I will not let him die again
Though Ludwiga assured that the Nymphenburg Palace should be safe, Elisabeth decided to move the children to the Neuschwanstein Castle till the shields and wards of the Palace are completely repaired and renovated.
Moreover she wanted to keep an eye on Gellert while she was obliged to take part in the castle construction – there was no time to waste as the school were to open next year. So she woke up at three at night, performed tests on the wards till seven, had a breakfast, took a nap, did her workout, corrected the castle plans according to the test results – and, last but not least, took some family time. The adventures of Gellert and Ferenc reminded her that magical progeniture needs someone to guide them wisely - so she invited the kids to the lab. Most wizarding children loved potion-making, where one could touch dragon scales and a phoenix feather; only later, painful burns, and gruelling grinding, chopping and mixing would kill this natural interest in most of them.
Elisabeth filled her cauldron with water.
`I would like to show you the Mobilising Potion,` she started.
`Great-aunt, you promised to cook powidl with us…` moaned Cyneburg.
`Of course, Cinni,` replied the old witch, `But the prune plums for powidl should be collected by hand, without magic. Do you really want to climb up trees in the pouring rain? Gellert, have you brought the beetles, by the way?` she turned to Grindelwald.
`I have, Gran,` he replied, showing her a jar where huge, green-gold insects desperately tried to climb up the glass walls, only to fall down, again and again.
`Can you recognise the species?` she asked.
`This is the golden ground beetle,` piped up Zenadia.
`Correct, Zina,` nodded Elisabeth, `And you, Pipp, you have brought…`
`Some tiger beetles, madam, ` replied Hippolith.
`Call me `auntie`, we are a family, ` she smiled gently.
Oh, really, family, Gellert rolled his eyes, Hippolith was a Muggleborn, adopted by some kissing kin of a friend of a friend of some kissing kin of Elisabeth. One could see he was not at ease with magic… and with the wealth and power Elisabeth radiated.
The door opened slowly with a loud squeak. Elisabeth cast an Oiling Spell and then said, `Ludwiga, thank you for coming. Would you like to tell the children more about those insects.`
`Oh, with pleasure,` replied von Bayern, `The tiger beetles! They are indeed dangerous carnivores… Careful, when you open the jar, they can run fast! Gellert, don`t touch them, they bite!`
`And bolt like drunk Brit aurors…` murmured Elisabeth, catching the escaping beetles with a hex.
`It`s a pity to use them, they are so strong and brave. Like real tigers,` said Gellert, deep in thought.
`And beautiful,` whispered Hippolith quietly.
`So let them go,` said Elisabeth.
`Let them go?` he repeated sheepishly.
`Yes, into the garden.`
`And the potion, Grandma?` asked Gellert.
`There are many more potions we could brew today so that you could understand the First Rule of Alchemy,` she shrugged, `Just bring me some leaves of nine different tree species. Cinna, Zina, help him, all of you, we need a lot, a whole big basket of each.`
When the children have left the lab, Ludwiga spoke up, `I like them as well, the tiger beetles, I mean. But I would never supposed you to be sentimental, ` she smiled gently.
`I follow more my heart than my brain, isn`t it obvious` snapped Elisabeth, `And there is no need to break his brakes.`
`Break the brakes?`
`Come on, you know, Ludwiga, that Gellert will not spend his life at a desk. There is no need to encourage him to kill if he does not want to. There is really no need.`
Ludwiga just nodded.
So, in the end, they brewed the Mason`s Potion, its vegan version.
`You can use shells, bones and carapaces as well,` explained Elisabeth, `Careful, Dzidka!` she laughed when a macadamia shot out of a nutcracker, flying through the room, `The vegan version is more complex, requiring leaves of nine trees while one could use the ingredients from just three animals instead. Clearly, the vegan version requires a far more advanced mago-calculation to set the correct sequence of adding the ingredients and their proportions. Luckily, there are tables providing solutions for the most common tree species, otherwise I would have to spend the whole evening, doing calculations… When the potion cools down, a polygon should become visible on its surface… What can it be?`
`The correctly brewed Mason`s Potion will form a regular polygon; that is its sides and its angles are all the same.`
`Auntie, why have you chosen the version with plants if it is more difficult?`
`A very good question, Hardi.`
Eberhard, the youngest of them all, turned red with pride.
`The vegan version, ` explained Elisabeth, `Is more resistant to curses and it maintains its protective function much, much longer. So, as we are going to use this potion on the castle`s walls, its longevity and quality are of utmost importance.`
`She knows what she is talking about,` Zina whispered to Dzidka.
`Of course I do!` boomed Elisabeth, `You will not find, among the living witches and wizards, anyone else with so much experience regarding the magic of castle sieges. From both sides of the walls.`
`Could you then take Neuschwanstein, Gran?` enquired Cyneburg, `I mean once the construction is finish, can it be conquered?`
``Unbreakable` does not exist in magic,` replied Elisabeth plainly.
`Even the oaths…` whispered Gellert.
`Even the oaths,` she replied calmly, `And as you have seen, sometimes you can break them for a good cause, Gellert. The grandmother of your friend Albus would have died, if I had not burnt her oaths through. So, no fortress is perfectly safe. Protection of schools is particularly complex as, on one hand, they are an obvious target of criminals and radicals… And on the other hand, a huge number of people lives within their walls. People who change every year, are neither related with one another, nor mature enough to be bound with oaths – no, no Zina, don`t look at me like that. You have seen how dangerous magical bonds can be. No reasonable Ministry would let all the students swear an oath relating to protection of a castle. It requires experience and expertise to merge the magic of a human with the magic of stones; no child could do it in an effective and safe way.`
`What curses can the potion stop?` enquired Gellert.
`It depends on the ingredients, the amount of potion, its age and the type of stone used. Anyhow, according to my calculation, the external wall of Neuschwanstein should, for next seven hundred years or so, withstand the Blow of Mjölnir, the Blitzkrieg, the Breath of Khalkotauroi and the Horns of Mnevis, to name just a few. Would you like to see how the outer wall is strengthened? ` she added.
Of course they did. Not just them. In spite of the lashing, cold rain, a crowd had already gathered on the square at the main gate, waiting for the spectacle. The castle builders had to put in wards, keeping the curious from coming too close.
`Grandpa, grandpa, she will cast the Blitzkrieg, won`t she?`, A read-headed boy kept pulling at the sleeve of an old wizard, `If so, please, send me to this school!`
`You have to admit that the old von Bayern takes the safety of the children seriously,` whispered an elderly which in a black cloak to her younger companion, `The castle of Hogwarts, on the other hand, is said to have unprotected tunnels leading straight into it! They are supposed to be blocked but who knows?`
`And this scandal at Durmstrang?` added the wizard standing next to them, `An illegal Animatus sneaking into the castle!`
`There is no way to keep Animagi out!`
`There are ways, my friend, but suitable only for small buildings. You can protect a hut but not a castle!`
`They said von Bayern can!`
`Nothing strange, madam! She hired the red-headed Batory for the job! A notorious wall-breaker! And there is no better custom wizard than an old smuggler! This castle is better protected than a goblin bank.`
`Sure, she can curse a castle down, this Batory. But what does she know about construction?`
`I trust her curse more than the curses of a Moscow clerk…`
`But Durmstrang has traditions…`
`And they let a madman in! Their castle is old-fashioned! They trust a bunch of spells seven centuries old…`
`Your right, mister. The wards should be modernised regularly… And those Russians are too lazy to do that.`
Ludwiga watched the crows with satisfaction. She needed a good show to persuade people that the Neuschwanstein Castle is the state-of-the-art castle, a trustworthy school, an unyielding fortress.
She knew that her attitude and program were not really approved by many, but after this Animagus at Durmstrang even the most conservative families would close an eye on her egalitarian beliefs and rather eccentric school program. And Batory, already on horseback, was more than enthusiastic deliver the show. The Ministry had doubts on her loyalty; she needed to show otherwise.
The masons have covered the outer castle wall with a complex web of shining spells.
`The wall has to be subjected to several destruction curses,` explained Batory, `Their sequence, localisation and pacing being of utmost importance. This is why the markings are there so that I make no mistake. But, ad rem…`
She rode around the square, first walking, then cantering. Suddenly, the horse surged forward, speeding up. Spectators held their breath.
The first, swift eight with the wand and an invisible curse swooshed through the air, thudding against the stones like horns of a giant bull. The next curse covered the wall with a layer of ice, shining and glittering, though the day wasn`t sunny.
The third curse Elisabeth shouted at the top of her lungs, `Khalkotaouri!` A green flame shot out of her wand; the wall shook and some of the stones cracked. Two other curses followed immediately, smoke and dust enveloping Elisabeth.
Finally, at the thirteenth curse, the wish of the audience came true.
`Blitzkrieg!` roared the old general. Two flashes of light shot out of the wand, whizzed over the heads of the wizards with a piercing zing, flew over the castle wall, made a u-turn and banged into it from inside. The wall gave.
Elisabeth emerged from the smoke cloud, covered with sooth and dust. She smiled haughtily, staring provocatively at the crowd.
The wall was gone, but in the air a complex web of magic was quivering, glittering, and sparking.
`The wall, soaked with special potions, will fall under curses,` explained the architect witch, `But the magic will imbibe their force. The wall will be then replaced with new one that will radiate the force back, if need be.`
`In a nutshell, my curses will rip the heads off of any future aggressor,` sneered Elisabeth, `Once you saw a reactive wall doing its job, you will never forget that, I assure you. And for those of the audience who still have to write a report for their spymaster,` she smiled cruelly, `Do not forget to mention that I put all my experience into this exercise. And my soul. And this was not a metaphor, I give you a fair warning. `
Children – and not only them – stared at her, wide-eyed.
`So this is magic,` whispered Hippolith in awe. Elisabeth looked at him.
`This is what you are capable of,` she said simply, `If you exercise diligently. And now, go in, it is cold! Anyhow, it is time for a cake and I baked a good tart.`
Everyone had already left, but Gellert stayed, staring at the remains of the wall.
`Have you Seen something?` asked Elisabeth, dismounting.
`Your soul, Grandma…` he hesitated, `Where is it? Really in this wall that is not really there? In the spellweb?`
`What have you Seen?` she repeated.
`Fire,` he sighed, `Black and white flames… And there were Dementors there and you went… Please, don`t`!`
`I am very old, it is slowly time to go,` she said calmly, `This also is magic, there is no reason to cry.`
`But… Your soul…`
`My soul does not belong to me, it is possessed by those that I defend,` she retorted sharply, `Because I am a general, not just by a whim of a bureaucrat but by the will of my fighters. Dementors run away screaming when they smell me. And as to the flames… Black and white, you said? This is the Fence of Siegfried, similar to the Protego Diabolica. The difference is that the latter annihilates the enemies of the user, the former kills you if you are afraid. So, don`t be.`
Elisabeth got woken up in the middle of the night, by a house-elf.
`Enemies!` squeaked the servant, `They are storming the castle!`
Elisabeth sprang out of bed.
Yet, when she arrived at the walls, all she could see was a storm made by nature; she could not spot any sign of an attack. Nonetheless, she remained wary. Heavy rain, darkness and stormy wind were a great opportunity for those who wanted to stay unseen… In particular that even magical lanterns were of little help, their light reflecting in the raindrops, water puddles and wet stones, creating a blurry dazzle.
`Someone is trying to pass through the nod in the lake, ` explained the architect witch, `We had just finished with the wall when we noticed some… activity there. Here is the plan…`
Elisabeth and Ludwiga stooped over the parchment. The lines, showing the magic of the castle were writhing and bending chaotically, rebounding under an external force.
`It`s… from underneath?` Ludwiga couldn`t believe her eyes, `Through the bottom of the lake? Elisabeth, isn`t it supposed to be the cornerstone of our defence?`
`It is not supposed to be. It is,` retorted the old general, `The wards have to be based on the elements, this is way all magical castles are located close to a body of water. The magical lines form a nod on the bottom of the lake, Ludwiga.`
`So why attack the strongest point?`
Elisabeth did not answer, pondering over the plan. Suddenly, she pivoted on her heel, wand ready to curse.
`Gellert? What are you doing in here?` she asked sharply.
Grindelwald, barefooted, with a cloak thrown over a pyjama, stared at her with blank eyes. Before anyone could react, Elisabeth barked, `Legillimens!`
Ludwiga froze. Mind magic was allowed to be used on children only by certified mind healers as young brains were particularly sensitive. However, she did not dare cut the connection, fearing that her intervention could harm the boy more than the spell of Elisabeth`s. The old general stared into the eyes of the boy for a moment and then, without a word, jumped off the wall. She landed on the castle yard already as an overgrown borzoi.
Ludwiga, run down the stairs, cursing her weak lungs. But when she reached the yard, Batory was already on the back of a Pegasus stallion, taking off with heavy flaps of his white wings. Ludwiga shouted `Wait` but was ignored. Ludwiga clenched her teeth and climbed on the castle wall again, ignoring pain in her lungs. The downpour relented a bit so that she could see flashes of spells, coming from the lake beach.
`General Batory… Is she fighting?` panted Ludwiga.
`General Batory is cutting the nod open,` replied grimly the architect witch.
Ludwiga felt like the sky were falling.
`But…why?` she croaked.
`You know well, madam, that she sometimes… changes her mind,` snorted one of the masons.
Ludwiga lifted her head. It was still her castle.
`To the gate,` she commanded sharply, raising her wand. The wizards and witches followed her. Yet when they arrived at the gate, the inner portcullis was already down.
`What the…` hissed the architect witch. This very moment they heard the heavy iron bars of the outer portcullis thudding against the cobble stones. `Are you fooling us? Only you, the Headmistress, can lock the castle!`
`Unless… you close the gate by hand,` retorted Ludwiga. The drawbridge chains squeaked. Someone was raising it.
The architect witch swore rudely.
`This blond boy… The one Batory treated with Legillimency… He was hanging about the gate in the morning. He was curious how it works and showed him… It was her who made him…`
`Let`s go find him,` sighed Ludwiga and beckoned her wolves, just in case.
Gellert, indeed, was in the gate mechanism room.
`No,` he growled in a very Batory-like fashion, ` I will not let him die again.`
`A Seer…` whispered the architect witch, `By Hildegarda, at this age?`
`Sit,` Gellert looked at the wolves. The animals obeyed.
A Seer with the Voice. That was all they needed…
Surely, two experienced witches could cope with a child whose magic went haywire but they lost precious time and when finally the gate was open and the bridge down, the nod had already been open. Elisabeth stood in the lake, ignoring the waves, concentrating on something in the depth. She had no helper and there was no ward protecting her back – or at least there seemed to be none.
The masons stared at Ludwiga, expecting her to order them what to do.
Water was seething, something, writhing and twisting, seemed to be trapped under its surface. A kelpie?
I will not let him die again echoed in Ludwiga`s head and suddenly all became crystal clear.
`Pull!`, she ordered, `All together, or they will drown!`
Powidl is a fruit spread made of a prune plum, without any sweeteners of gelling agents. Yum!
Hildegarda: why should a German say `sweet Merlin`? Hildegarda von Bingen (12th century) really existed, was an abbess, a composer, a touring preacher, and an influential political advisor. She was also said to see into the future… Nowadays it is her works reg. herbs and healing that enjoy popularity.