and intensity with each bit of matter it consumed.
“How are you doing that?” he asked her through gasps of short breath. “Beating everyone… making that fire?”
Beside him, she barely seemed out of breath, something that should be impossible. He worked out every day; he had ever since he started training with Shevchenko. He was in better shape than most and he could barely form a sentence. He certainly wouldn’t have managed to keep running had she not literally dragged him along.
“If you’ll pardon my lack of modesty, I’m quite good at magic. Better than most, as you’ve seen. It has always come naturally to me.”
That was probably the largest understatement Sigmund had ever heard.
Finally, he saw the stairs that led into the upper world up ahead. With a slash of her wand and a determined cry, Emily Riddle snuffed out the fire as she and Sigmund sprinted out of the underground facility. They encountered nobody until they got outside into the open courtyard.
It was a vast, empty stretch of flat land sprawling out on all sides. The spring air was warm and the rustling breeze gentle. The grass only just seemed to be coming into its own after the long winter, but it was still a sight for sore eyes in Sigmund’s opinion. It had been so rare that he had seen the outside world since his arrival at Katalysator.
“Good,” said Emily, letting go of his hand for the first time, “I’ll apparate you to a safe zone and then come back to help the others. Reinforcements are still—”
“I am afraid that will not be taking place on this lovely morning, my dear.”
Sigmund’s blood ran cold as he completely froze in place. He knew that voice, though he had heard it only once before. He knew that this man wasn’t a god — and that according to Emily, they had been mistaken in all matters regarding him — but if this man was an enemy to all witches and wizards as Emily had said, Sigmund thought it unlikely Giaus had exaggerated his power.
With a deep, shaky breath, Sigmund turned and allowed his eyes to rest on the other lone figure in the otherwise empty courtyard.
Gellert Grindelwald looked much the same as when Sigmund had met him several years ago in the dressing room after his first-ever Youth Tournament of Champions title victory. Now though, there was a palpable aura of power as his bluish-silver eyes seemed to shine with an ethereal light and his robes whipped around him as if caught in a nonexistent breeze.
“Grindelwald!” Emily snarled, pushing Sigmund back and gesturing for him to retreat as she raised her wand in a defensive position.
“Such a hostile tone to take with a lord,” Grindelwald chastised her lightly. “Whom is it I have the pleasure of meeting today? I sincerely hope you aren’t one of Albus’s sycophants.”
“Emily Riddle,” The girl said with a fair bit of pride, sticking her chin up at the dark lord as she stared him right in the eye. “I care not for Albus Dumbledore. He’s merely a stepping stone that will be crossed once I have dealt with the obstacle in front of me. If you survive today, you will remember the name.”
Grindelwald chuckled. It was controlled, but derisive and full of unbidden mirth. “My dear Ms. Riddle, you believe yourself — a child who looks no older than the age of seventeen or eighteen at most — to be capable of killing the most powerful sorcerer alive?”
“I don’t need to kill, Grindelwald. I only need to hold you at bay for a few more minutes before my own reinforcements arrive and we can end this.”
Grindelwald allowed one last, dangerous smirk to cross his lips before all hell broke loose. “Ah, Emily Riddle, you do not have minutes.”
Grindelwald stabbed his wand towards Emily and a strand of silver light coiled towards her through the air. In response, Emily thrust her wand upwards, sending a bolt of white-hot energy careening into Grindelwald’s spell. The resulting explosion caused the air to crackle as it seemed to heat and supercharge around them. Riddle recovered faster, slashing her wand towards Grindelwald and sending him flying backwards. Sigmund recognized the spell as a Banishing Hex, but it was so powerful it was positively laughable to call it as such. Grindelwald was travelling faster than his eyes could track.
Before he could slam into the distant wall of the courtyard, Grindelwald vanished out of thin air. Sigmund realized with some trepidation that it must have been apparation, but he had always thought one needed to turn to apparate. Grindelwald hadn’t bothered; he had simply vanished.
He appeared behind Emily in the same instance. She spun to face him but with a flick of his wand, she shot straight up into the air like a cork before, with a downward slash, he sent her plummeting at terminal velocity, head-first towards the ground. Right before impact, her fall stopped suddenly. So suddenly that Sigmund was worried for her spine and neck, though she seemed perfectly alright as she steadied herself, now standing twenty or so meters from Grindelwald.
As she was falling, Grindelwald had weaved his wand through the air and as soon as she landed, he slashed it viciously towards her, causing a massive sphere of what appeared to be purely supercharged air to shoot towards Riddle at Mach speed. With a flick of her wand, Emily banished the sphere into the sky before sending it back towards Grindelwald, who had to hastily conjure a shining dome of silver energy to protect himself. Even then, he staggered. Sigmund, though he was well out of the way, found himself thrown to the ground as it shook violently from the explosion caused by the sphere’s collision with Grindelwald’s shield.
Despite all of his experience in major duelling tournaments and seeing Shevchenko at work, Sigmund had never seen anything like this; nor had he ever imagined something like it was possible. Giaus had taught them to revere Grindelwald as a god and though Sigmund had never bought into that — not even when he was six — he could confidently say that the battle unfolding in front of his eyes resembled a battle between two gods who wished to show each other up for the pleasure of the humans who worshipped them.
Now, it was Emily’s turn to go on the offensive. Quick as a whip, she drew her wand towards her chest before slashing outwards towards Grindelwald. There was a distortion as a translucent, barely visible form took shape from what appeared to be the air itself. It looked to be an impossibly massive serpent and it quickly unravelled from its tightly coiled posture and reared back, clearly ready to strike. With blinding speed, it tore straight through Grindelwald’s shield. Doing so had obviously taken the spell to its limits, as it dissipated harmlessly after punching through the same silvery shield Grindelwald had used not a moment earlier, though this time, the blow took an effect on the shield’s wielder.
Grindelwald cried out as he fell to his knees and at that moment, Sigmund knew it was over, even before Emily fired off her next curse.
Unbelievably, Grindelwald did the impossible. At that same instant and from his knees, with his wand held out in front of him, he cried his incantation for the world to hear — the first spell he had verbalized during the duel.
Just as the green light was about to consume the dark lord, the air blurred in front of him and almost seemed to shift to a distinguishable, grey colour. With a sound like a gunshot but a hundred times louder, the curse slammed into what Sigmund would realize much later in life was air that had been solidified through magic itself.
The air stopped the curse, but it was ripped apart in the process. From where the barrier of air had been torn apart, waves of heat emanated outwards in all directions, causing the air itself to crackle and pop as if it had been solidified once more and shoved into a microwave.
As Grindelwald shakily got to his feet and stared down Emily Riddle — whose mouth hung agape in shock — waves of a similar, if admittedly lesser, heat were rolling off of the man himself. The stone around him was steaming as his steely gaze fell on Riddle. Sigmund noticed that Grindelwald’s face was tinged red. He wasn’t perspiring yet, but Sigmund knew it was close.
Then, Grindelwald laughed. “You fight very well!” he commended. “An aerokinetic as well? How very interesting you are, Emily Riddle. Unfortunately, your attack was singular and lacked the sophistication it would have taken to conquer one like myself,” His smirk returned for the first time during the duel. “Allow me to enlighten you as to a far better option, provided, of course, you can keep up!”
“AUSÜBEN CAELI!” he incanted once more, drawing intricate patterns in the air with his wand. This time, instead of a barrier, the air bent into a countless number of identical shapes and Sigmund’s jaw had fallen agape. Grindelwald had conjured an army of swordsmen made completely of air. He had no doubt their swords would be lethal. Emily sent a volley of spellfire that simply caused them to split apart for a mere second before moulding back together.
Sigmund couldn’t see how in the world she was going to counter this kind of attack. For a terrifying second, Emily looked as puzzled as Sigmund felt and her spells continued to be ineffective. Then, with a hard, determined look in her eyes, she flourished her wand out elaborately.
Again, the torrent of hellfire erupted from the end of her wand and took the form of the same, massive serpent Sigmund had seen in the bowels of Katalysator. This time, when it burnt straight through the advancing army, they did not reform. Emily choked as her fire tore the air apart. It seemed to remain intact but suddenly felt quite thin, and Sigmund wondered if the spell hadn’t just consumed much of the oxygen in the area as it travelled towards Grindelwald.
With a thrust of her wand, Emily sent the flaming serpent striking at Grindelwald — who was by this point sweating profusely — but he stayed completely calm as he jabbed his wand towards the serpent.
As the serpent of unholy fire bared down on Grindelwald, something black and vast flowed from his wand like quicksilver. Almost like black smoke or fog, but a thousand times more terrifying to Sigmund.
He had never felt anything like when Emily had used Fiendfyre for the first time, but this spell gave off a similar feeling. Only, it was the exact opposite. With Fiendfyre, the air crackled and popped around the flames as if it were being microwaved. Any air in the way of Grindelwald’s spell seemed to grow heavy and hard to take in. It was like the oxygen all around them was being instantaneously frozen solid.
When the two spells met, the Fiendfyre didn’t immediately consume this offering, which was a new sight to Sigmund. The two opposing forces collided with the impact of titans and the very world around them seemed to groan in protest as balance was sought. Grindelwald’s spell seemed to morph into a tornado that kept trying to engulf and suffocate Riddle’s snake, which in turn was trying to burn its way straight out of its magical confines. In the end, the two spells cancelled out, sending steam billowing a hundred feet into the air and giving the false impression that the courtyard had been blanketed in the heaviest fog one could possibly imagine.
The stone on Emily’s side was smoking and some of it closer to the centre of the two combatants had even melted. On Grindelwald’s side of the courtyard, much of the stone had completely turned to ice.
Then, Sigmund watched in disbelief as the waves of heat emanating from Grindelwald melted the ice in front of his very eyes.
It was hard to judge who was winning. Grindelwald had fallen to his knees, but he had probably controlled most of the duel by definition. Now though, Sigmund noticed the obvious differences between the two of them. Beads of sweat were rolling down Grindelwald’s face and though he wasn’t necessarily breathing heavily, it was certainly not an easy stream of breath. Opposite him, Emily had only just started to breathe heavily, and there was but a thin layer of sweat coating her face.
“Concede!” she ordered, jabbing her wand threateningly towards Grindelwald. “You’re defeated; if this continues, I’m going to kill you.”
Grindelwald scowled. “You are powerful. More powerful than any I have met before you. Unfortunately, you are young, arrogant, and foolish.”
Grindelwald swished his wand and the stones around Emily rose and took the shape of a hundred faceless warriors. As she raised her wand to counter, Grindelwald thrust his own straight up above his head and cried out for the heavens to hear him.
As Emily conjured a ring of fire to protect her from the stone-faced warriors, thunder boomed as the sky itself seemed to groan and, suddenly, an unnaturally massive shard of lightning ripped through the clear sky. Emily’s face paled as she came to the same realization that Sigmund did.
She wouldn’t have time to defend herself.
At the last possible moment, a contraption that Sigmund had never before seen — but that Emily knew to be a lightning rod — appeared out of nowhere and the blast of lightning was pulled off course, sparing Emily. Grindelwald, who was now audibly panting cursed in German.
“Unfortunately for yourself, Gellert, you suffer from many of the same unfortunate predispositions that you accused Miss Riddle of falling prey to.”
Everyone’s attention was drawn to the source of the voice. A tall, thin man with the longest beard Sigmund had ever seen had appeared in the courtyard. His wand was drawn and he wore robes of pure white, though there was very clearly some kind of armour underneath them.
All around them, men and women in black robes were appearing and glancing briefly at the new arrival before rushing down into the depths of Katalysator. Vaguely, Sigmund could remember Emily saying something about reinforcements, but that seemed an age ago now.
Grindelwald laughed openly. “How kind of you to join the dance after so long, Albus.” He scowled and for the first time, Sigmund saw true anger in the man’s eyes.
“It was inevitable we would meet, Gellert,” the man now identified as Albus said, in a perfectly calm voice. “I had hoped for many years that someone would stop you. However, when it became apparent none were capable, I had little choice but to interpose myself.”
“Yet you do so only after a schoolgirl has done your heavy-lifting for you!” Grindelwald hissed furiously. “You’ve avoided me for all these years and now only show yourself when I am at my weakest.”
Grindelwald laughed, but it was no longer the calm, cold sound it had been. It was loud, rasping and unhinged. “What would your supporters think of you, Albus, if they knew the truth? Of course, I know the truth. I have known it for many years.” He glanced at Emily once more. “Be wary of this one, Emily Riddle. His facade of morality lasts only as long as he sees prudent. When his true colours are displayed so marvellously for the world to see, his intent will be beautifully painted by the truth of his character and all will see how dangerous he truly is.”
“Enough!” Albus cut in. Sigmund couldn’t help but notice how his voice shook, if only a little. “Gellert, I am giving you one chance to do what is right. The falling of the wards here has left you far too weak to combat me. Your struggle with Miss Riddle is evidence of that. I implore you to see the true greater good, not the lies you have been feeding the world these last number of decades.”
“The true greater good? Oh, Albus, if your little friend only knew the hypocrisy of such a thing,” He cackled once more. “And what would you do with me, Albus, if I saw your greater good?”
“Take you to Azkaban,” Albus said flatly.
Grindelwald’s lip curled. “Pass.”
His wand moved in a blur towards the bearded man. It appeared to Sigmund as if Grindelwald was using the same spell as Emily had, but it was different. It was not a serpent that formed from the fire — which in and of itself was a vivid green instead of the dark red Emily had conjured— instead, it was a falcon. One that let out a terrible, unearthly cry and flew towards Dumbledore. With a swish of Dumbledore’s wand, his own flaming creature blinked into existence. It was made of the same dark red fire as Emily’s, but that was not what made Sigmund gasp in surprise. He had never seen a phoenix before, but he had read enough about them to recognize one.
Without waiting for the beasts’ tussle to finish, Dumbledore brandished his wand like a whip and a jet of golden fire erupted from the tip of his wand, whistling as it soared towards Grindelwald.
For a third time, Grindelwald used that same spell, and, like when he had blocked the killing curse, the air in front of him distorted and seemed to shift to grey. Grindelwald was sent sprawling backwards from the impact of Dumbledore’s spell, but his shield of air dispersed the magic, though it was snuffed out in the process. The phoenix let out a cry of agony as the falcon consumed it, but before it could strike down Dumbledore, Emily stepped in front of him and slashed her wand through the air with a look of utmost concentration. The falcon split apart and the green flames swirled before dying out completely. Dumbledore quickly nodded in thanks before turning back to Grindelwald, who was once more on his feet. Grindelwald raised his wand again, and this time, there was a murderous look in his eyes.
Albus didn’t wait for the spell to take effect. After the first syllable, his eyes had widened in unmistakable terror and he immediately began to incant. His voice was a war cry for the first time, it was a terrible mix of fury, power and fear.
An explosion rocked the very world around them. Grindelwald seemed to be caught in the blast’s epicentre, but Sigmund never saw how he managed not to die. The earth-shattering sound manifested as a deafening WHOOSH and suddenly, the air around Grindelwald wasn’t air at all. As far as Sigmund could tell, it was fire; fire that tried to spread towards the man it now encompassed in a wide, sphere-like shape, reaching greedy, murderous like tentacles towards him as it began to slowly spread.
With a scream of both pain and fury as the heat slammed into him, Grindelwald vanished once more and with a long swish of his wand, Dumbledore returned the air to its previous state.
Emily raised her wand and turned in every direction, evidently waiting for what she viewed as Grindelwald’s inevitable return. Contrary to Emily however, Dumbledore rested a hand on her shoulder. This small action made her flinch away immediately.
“Be at ease, Emily,” he told her, either not noticing her reaction or being intentionally oblivious, “I think it is safe to say he will not return.”
“What… what were those last two spells, Professor?”
Dumbledore’s face darkened. “Magic that is better left untouched, my dear. Some things should remain untouched by magic but, alas, I could think of but one counter to Grindelwald’s final attack.”
Emily nodded, but Sigmund could tell by the odd gleam in her eye that she was not at all swayed. Then, she spotted Sigmund looking at her and her features softened almost at once as she strode towards him. As she did so, Sigmund noticed the way Dumbledore looked at her back. The look was something like what the older kids had worn when looking at him over the past couple of years, but it was so much worse.
“Are you alright?” she asked, placing both hands on his shoulders and eyeing him critically. How he managed to speak while absolutely dumbfounded with awe at what he had just witnessed, he would never know.
“I’m f-f-fine, Emily. That was… incredible!”
Emily smiled indulgently down at him. “I must admit, I found the experience rather exhilarating.”
Yes, yes, I know. We haven’t even gotten to Gilderoy yet. His story gets told in detail during part two of this chapter, which is next up. There was a ton of foreshadowing, past exposition and world-building to do here, so I hope you all don’t mind me spending the words on it. I promise all of this will get tied back into the main story soon.
Before I sign off, I want to give massive shoutouts to both Regress and especially Κυρία της φωτιάς, Lily of Dreams for their help in making sure I didn’t completely contradict scientific principles that I will never understand. Your assistance, time and effort were and will always be very much appreciated.
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Thank you to my lovely Discord Editors 3CP, Alex the Transfigurer, Asmodeus Stahl, BioPhoenix4810, Chocolate, hyuck, Regress, Sectumus Prince, Sesc, TauNeutrino, Ubiquitouslyverbose
A massive thank you is also extended to my first top-tier Patron, Κυρία της φωτιάς, Lily of Dreams, for her generous support on that platform! An additional shoutout is extended to my Oracle-level Patron, 3CP, for his unwavering support as well. Your guys’ support means the world to me.
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