I will not let him die again – Gellert`s words echoed in Ludwiga`s ears and all became crystal clear.
`Pull!` she ordered and cast the lasso spell. Others followed.
Ludwiga still could not see what her spell had caught, the waves, the foam, the agitated sand obscuring the view; so that she hoped, prayed, that Elisabeth and Gellert were right. There was something, something heavy, resisting the spells. But was it…
`It got stuck!` someone shouted.
Elisabeth swished her wand hard, as if it were a lash, the crash of severed spells drowning out the howling of the wind. A wave of cold water swept Ludwiga off her feet. She landed in the sand, coughing and choking. A young wizard helped her to her feet and politely cast a drying spell on her robes. She looked around, snorting, water dripping off her once elegant bun.
Winged horses, drenched, filthy, heaving for air were dragging a carriage out of the lake, its big wheels sinking deep in the sand. Ludwiga noticed a wizard on the back of one of the horses. The young man`s long hair was twisted in a complex coiffure that Ludwiga would recognise in hell. Strangely, the hairdressing spells were still working.
`Ferenc,` she croaked and got a fit of coughing.
Gellert scowled at the wolf; Hrodvitnir scowled back. Grindelwald tried to use the Voice again but only a hoarse hiss left his mouth. His throat was on fire, as if he had been screaming all day long. The great-grandmother Elisabeth had been warning him that the Voice cannot be used for too long, and for a kid, "too long" clearly meant few words only.
Anyhow, Hrodvitnir was huge as a mammoth and extremely resistant to a magical (and non-magical) attacks. Gellert could have subdued the smaller wolves but was helpless against an adult pure-blooded wolf of Ragnarök. He clenched his fists angrily. The great-grandmother Ludwiga had left him here, forcing him to wait. She had not understood that he had Seen, had understood…
Well, honestly speaking, the vision was blurry, and he was not sure what it meant. Yet he had a feeling it was important so that he craved to see what he had Seen. Yet, Hrodvitnir was there, blocking the passage. Gellert already thought about squeezing himself through the window when the wolf jumped to his feet.
The great-grandmother Elisabeth entered first, leading the winged horses, drenched and dripping mud. The witch and the animals were visibly exhausted, dragging their feet with difficulty. The horses let their wings and the heads down, their muscles were shaking with effort. One was limping badly.
Elisabeth was paler than usual, drained off her magic and strength, trembling with cold.
`Ferenc,` she explained curtly.
And then the world sped up. There was too much to do. Ferenc and his companions had to been taken care of. The same applied to pegasi. The knot had to be tied up again. Ludwiga could not stop coughing, she needed a healer. Aurors burst in. The MoM enquired…
When Gellert woke up again, his neck still ached. He had the impression that a gooseberry got stuck in his throat, one of those huge, yellow, hairy gooseberries of auntie Praskovia. But this was just a small inconvenience; the only thing that matters was that Ferenc was asleep at his side.
Gellert slid out of bed, careful not to nudge his brother, though, probably, not even a battalion of roaring dragons would wake Ferenc up.
Oh. Gellert`s head was exploding. Good the house-elves left him a whole jar of chamomile tea with honey. He drank a whole glass, slowly, sip by sip, but still couldn`t talk; only croaks and squeaks left his mouth. He sat on the bed, looking at his sleeping brother. Ferenc had long, shiny, curly hair and he charmed them into unbelievable coiffures. This time, however, someone – probably a healer – made a simple braid out of it. It looked so un-Ferenc-like. Gently, Grindelwald run his fingers down the cheek of the sleeping. Hardly had he touched the skin, images, blurry, chaotic, twisting, appeared in his mind. The great-grandmother Elisabeth was angry. What if she punishes Ferenc? He had had caused her so much trouble, he put the peace into danger!
Great-grandmother Charlotta, however, had explained the future was not set in stone yet, that the visions and prophecies are, by their nature, ambiguous… Maybe… Who knows… Maybe there was a good reason for Elisabeth to lift her wand against Ferenc? Something more than his blunder in New York? Though Gellert could not imagine why his brother should purposefully oppose THAT witch.
Grindelwald got up, ignoring pain thudding in his head. He had to prevent his brother getting hurt. He could! He had already prevented great-grandmother Ludwiga from stopping great-grandmother Elisabeth at the lake! He was a wizard, not a Muggle. He could – had to – do his duty.
It turned out more difficult than assumed. Great-grandmother Elisabeth was not in the castle; great-grandmother Ludwiga was feverish and coughing her lungs out. Ferenc – Batory, the uncle of Elisabeth`s – has been attempting to repair the knot Elisabeth had severed. The whole construction team was anyhow busy with that, and they were not progressing at all… Auntie Hekate, head in the fireplace, deep in a conversation, just scoffed him away.
To his surprise, Grindelwald also met his auntie Praskovia as well, who, at this time, should be in St Petersburg, preparing the Koldovstoretz School for the new school year. Yet she also found no time for him. The consequences of the `Great Escape' ,as the press had already called it, kept all the adults occupied. And like a tossed stone creates wave rings that spread long after the stone has sunk, the escape seemed to generate agitation and trouble to no end.
Suddenly, Gellert realised that he also was in the middle of this hurricane. He could not pretend anymore not being a Seer. That is, the Brits must have suspected that already when he had explained his rooster flight with a dream. Still, it would have ended as a note somewhere in their archives, without inciting further attention of their Aurors. A foreigner kid did not control his magic, but no one got seriously hurt, Muggles were obliviated, the kid was sent home, the end. But now, they will realise he was the brother of Ferenc, and Ferenc had drawn all the eyes upon himself.
Oh, by Hildegarda, he realised. There was more than that. Vulfric Dumbledore, who had attacked great-grandma Ludwiga, was also a Seer. This is how the matter was swept under the carpet, anyhow: the press announced that an unstable Seer misinterpreted his visions and tried to curse an innocent person. As if it were not enough, grandmother Dumbledore run havoc. Again, it was somehow explained as a blunder. An incompetent wizard spelt an oath incorrectly, the oath misfired, it happens…
And what if… If Vulfric had not been mad and incompetent. What if the oaths, though far from perfection, had recognised their target correctly? Maybe it was neither Ludwiga nor Joyce who had been aimed at.
Dragging his feet, Gellert went into the bathroom and regarded his face in the mirror. He looked like a sick banshee: paler than usual, with black rings around the eyes, dry and chapped, bleeding lips. He stared in his own eyes, trying to find out what scared Vulfric that badly.
`I will never turn into a homicidal maniac,` he stated firmly.
Still, has anyone of the Dark Ones ever wanted… planned that? But, on the other hand, can you simply break bad by chance? Mad, sure. The brain, like any other organ, may malfunction. Magically mad, as well, like the poor Obscuri.
But can you really turn into someone like tsar Peter simply like that? Peter was hellbent on changing the world, no matter the cost. Peter craved power and dreamed of revenge and got both.
But how come he become hellbent? Where had been his dream of an empire born?
Gellert sighed heavily and came back into the room.
`Oh, here you are,` Ottmar greeted him joyfully, `I just passed by to see how you`re both doing.`
Gellert wanted to reply but squeaked like a frog that had been stepped upon.
`The Healers gave me something for you,` Ottmar patted his shoulder, `Drink it.`
Gellert gulped the glibbery potion down. `Thanks, `he croaked, `Who told you…`
`You must be blind and deaf not to know how your brother tricked the whole MACUSA out,` smiled Ottmar, `Well, honestly, he jinxed a hornet nest… But let him sleep, Gellert. Let`s go out, we can talk as well in the garden. It`s nice outside.
Indeed, the rainy cloud were gone. The soaked ground was steaming under the sun.
`Cold,` stammered Gellert, wrapping his cloak tighter and putting the hood on his head.
`Everyone is running around like a drunk Bludger,` started Ottmar, `So I thought I take a look how you`re doing… My father protested a bit but ceded in the end. You know, he had jinxed my boots so that I cannot go where you are! He thought friendship with your father would not serve me well… And it somehow transferred on you. But he had to revoke the jinx…`
`You knew my Dad?``
`He was my favourite cousin,` explained Ottmar, `He was like an older brother to me. And then… then…`
`He got killed.`
Ottmar sighed, `My father feared I would try to revenge him, and get in trouble… I mean, he was not clear what he was really afraid of, but wanted me to stay away from you. But now, he had to cede. So I am here.`
Gellert sat down on a low stone wall.
`Tell me more about my father, `he asked.
Using the nice weather, the countess Sidonia von Hexen-Eimal-Eins decided to take her tea outside. Henning and Bibi, dressed up to the nines, were looking around curiously. They have never seen the countess` garden before. Hardly anyone from town have ever crossed the gate in the high stone wall.
`Nice, isn`t it?` asked the old lady quietly.
`I have never seen such flowers and such butterflies before, madam,` replied Henning courteously.
`Well, it is not a regular garden, ` she replied, smiling, `Take your seats, children.`
Bibi stared at the ground, too shy to sit in the presence of a real lady.
`Come on, sweetheart, ` the countess encouraged her, `Your chair has a pillow in your favourite colour, just look!`
`How come she knows that?` wondered Henning.
He pulled the chair out for the countess, helped Bibi to climb on hers and finally took a seat himself. He also felt not at ease. Father told them the countess considers them talented and wanted to finance their schooling – this is why she had invited them. Still, Henning felt completely out of place. His family wasn`t poor: they lived in a nice house and ate meat for lunch every Sunday… And father possessed a horse. Yet there was an unbridgeable gap between them and the countess. Such ladies were like stars: you could see them sometimes, yet they were infinitely far away…
`As I have already told you, Helmut,` the countess addressed Mr Gott, `Birgit and Henning are exceptionally talented. They were born with a precious gift… And they should use it wisely.`
`Yes, they are bright and hardworking,` nodded Mr Gott with a proud smile, `But the gift you mentioned, madam…`
`Let me show you,` she smiled standing up.
`Oh my God,` that was all Mr Gott managed to say.
Where an elegant lady had stood, a horse appeared. A winged horse. The steed looked at them, neighed loud and turned into a human again.
`This is their gift,` explained the countess calmly, `The true magic. Real. True. No fooling around with magnetism, spirits or whatever the bored wives of rich men kill their time with.`
Muggles reacted differently, having been demonstrated magic. Some stuck in denial, refusing to trust their own eyes. Some called for a priest to chase the evil away. Others had a fit of rage. Some got even violent. Some panicked or burst into tears. In a nutshell, few digested the news calmly and reasonably. The countess was then surprised seeing how quickly Mr Gott regained his composure. Well, he was an experienced officer after all…
`Now I understand,` he said quietly, `I think I have seen that before.`
`Really?` wondered the countess, `It is a rare skill. Most magic schools don`t teach the art of Animagia.`
`Once,` he explained, `Our colonel came to us on a gorgeous sorrel. And then the horse somehow disappeared… While the colonel`s adjutant appeared out of nowhere. No one had seen him arriving. And once, in Africa… I accompanied a general on safari. In Cairo a hotel boy warned us of a thief who turns into a parrot. We laughed but I have seen with my very eyes a giant, red bird entering a hotel room through the open window. And then an opera diva could not find her jewels.`
`That could be Animagi,` nodded the countess, `It is forbidden to meddle with affairs of the Muggles, that is non-magical people, but not everyone is law-abiding.`
There were always many questions to answer, in particular, regarding education.
`So, Madam, those children… magical children, have to go to school?` enquired Mr Gott.
`Magical education for several years is a must,` nodded the countess, `Otherwise, magic gets out of control which poses a danger for the child any everyone around. Till now, I organised schooling in our region. But my relative, Ludwiga von Bayern, opens a school at Neuschwanstein. This is the closest school where children of Muggles can receive high-quality education.`
`You suggest… Not all schools let children like mine in, madam?`
`Oh, some function like those famous British boarding schools… Like Eton, maybe you have heard about it, Helmut. There, it is the bloodline that matters most. And the wallet in the second place.`
`I assume children of us, regular folk, are not considered royal in your world.`
`No, they aren`t, though their social standing changes from place to place.`
`And as to fees…`
`Ludwiga does not charge the parents. It is the matter of public safety, after all, Helmut. She will be a wise and caring Headmistress… But be informed she does not share Muggle… mentality and prejudices.`
`I am not a democrat,` replied Helmut, `But I have never let my children bully those who were born lower than us.`
„Einmaleins", literally „one times one" is the times table children learn at school. "Hexen-Einmal-Eins", i.e. the multiplication table of witches I stole from "Faust".