Chapter 1 : Swan Lake School of Magic
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Percy Weasley was really sweating this appointment. Literally. He'd been climbing the steep path full of tourists for at least 20 minutes now. All there was to show for it was a forest of trees that went on endlessly and the infinite clicking of cameras. Were evergreens truly that interesting?
The trek upwards continued on relentlessly, causing Percy to feel a stitch in his side. His breath was labored and he immediately noticed that the air was thinner than it had been at the bottom of the mountain. Why, oh why , did his first assignment following his promotion have to be located at the top of the mountain?
Kingsley Shacklebolt announced to him the other day that he would be responsible for a brand new department in the International Magic Office of Law. Kingsley had expressed to him a need to expand their horizons in the wizarding world beyond Great Britain. The Ministry had received many inquiries in the past years about building a larger network of cooperating schools, but nobody had been willing to take the project under their wing. Kingsley, however, had a vision. To improve the Ministry in Britain, they would need to embrace a more globalized wizarding world. Percy was, in his opinion, the perfect man for the overwhelming task.
Yes, Kingsley had used those exact words, 'the perfect man for the job.' He wasn't even at the appointed location yet and he was overwhelmed; overwhelmed by fatigue and lightheadedness. He stopped, doubling over for a moment to catch his breath. Luckily, it was a nice spring day and the forest protected its inhabitants from the sun. Otherwise, Percy might be complaining of heat exhaustion and sunburn as well.
After he noticed that the horse-pulled carriage was making better time than he was (For Merlin's Sake! Why hadn't he taken that?!) he picked the pace up a little bit. He started to see the foundation of the large castle he was visiting. The locals called it Schloss Neuschwanstein, nestled in the Bavarian Alps on the border between Germany and Austria. Percy didn't know much German, but he had learned 'Schwan' was the German word for swan and he had seen many upon his arrival. He was starting to understand why the school he was visiting was entitled the Swan Lake School of Magical Aptitude. More like the Swan Lake School of Magnificent Altitude, he thought. Percy chuckled at his small joke, not immediately noticing the curve in the path that was approaching.
Percy looked ahead and saw a curve in the path coming. The curve also seemed to meet the edge of the forest, and the sun was pouring in at the clearing. Many hikers, clad in their Birkenstocks and knee-high socks, were pulling out their picnic lunches and taking a break. Percy's stomach growled threateningly, but he had to hike on. Finally approaching the guardrail at the curve, Percy looked through the clearing with widened eyes.
He was so high up. The view was breathtaking. The blue sky with its few wispy clouds went on into eternity and blissfully met the range of majestic mountains where the eye could see no further. The mountains were covered in a layer of deciduous trees that proudly sported their brand new spring leaves. The forest ended as the bottom of the mountain met the green pastures that rolled over the landscape. Across the picturesque landscape you could see the small village where he had started his trek, decorated with what now looked like cozy little doll houses. Visitors and locals alike dined outside under big red umbrellas and enjoyed the spring weather. A majestic lake to the side of the mountain where the castle was perched was filled with water as blue as the heavens, and it seemed to pull the whole beautiful landscape together in harmony. Percy was sure he could even see the swans, swimming regally in the water, as if it had belonged to them since the beginning of time. "Wow…" was the only thing that escaped his mouth as he stared in awe at his surroundings.
"You, like all of our students and colleagues, have discovered za beauty of our vunderful school, or?" A man dressed in Lederhosen and a felt hat was suddenly standing next to him, addressing him in a very thick German accent.
"Excuse me?" Percy turned and took in the vision of the man standing beside him. He was not so old, perhaps in his early 50's, though age was very deceiving in the wizarding world. His Lederhosen revealed strong, muscular legs, tanned by frequent time spent outside. His face was pleasant, but weathered and covered in light stubble that hinted a blackish-gray hair color. He had green-brown eyes… eyes that looked of nature and forest.
"I am sorry; I didn't mean to startle you. My name is Wolfgang von Clausen. I am za Headmaster of Swan Lake School of Magical Aptitude." He extended a strong and rather tan arm to shake hands with Percy.
Percy was suddenly aware of how much time he had spent in an office. His arm looked so incredibly scrawny and pale in comparison to this mountain man he was about to accompany.
Percy finally shook his hand, trying not to wince at the powerful handshake. "Yes, I suppose I stick out here like a sore thumb. I'm Percy Weasley, from the International Magic Office of Law out of London. I'm representing Kingsley Shackleboat's administration."
"Ja, a gut friend, Kingsley is," replied Wolfgang, clapping Percy jovially on the shoulder. He started to walk again, signaling for Percy to follow him. "He speaks very highly of you."
"Ahh," was all that Percy could think of replying as he continued following Wolfgang up the mountain path. It was awkward for him how much like night and day they were. Percy decided he probably looked ridiculous with his stiff and awkward upward steps and his hands clasped so rigidly behind his back. He tried to loosen up and mimic the large powerful steps of Wolfgang and his swinging arms that he used as momentum to trek upwards.
"A few more trips up this mountain and you vill do it in your sleep. I promise you!" He laughed loudly and jovially. "Just a bit furzer, Mr. Veasley."
The forest cleared and the path evened out as they reached the top of the mountain. Percy was shocked at how many tourists were around. He couldn't fathom that a school of Magic could actually function so well in such close proximity to Muggles.
"I know vut you are sinking, Mr. Veasley. You are sinking how ve can possibly do zis and still follow ze rules, ja?" He smiled smugly, looking at his speechless and flustering visitor. Percy was itching to pull out a quill and start taking notes. He felt like a prefect ready to write up a report on students out of bed at night. Why did he have such a bad feeling all of a sudden?
Sensing Percy's continued uneasiness, Wolfgang continued, "I'm sure zat Kingsley chose you for your open mind. Zat is what international cooperation is all about, or? Ve have vorked very, very hard to open ze minds of ze vizarding vorld. You shall see vat I mean."
They finally approached a (level, thank Merlin) courtyard of sorts at the foot of the castle that had been transformed into an organized system of letting the tourists in to tour the castle. Percy was moved to his very core at how organized and uniform the system seemed to work. It was absolutely beautiful. There were 3 or 4 different queue lines, all with an electronic sign hanging above them. Guests were separated into tour groups, each group having a number designated to them. The electronic signs would then be illuminated with a group number, signifying them to get in line and wait for their tour to begin.
"Impressive, ja? My Muggle Studies students have vunderful ideas to promote the cooperation of our two organizations."
"Your students are responsible for this structure?" Percy asked with raised eyebrows.
"Ja, zey are responsible for many vunderful ideas. Let's go furzer." Wolfgang walked through the crowd and towards an alternative queue sign that seemed to be neglected. The sign above its entrance wasn't illuminated. They shuffled together along the queue's path, guided slowly into the depths of castle by the metal barriers. Percy noticed that this path didn't go in the directions of where the tourists went, though he could hear their voices in soft echoes as they twisted and turned through the stone labyrinth before them. Percy noticed the floor was covered with a plush red carpet and the torches that lit the way, though very decorative, were very beautiful. Perhaps there was more here than simple ornamental decoration.
Soon the two men were climbing yet again; this time it was flight of spiraling stairs. They were clearly going up one of the turrets in a wing in the castle. This didn't surprise Percy, as he was sure it had many wings, even if it was not so great in size as Hogwarts.
They reached the top of the stairs which opened up into a grand and magnificent entrance hall. The floors were tiled in a beautiful swan mosaic, presenting the crest of the school. The walls were covered in fine carved wood, and tapestries with crests tastefully adorned the walls. Statues of pure gold were distributed about the room but surprisingly did not make the room look any gaudier. Wolfgang smiled as Percy looked around, noticing he looked visually pleased. Hogwarts was beautiful in its own right, but it was not so elegant and richly adorned as this school apparently was.
"You like our castle, Mr. Veasley? Please, I can give you ze tour later. I vant to have you in my study first for a beer."
Percy thought he had heard incorrectly. "Excuse me? A what?"
"A beer, Mr. Veasley. I am avare zat you come from a land zat is more accustomed to tea time, but you cannot come to Deutschland, especially Bavaria, and not try ze beer. Did Kingsley not tell you about his last visit?" Percy felt himself blush a little bit. Kingsley had mentioned something about beer and getting severely inebriated, but he had thought Kingsley was joking. Obviously not. "If you vill follow me, please?"
Percy followed Wolfgang once again up another flight of spiral stairs, though this particular staircase was much narrower and unprotected. He realized they were going up to the headmaster's quarters. Like at Hogwarts, pictures of previous headmasters decorated the walls on their way up, though there were fewer pictures than Percy had expected. The school was much younger than Hogwarts, apparently.
They reached the top of the stairs into an office space that was decorated just as beautifully as the entrance hall. Percy had a feeling this would be a theme throughout the rooms of the school.
Wolfgang walked towards the overwhelming centerpiece in the room; an ornately carved fireplace. Above it ticked an antique clock slowly. He started a low fire and gestured for Percy to sit in one of the aged leather chairs by the fire.
"If it is too varm, please tell me. But first, a beer for you to quench your sirst." He set down a very beautiful looking pewter beer stein with the school's crest carved in it before Percy and mentioned, "Zis is a beer from the brewery at the foot of the mountain. I don't even sink the best magic could do what the Muggles have done for ze beer world. The stein is for you, a present for you and for a happy memory of your trip."
Percy flushed, feeling extremely embarrassed that he had nothing to offer. "Oh my, thank you very much, Headmaster von Klausen."
"Please, please. Mr. Klausen is too formal for me. I prefer Vulfgang." He smiled and took a seat across from Percy. "I know you have many questions and I am ready and happy to answer zem all." He put his hands together in his lap in a gesture that was open and welcoming.
Percy hadn't expected this to move so quickly and was in the middle of taking a sip from the heavy beer stein. He hastily sat it back down to shuffle through his bag for his wand and quill. "Wow," started Percy nervously, trying to elicit some small talk, "That does taste quite good." Once he found his wand he stammered a few Accio spells out and finally had the items he was looking for situated in his lap.
"Zer is no need to feel rushed, Mr. Veasley. I have all ze time in ze vorld for you today." He smiled and waited patiently for Percy to begin, also taking a sip from his beer as well.
Percy looked ridiculously prim and proper in the manner that he straightened himself and the items on his lap to prepare for the interview. He had his travelling quill with him that distributed ink of its own accord. "So I am bursting with questions, actually," was Percy's first attempt at beginning.
His eyes scanned down the piece of parchment he had prepared for this visit, looking for the best method of starting this, in his opinion, rather unorthodox meeting. "I suppose my first question would be to gather some more information about how the school has come to be. I mean, it's obvious this castle is a landmark in this area."
"Ja, it is," replied Wolfgang, genially and openly. "Ve began our school as soon as ze majority of construction was finished on this vunderful castle. Ze school vas constructed by our most generous benefactor, King Ludvig."
"You mean the castle was constructed by 'Crazy King Ludwig'. The locals are so affectionate to him." Percy's voice was dripping with sarcasm. He had read some of the material about this King in the tourist shops at the foot of the castle.
Wolfgang laughed heartily. "Yes, ze locals do refer to him as being 'crazy'. I suppose from zer point of view, it is so. King Ludvig spent almost all of Bavaria's money building this masterpiece of a castle. As you can see, it has been very ornately furnished.” It was indeed hard not to notice.
"What kind of background did this King have?" Percy was starting to scratch away fervently, taking very detailed notes.
"King Ludvig grew up in ze smaller castle zat you might have seen in ze village below called Hohenschwangau. He led a privileged and royal life. He vas akcentrik and because of zis he vas attracted to akcentrik sings. Ven he finally vas crowned, he truly explored his akcentrik desires and met many interesting people. He vas a great admirer of Richard Vagner, ze famous opera composer, who helped feed his love of ze fantasy vorld. Zis vonderful castle is ze embodiment of his visions. It attracted our school's founder and to make a very long story short, Ludvig was also intrigued by our founder. Zey vere business partners."
"Aha," acknowledged Percy, fascinated. He had filled up a good portion of his current scroll and began rolling more out to make space. He continued, "Was there any wizarding blood in King Ludwig's family?"
"Ve have researched zis question quite a bit. Ve have not found any evidence…but ve are sure zat King Ludvig loved being exposed to ze world and zat it fascinated him. Zat is vhy he built part of zis castle for us. He vanted zis vunderful vorld of magic to be alive forever."
Percy had stopped scribbling and was staring at Wolfgang in a manner that was very taken aback. "You mean to tell me this entire castle and school has come up about due to the generosity of a Muggle?!"
"Ja. And it has been running strong, if not better, ever since. Zo, I must say, King Ludwig didn't make many friends ven he built zis castle. He finished only about 15 of ze 200 rooms in ze castle, and spent a very nice sum doing it too." Wolfgang almost looked smug. Percy stared at his host's self-satisfied face blankly for a moment and then returned to scratching away on parchment. Staring for too long was rude, after all.
"Well then, now that I know a little bit more about the history of your school's founding, I would be interested in knowing how the system here is structured. In terms of staff, the students, curriculum, costs, and so on."
"Let me see. Ver shall I start? Coming from such royalty, Ludvig vanted to provide only ze best for ze students. He utilized ze many other empty rooms in ze castle for ze school, but it did come at a cost. At ze beginning zis vas a very expensive private school, but we have since cut ze costs." Wolfgang drained his beer and then muttered a strange spell in his native German. The brew erupted from his wand suddenly and filled his beer stein once again. He offered it to Percy, who shook his head. His stein wasn't even empty yet. Besides that, shaking his head was a bad mistake; most of the alcohol seemed to be perilously floating about inside, giving him the sensation of floating and vertigo.
"How did you eventually end up cutting those costs, and what has it done for the modern-day financing of your school?"
"Vell, ve have cut zese costs sru ze tourism. Ludwig spent an enormous amount of money building ze castle. Ze beautiful location is like a magnet, zo. Ve realized ve could vin more students and provide a better education if ve utilized our resources. Who knew Muggles enjoyed going on castle tours so much? Ve started giving tours in ze 15 furnished rooms that Ludvig started, vile keeping our school a secret. Vis a castle so big as zis, it vasn't hard, though. Our success has allowed for all students of our school, who are accepted of course, to attend here for free."
Percy came to a somewhat stunning realization that had his current gulp of beer suddenly going down the wrong tube. "You mean to tell me that Muggles have almost single-handedly funded this school and its students?!" he choked out.
"Somevat unknowingly, of course, Mr. Veasley. But ja, you could say it like that." The indifferent tone of Wolfgang's voice led Percy to believe that this wasn't a very big deal for Wolfgang. "Beautiful castle, beautiful location, an intriguing story of a, as you put it, 'crazy' King. Vat more can one ask for? Ve simply met our niche," finished Wolfgang with a chuckle.
Percy was shaking his head almost in disbelief as he continued writing his notes. Schools had been funded in many ways before, but never directly through Muggles. What a fascinating concept! Percy's mind was racing and he blurted out his next thought. "Yes, Wolfgang, you mentioned 'acceptance' into your school. How does one go about being a student at Swan Lake School of Magic?"
"Very gut question, Mr. Veasley. Ja, zis is vere ve differ in school systems so greatly, perhaps. Ve do not accept every student of magical ability. I vuld love to do zis, but it is simply not possible to do zis and maintain a high quality standard here." Wolfgang actually did look a bit remorseful at this, and presented Percy with a somewhat guilty look.
Percy, not wanting Wolfgang to feel attacked assured him it was not his goal to make any accusations. "I'm just collecting standard information that the Ministry in London wishes to consider before making connections with schools. So, Wolfgang, could you please tell me about the criteria to be accepted here? Or maybe the capacity that your school can hold?"
Wolfgang nodded as if nothing awkward had happened and suddenly stood. "I sink it is about dinner time and ze cook has made traditional Bavarian food for tonight. Have you ever had our traditional vite sausage?" Percy shook his head. "Vell zen, it is about time. Do not sink I am ignoring your question, I sink it is better to explain ven you see ze students yourself."
Percy found himself following Wolfgang once again down winding towers, confusingly elegant halls and through various chambers that were extremely pleasing to the eye. There were echoes of voices to be heard from every crevice, but he couldn't quite tell if they were from the tourists or from the students. As they walked, Percy continued to question Wolfgang, somewhat breathlessly, "Wolfgang, I realize the castle is large, but don't you still run risks of Muggle infiltration?"
"Ze risk has always been zere, but ve have never had a problem. Really. Ve have many of ze same spells as you do, I imagine, zat keep the Muggles out of places vere zey do not belong. It is not so complicated, Mr. Veasley."
Percy nodded and was swiftly cut to the quick as they entered this castle's dining hall. Hogwarts' Great Hall was rustic and grand, but it was nothing compared to the splendor and pure stateliness of this hall. It was not bigger; in fact, it was a modest size only, but this didn't matter. The walls, the floors and the pillars were finished in a gorgeous white-gray marble stone. The trim was plated in pure gold, which corresponded with the magnificent gold leafing details to be found on chairs and tables, even down to the plates and silverware. The ceiling was breathtaking. It wasn't enchanted by magic, but instead by a beautifully painted mural of the heavens and their many gods. Percy had never been to the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, but wondered if this ceiling might indeed rival it. There were six long tables and a head table that tied the look of the room harmoniously together. Wolfgang made his way with Percy towards the head table.
At this point, Percy was intrigued by the students. They all wore the same simple uniform. Dark dress pants or a knee-length skirt and a simple polo shirt, embroidered with the school's swan logo. Some wore leather belts to hold their magical accessories (wands, quills, basic potion equipment) and others carried leather satchels around with them. Even these accessories were clearly provided by the school, proudly boasting its embroidered logo. Percy was shocked to see so many students eating and simultaneously devoting themselves deeply to their studies. The students who sat amongst friends spoke quietly and respectfully and did not make a spectacle of staring at Percy as he walked by. He felt a little dejected, honestly. At Hogwarts, the visit of a strange guest always drew some kind of attention.
Percy was soon situated at the head table with Wolfgang and had a hearty plate of sausages in front of him. The better to digest the umpteen liters of beer I've drained, he thought.
Wolfgang began speaking once again, his mouth full of sausages. "I vas at Hogwarts many years ago to visit and very much enjoyed your Great Hall. I must confess, it inspired me a bit and we have rearranged some since our first years here. The only difference is zat I haven't designated 'houses', as you call zem, to tables."
"Do you have houses at all?" mumbled Percy, through a mouth full of delicious sausage and homemade German potato salad.
"Ve do not have houses. Our school prides itself on academics and prepares it students directly after graduation for a career. Our school has a 90% success rate in producing ze highest quality vitches and vizards in ze area," replied Wolfgang proudly.
Percy then countered, asking curiously, "Well, how do you organize the academics here? I mean, for example, we have set curriculum at Hogwarts, but planning classes was always arranged based on the groups within the houses."
"Ja, ja, I understand," responded Wolfgang, "but ve celebrate our students based on zere curriculum and not on zere houses. Zis is a very unique school that prepares its students to enter a specialized job directly after graduation."
Percy was intrigued and implored with him to elaborate. Wolfgang obliged. "Ja, vell, instead of everyone doing ze same curriculum each year, our students choose a study 'direction'. Ve have developed six different curriculums throughout ze years. Ve have programs for Magical Law, Medicine, Magical History, Philosophy, Ethics of Magic, and our newest program is a specialization in Muggle Studies. My Muggle Studies students have done a great job developing ze tourist program here at Neuschwanstein, haven't zey?" Wolfgang chomped away at his food, taking a deep swig from his stein, waiting for a reaction from Percy.
Percy pondered what to say and then surmised, "I think it sounds quite amazing. I can only speak of my experience from Hogwarts and that helps with career training first when the student starts with their OWLs. To start from the first year, though, is not a bad idea. Do the students who focus in Muggle Studies, however, get all the perspectives of magic that someone studying Healing might?"
"Ja, of course. Somebody vorking in Muggle Studies vill take a similar class to zat of a healer, but ze area of study vill be more focused towards ze Muggle vorld. Many of ze courses and programs are interdependent of one another. I must also say ve have vorld class professors, all experts in their field. I even have a vaiting list of Professors patiently biding zeir time for others to retire," informed Wolfgang. He had cleared his plate at this point and was sitting back in his chair, his eyes scanning the room and observing his students.
Percy's hand was starting to cramp as he continued scribbling away. He had filled a few good meters of parchment out in his report and was starting to feel full, sleepy, and dizzy. He had a feeling he had ingested much more beer than he had ever intended.
"Are you feeling OK, Mr. Veasley? You are looking a bit pale. Too much information for you today?"
"Perhaps high altitude and alcoholic beverages haven't been of much help."
"You shall stay here in ze castle tonight and rest before your return. I sink you have ze information you've came for?" Wolfgang only smiled.
Percy, who was a bit clammy at this point, scanned his notes and nodded. The nodding only served to make the room start spinning, and before he knew it, everything went black.
Percy awoke to the chirping of birds and a light breeze hitting his face softly. His head was pounding and his stomach still felt full from the dinner he had eaten. Speaking of dinner, the last thing he remembered was being in the great hall, eating dinner. Had he actually passed out in this elegant school in front of all those students? How embarrassing. He was completely disoriented. He looked toward the window where the curtains were drawn and couldn't quite tell if the sun was coming up or going down.
He looked around hastily for his notes, suddenly feeling like this was a joke. His notes, completely intact, had been placed neatly on the bed-side table next to a glass of water and a potion labeled "Anti-Blue".
"Anti-Blue?" murmured Percy. "What is this?"
A deep voice pleasantly returned, "Blau or 'blue' as the Germans call it, is another word for having a hangover. I see you've had a truly impressionable first visit, Percy."
Percy laid back into the fluffy down-feather pillows, a few small feathers flying out and settling to the ground in slow, languid movements. He didn't need to be sitting up to know whose voice it was speaking to him. "Why do I have the feeling you've sent me here for more than just research purposes?"
Kingsley chuckled deeply. "You don't miss a beat, Percy. Not even in that report you wrote. Excellent job, by the way."
"Do you think this school is made of something that we don't have?" Percy asked, though every word he mumbled made his head throb.
"Of course it's made of something we don't have. It's in a different country. That's the point, though, Percy. The Wizarding world is not just in Britain. Frankly, I think that's part of the problem we've had for years. Be honest, Percy. Did you feel comfortable every second of your stay here?
Kingsley stood up and opened up the drapes, letting the bright light in. Percy winced as he answered, "I felt welcome, but no, not comfortable."
"Why do you think that is?" Kingsley continued pacing, his hands behind his back.
"Well, we share the common bond of being wizards and witches, but about everything else was done differently."
"Is different so bad?" Kingsley returned to his seat, propping his head up on his fist, staring intently at Percy.
"No. In fact, different was perhaps not such a bad idea in certain areas," acknowledged Percy, feeling like a novice student in the middle of an important lecture.
"There you have it, Percy. I'll be taking your report back to the International Magic Office of Law council for review. I think the council will have a most positive answer for Wolfgang, however. He is a dear friend; I do hope that our relations work out."
"Does that mean I'll be coming back?" croaked Percy, not entirely able to hide the excitement in his voice.
"Yes, it does mean that. I'm not saying it won't be a challenge. Nothing great was ever easy. We should have all learned our lesson by now, especially after what happened." The illusion to the war was something that nobody would probably ever forget.
"I agree," assured Percy, sitting up slowly, looking out of the window into the valley deep below. The tourists were creeping up towards the castle once again, though they looked like ants from far up in the tall turrets of the castle. "Just to be clear though, next time I'm taking the horse-pulled carriage to get up here."
Kingsley chuckled and headed towards the exit so he could freshen up for the journey home. He did, however, mention something quickly and somewhat wisely before he left. "The path downhill is always faster than the journey up, Percy."
The heavy wooden door closed with an echo, and Percy reflected on the door of opportunity and enlightenment that was opened within.