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Chapter 1 : Prologue: Nearly snatched
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1947, the south east of France
The couple was running as fast as they could, making their way through the garrigue. The low hard bushes made their advance complicated, much more than the slight wound on the man’s side or the weight of the baby the woman was worrying in her arms. The man had his wand at the ready, knowing that they were surely on their trail. They had escaped the little cabin that had been their refuge for three days at the first sign of intruders, but he couldn’t hope not leaving a trail after the little skirmish that had ensued.
Where was the help he had been promised?
Michel was urging his wife to keep up, thinking of his uncle's letter, telling him that help was on the way. But so far, he had seen no sign of it.
His wound made his steps a little unsteady and he tripped on an exposed root, catching himself roughly on the hands. Thankfully, his wand was intact. He got back on his feet. Annie, his wife, saw that he had fallen and was about to go back to help him, but he urged her to go on.
“I'm fine, keep going!” he said.
“I can't leave you behind, love,” she protested.
“Don't slow down,” he told her, catching up with her. “We can't let them catch us.”
“But why are they after us?” asked Annie.
“I don't know, love,” said Michel. “I just don't know.”
They had started to stalk Michel and his wife a few months ago. At first, Michel had thought that they were supporters of Grindelwald, that would refuse defeat. But it didn't seem that way. They had moved homes, but that hadn't been enough. They had gone into hiding, but that hadn't been enough. Now they were on the run, having left Paris, but as far as Provence, they had found their trail.
Michel didn't know what they wanted, but he had received a letter, from his distant uncle Jérôme, warning him. Michel's family was old, he knew that, and so they were spread across the whole of France, keeping distant contacts. Jérôme was an elderly patriarch, living somewhere in Brittany, some kind of legend for his family. Michel had to have met him twice in his thirty years of life. But now, the old man had written, telling him to be on his guards and to watch out for his son!
Annie had been shocked to hear that. Michel felt sorry for dragging his love into such a nightmare. Annie was a muggle, the most beautiful being in the world, in his eyes. She hadn't asked for any of this, an yet she endured everything with patience and unwavering love for him and her son. But tonight, this was maybe the end of the road for them. Michel had a dreadful feeling about this night.
A sinister whistling sound echoed behind him and he was pushed by a sudden wind. Around them, silhouettes started to appear. Annie screamed in terror. There were three of them, all dressed in the same hooded robes. Their faces were hidden in the darkness that was surrounding them. All had wands. Michel tried his best to place himself between Annie and them, but more whistling sounds told him that he was surrounded. He made a quick turn on himself, and saw five attackers.
“What do you want with us!” screamed Michel.
Only silence met his enraged question. They only raised their wands.
He was trapped. He stood no chance. He was a wizard, but not a fighter. How could he face five wizards on his own. He was decided to give his best, though. They wouldn't get his son without a fight.
But before the silent attackers could attack, there was a sudden crack echoing in the air. A flash of light and suddenly, Michel was surrounded by three silhouettes. If the attackers that had caught him were all dressed alike, one couldn't have thought of a trio of people that looked as different from each other as those three.
One had a stocky build, an iron grey beard that seemed to have been carved out of metal by a sculptor. He was dressed in monk robes and carried a wooden staff.
Another was young, his hair cut short. His face wore no trace of a beard, and he had a nose that evoked the beak of an eagle. His wand was emitting sparks as he faced the hooded silhouettes. He wore trousers and a coat that muggles used to wear in the nineteenth century like it was the latest fashion.
The last one was the tallest and he had a long auburn beard that was streaked in white. His blue eyes seemed to sparkle over half moon glasses. His robes were in clear colours and his hair flowed freely over his shoulders. He had a slightly crooked nose and seemed to be leading the three wizards. All of them had positioned in a defensive stance around Michel, Annie and their baby.
More whistling sounds told Michel that the enemy had gotten reinforcements. It didn't seem to faze any of the three. The stockier even smiled.
“So what do you reckon, old friend?” he asked the taller one, in English, which Michel spoke, luckily.
“The odds seem to have jumped to five to one,” said the taller one, serenely.
“Should we offer them to surrender, then, Albus?” asked the man with the staff.
“After all the trouble they went through to find them? That would be just rude,” chuckled the youngest.
The hooded wizards stepped forward, aiming their wands.
“Will this kind of people ever learn?” asked the stocky one with a staff.
“I doubt it. Time to teach them a lesson, then,” said the man called ‘Albus’.
“Ha! Always the teacher, Albus, my friend,” scoffed the youngest one.
“You may laugh all you want, you should consider it someday, Aldwyn,” retorted Albus, kindly. “You might even find that you like the idea.”
Without any hesitation, he suddenly darted his wand at one of the attackers.
“Stupefy!” he shouted.
The battle began immediately. Michel did his best to cover his family from stray curses and saw that the three unknown men that had come to his aid were highly skilled wizards. Not only did they hold their own against the troop, but they were causing serious damage among them. Michel saw an opening and cast a stunning spell at one of the hooded wizards, who was caught off guard. He flew against a rock nearby and fell roughly among the dry plants.
“Nice shot, Michel!” the youngest one congratulated him, in French.
“How do you know my name?!!” asked Michel.
“Hold on,” said the man, blocking three spells, disarming his opponent and stunning him in a few moves. “There! We were sent to help you,” he said, as if he had been interrupted by nothing more than a slight problem.
The battle was still raging on, but Michel was suddenly tied between relief and defiance.
“And I'm supposed to trust you?” he asked.
“In your situation,” said the man called Albus, “I find your caution wise and certainly adequate. But I think explanation will have to wait until we clear the field.
“Albus, if you would be so kind,” said the stockier one, who waved his staff and stunned three wizards with one blow.
The taller wizard suddenly waved his wand in a large circle and a furious wind rose, going in circle around them, and the air seemed to catch fire! A huge firestorm was now attacking the hooded wizards, who tried to fight it for a few seconds, before to suddenly start to apparate very quickly, taking their defeated comrades with them. Soon, the fire wind receded and Michel realised that the field had been emptied. Only he and his family remained, facing the three wizards.
“Who are you?” he asked, keeping his wand ready.
The man named Albus nodded for the youngest, who produced a ring. He held it out for Michel to see. Michel knew it at once. It was his uncle's signet ring! He was astonished to see that his uncle had managed to send help. The timely arrival of these three men had probably saved his life and the life of his family.
“The name is Aldwyn Armstrong,” said the youngest man. “Me and my friends were staying somewhere in Brittany when we heard from your uncle. He's an old friend of my family. He told us you were hunted by unknown wizards. He asked for our help and here we are.”
“I can't begin to thank you enough for this,” said Michel. “How can I ever repay you?”
“Rewards are most unnecessary,” said the tall wizard. “We need to move quickly to ensure your safety.”
“But how? No matter how far we went, they always caught our trail,” said Annie, who had found her voice again. “Where can we go?”
“Actually, home,” said Armstrong.
“What?” exclaimed Michel. “But...”
“Steps are taken as we speak,” said the tall one. “You need to trust us. Time is of the essence.”
Michel nodded. He turned to Annie.
“Are you alright?” he asked, checking if she had been injured.
“No, I'm fine,” she said. “Who are these people?”
“I have my suspicions,” said Michel, barely over a whisper.
“Suspicions?” noted the tall man, having heard him.
Michel turned to him.
“You're Albus Dumbledore, aren't you?” he said. “The man who defeated Grindelwald.”
The man had a reaction that seemed both to dismiss this fame and admit it at the same time.
“Yep,” said Armstrong. “Not nearly as impressive as the legend says, is he? The big fellow there is Walter Amanio. He insists on tagging along wherever we go. Quite useful, this staff of his, actually, so we let him tag along.”
Michel was stunned.
“Who are these people, Michel?” asked Annie, a little frightened.
“Albus Dumbledore is one of the greatest wizards of our time,” said Michel. “He's just defeated one of the gravest threats of our world.”
“But why would he help us?” she asked.
“As I said, your uncle is a friend of my family,” said Armstrong. “I managed to convince Albus that we could help. Now, we will take you home immediately and place you under protection.”
“How?” asked Michel.
“How what? Taking you home or placing you under protection?” smiled Amanio.
“We will take you home with this,” said Dumbledore, producing a tea cup, that he put on his palm, reversed. “Portkey. Everyone puts a finger on the cup, especially our young friend, here,” he added with a nod to the baby. “What's this fellow's name?”
“Georges,” said Annie. “His name is Georges.”
“A fine choice for a name,” said Dumbledore with a kind smile. “Alright, keep in contact with the cup. One, two, three...”
Michel had travelled by portkey often, but Annie wasn't used to it. The sensation made her stumble at the arrival, but she was caught by the man called Amanio.
“Easy, young lady,” he said. “Let's not shake the baby more than we need to.”
Michel looked around and saw that they were at their uncle's doorstep, at his home near St Malo. He felt so relieved to be somewhere safe that he nearly lost his balance for a moment. Dumbledore caught his hand and helped him steady himself.
“We're nearly there,” said Dumbledore. “Once you're through that door, you will be put under the Fidelius Charm. Do you know what it is?”
Michel nodded. He had learned of that complex charm, which entrusted the secret of their location to one person only, making it nearly impossible to be found by enemies, as long as the Secret Keeper was holding his word. No one in his family was able to perform such magic. He had no doubt that Albus Dumbledore, who was already a legend, could do such thing, though.
“Who would be our Secret Keeper?” asked Michel, after promising to explain everything to his wife later.
“Me,” said Armstrong, smiling. “I doubt anyone will think of coming after me to find out where you are, since no one knows we are even acquainted. You can settle into a different home, but I will keep the secret of your refuge. Should your family ever be threatened again, your true home will be this house and you'll never be found, as long as you stay here.”
“I will never be able to repay that debt,” said Michel.
“There is no debt,” said Dumbledore. “We could help, so we did. That's something I feel should be basic ethics for a wizard.”
“What if someone in our family wants to see us?” asked Michel.
“I'll leave a note for your keeping,” said Armstrong. “Be very careful with it. If you ever need any kind of help with those mysterious wizards, do call to me. An owl may always find me on the road.”
Michel nodded, aware that he was lucky to have found these men on his way, to have met with living legends of his world. He owed his life to them. And yet, as much as he was grateful, after these nights of fear and flight, he hoped that neither he nor anyone in his family would ever have to see any of them again.
2004, the east of Germany
The man took a deep breath. The feeling of the wind in his grey streak beard was wonderful. Finally! After five years, he was able to hit the road again.
Aldwyn Armstrong had never been the kind of man who settled down for that long. Not five years. It had really taken Albus and all his persuasion to convince him to stay at Hogwarts for so long. But the wanderlust had been too strong. Now he was free to travel again.
He had been pleased when his successor had finally admitted that he was ready to take over the Defence against the Dark Arts at the school of witchcraft and wizardry. It had allowed him to leave Hogwarts with no regrets or remorse. And he was back on the road!
He had no clear destination. His plan, right now, was to trek through Europe, maybe go as far as Moscow, to visit Zaitsev. The old coot would be surprised to see him!
As he was planning the next step of his journey, Aldwyn was suddenly interrupted by the arrival of an owl. Curious, at this our. Holding out his fist, Aldwyn invited the bird to perch on his arm and saw that the bird of prey carried a letter... and a ring.
Something in his memory suddenly awoke. Michel... taking the ring, he recognized the signet of the family of that man he had rescued more than fifty years ago, with Abus and Walter. He hurried and opened the letter.
I know you do not know me, but my grandfather Michel talked about you often, when he explained to me the Charm my family has been put under. I have been brought up knowing that we owe you a great deal for our safety. My family has been kept safe thanks to your Magic for years. But I fear that in time, some of us have become reckless. I do not know how it came to be, but some signs tell me that the people who were after us so long ago are again hunting us. They have already tried to take one of my children. We took refuge in the safe haven you provided us, but I still fear for our safety. I do not believe our secret to be broken, but my child is due to go back to school very soon, and if we have been spared by fate, so far, I fear for her every day. I need help to ensure that she is safe without plunging her life into terror.
If I can ask for your help once more, I know that our debt to you will never be paid, but I'm afraid I can't trust anyone but one of the men who selflessly came to my family's rescue, just because it was right.
I won't write down my name or tell you to come to our home. I know that we may be tracked down this way. I will be at the Beaubâtons Academy on the 1st of august. Olympe Maxime has agreed to arrange a meeting, should you accept to help us once more.
Michel Verney's granddaughter
Aldwyn knew that the Fidelius Charm was still in place. And yet, there was a sense of threat that rang in him, as he was reading the letter. Something was coming. He could feel it in his bones. Albus would say that he was getting wise with old age. And Aldwyn would have laughed, usually. But not today.
Well, since he was on the road, already, he might as well see France again. Zaitsev could wait, after all. It's not like a vampire count was pressed by time, right?
He gathered his memories of his destination and apparated. The Relay to find Beaubâtons had always been tricky to find, but he had always managed to find the school starting from a specific rock in the forest of Fontainebleau.
The slight dust of cloud his disappearance had caused slowly settled down, leaving the silence only to be broken by the sharp cry of an eagle in the distance.Where was the help he had been promised?
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