Chapter 15 : The Shield of Grindelwald
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Nothing or a double helping with me...it's been a while since I posted, but this is undoubtedly the longest and most important chapter so far in my story, so I wanted to be sure to get it right. It's also the first chapter I've been forced to rate PG-13. While nothing untoward happens (it's mostly sitting around and talking) some of the thematic elements I felt were a little strong for the confines of the PG rating. You'll see what I mean when you read it, and I think I'll be able to go back to PG for chapter 16. I also submitted a piece to the Writer's Duel that I will be putting up here after the prizes are awarded. It's a very different style for me, but I hope you'll like it. Oh, and this is my first chapter submitted since being moved off the front page. ::sniff:: All good things must come to an end, I suppose. Oh well. Thank you for supporting me in my brief run as a Featured Writer, and good luck to all the new stories up there! And now, without further ado.....
Harry, however, was unable to share his revelation directly with Ron and Hermione, for when he arrived back at the castle the only person standing in the doorway was Tonks, still smeared all over with black hippogriff blood.
“I’m supposed to tell you Ron is saving you a seat at the dinner table,” she said, still sounding a little winded.
“What about you?” Harry asked, walking back with her into the warm light of the entrance hall. Through the double doors, he could hear the laughter of students and the mouthwatering aroma of roast chicken, though he must have been very hungry to find it pleasant over the none-too-appetizing smell of blood coming from Tonks.
‘Well, I’m off duty tonight, so I thought I’d stay for dinner at least. That is, unless you had stuff to do…”
Harry had wanted to discuss Professor Gilbraith with Ron and Hermione, but on the other hand, they couldn’t do anything until tomorrow at the earliest, and besides, it would be nice to see Tonks again. “No, no plans.”
“All right then. I’ll just clean up.” She disappeared down the hall in the direction of the girl’s lavatories.
Harry found Ron at the far end of the Gryffindor table, where he’d staked out four seats with an excellent view of the assembled staff members at the head table above.
“Check out Snape,” he muttered through a mouthful of mashed potatoes.
Harry looked. Snape’s normal expression fell somewhere between “sneer” and “grimace,” but tonight there was little mistaking the sadness on his sharp, oily features. Staring off into the distance and with his food untouched on his plate, he only focused his eyes occasionally, and then only on a point somewhere in the middle of his own House table.
Harry followed his gaze. Ananda was sitting at the Slytherin table, eatring with dinner companions other than the House-elves for the first time in weeks. Next to her were Gabriel, Maria and a few other first years, including (Harry noticed with a jolt) the three boys he’d given detention the first day of classes. She wasn’t speaking much, but he could see her laughing at jokes and nodding whenever someone spoke to her directly. Once, he thought she noticed him staring at her. She ignored him completely and even turned her body so that he was no longer in her line of sight.
“So what did Dumbledore say?” asked a voice, jerking harry away from his reverie and back to his own table. Hermione and Tonks had joined him, both scrubbed clean of blood and grime. Tonks was digging into her roast chicken with a relish Harry had previously only seen in Ron.
“Dissiso gu,” she moaned.
“Hungry, were you?” asked Hermione, smirking a little at Ron’s openmouthed astonishment.
Tonks swallowed. “You have no idea,” she said seriously. “I’ve been working double shifts lately, so I miss Molly’s dinner at headquarters. I’ve had to live off my own cooking for the last two weeks.”
“Wow, are you that bad?” asked Ron, causing Hermione to nearly spit gravy across the whole table.
“It’s a fate worse than Azkaban,” deadpanned Tonks. “The last time I had a dinner party, they had to open up a new wing in St. Mungo’s.
Everyone laughed, and for a while they gave themselves over to discussing subjected conspicuously far from injured hippogriffs, dark wizards, and possible conspiracies. Sitting at the House table in her dark robe, Tonks could nearly pass for a Hogwarts student herself; she was only a few years older than the seventh years.
It seemed like hours later when Tonks finally pushed aside her plate; Ron, Harry and Hermione had long since finished eating themselves. ‘Well, this was wonderful, but I think I had better head back to London,” she said, rubbing her stomach.
Hermione hugged her. “It was really great to see you again!”
“Well, it beats Pot Noodle and the WWN any day of the week. Take care of yourself.”
“If you go to Diagon Alley, say hello to my brothers, will you?” added Ron. Tonks nodded. Without another word, Hermione and Ron walked out of the Great Hall together, leaving Harry standing by himself. He guessed they wouldn’t be much interested in hearing about Dumbledore right now. Suddenly Harry felt a little lonely.
“Do you have to go now?” he asked Tonks plainly.
Taken aback, she said, “Well…no, I guess not. Why? Want to go into Hogsmeade for a pint?”
“Nah, I’d better not,” he said. Snape had left the Great Hall, but Harry didn’t feel it was wise to push his luck twice in one day by going out of bounds when he’d already been caught trespassing in the Slytherin Common Room. ‘I was hoping you’d help me with my broom,” he said. He hadn’t made any headway on the crack in the handle of his father’s Nimbus Five Series since that summer.
“Sure! Wow, wait till I tell the guys at work I got to work on a Five Series…” And with that, she nearly ran out of the Great Hall, all thoughts of butterbeer forgotten.
“All right, now slide the pliers along the joint, right there…easy…easy…got it!”
“Hah!” exulted Harry, throwing down the pliers with a grin of triumph. So much for not breaking rules and being tired; it was nearly one in the morning, and he and Tonks were holed up in Hagrid’s empty veterinary stables under the back of the castle, where they had been steadily repairing the fault in Harry’s father’s broomstick since dinner.
“I think it worked,” said Tonks, coming from behind Harry and surveying their work appreciatively. The patch was a little messy looking, but it was solid; with all the redundant reinforcing Tonks had insisted on, it was probably stronger now than the wood itself.
“Well, I couldn’t have done it without you,” said Harry honestly. “How’d you learn so much about brooms anyway?”
“Are you kidding? I’ve loved brooms since I was a teenager. The first one I ever got was a Silver Arrow C-310 Limited Edition with Tailspin Fletching and Weight-Reduction Core.”
“Wow,” breathed Harry. “How’d you get that?”
Tonks’ grin twisted wryly. “Boxing Day present from Uncle Lucius,” she said. “Typical gesture. My father wanted me to send it back.”
“Are you kidding? It wasn’t the broom’s fault who bought it.” She sighed. “I cried for a week when it broke.”
“How’d it break?” Silver Arrows were legendary brooms known for being nearly indestructible.
“Oh, I, um, well, I wanted to try a Pickhard Maneuver, and I made it halfway through, but I didn’t see the tree.”
Harry winced. The Pickhard Maneuver, which had nabbed Wales the Cup in 1981, was a very flashy but effective ploy used by Chasers. It involved diving straight at the opposing team’s Keeper, forcing him to swerve to avoid a collision, but throwing the Quaffle to another teammate at the last moment and scoring in the least protected hoop. It was known as one of the most dangerous and difficult moves in Quidditch.
“After that…well, I felt that broomsticks and I got along better when I was fixing them, instead of riding them.”
Privately, Harry thought that Tonks might want to come to the same conclusion about motorcycles, but he didn’t voice this opinion. Standing up, he stretched out his back and yawned. His fingers tingled from a sudden increase in circulation. Tonks and he made a good repair team; her encyclopedic knowledge of brooms kept him from having to look something up every five seconds, while his fine motor skills, honed as a Seeker, meant that Tonks never had to worry about her clumsiness getting in the way of delicate work.
“Man, I’m tired,” she said, stretching her arms as well. “I always heard those handle cracks were hard to fix, but that was worse than even I thought.”
“Why do the Nimbus Fives always crack in that place?” Harry had studied the curvature of the handle very carefully, and could find nothing structurally wrong with the wood. In fact, the handle seemed to be a little thicker right there than in the rest of the broom.
“Well, afterburner shock will do that to wood that hasn’t been pressure-treated properly, and they just didn’t have the technology back then.”
“Afterburner shock?” This was new to Harry.
“Please, Harry, don’t tell me you’ve never heard of the Nimbus Afterburner.” When Harry’s face still looked blank behind his square-rimmed glasses, Tonks continued. “It’s what made the company famous! Right,” she said, squatting down and leaning over Harry’s broom, “Look here. When a normal broom flies, the additional weight imparted by back bristles gives a slight natural upward thrust, right?”
“Right.” This was old news to Harry.
“So, most commercial brooms put the Flying Charm in the front of the handle for easy maneuverability, but sports brooms put it down by the socket for added lift. More lift, more speed, but harder to handle. With me so far?”
“Now, the Nimbus One was the first broom to incorporate two Flying Charms; one in the front, one in the socket. You got all the steering control of a front-shaft drive broom, with the power of a rear-shaft drive. It was revolutionary.”
This was all very interesting, but it didn’t answer Harry’s question. “So what’s the afterburner?”
“I’m getting to that. The only drawback to the design was that the two Flying Charms needed to be constantly recalibrated; if they were even out of alignment by the slightest margin, the broom wouldn’t fly. When Pennyfeather took over the company, he tried to find a way to get back to one Flying Charm without sacrificing power or control. That’s when he thought up the handle curve. When you lean over it, it lowers wind resistance, which means you could only have one Flying Charm in the front for steering, but not lose any speed. That was the Nimbus Four.
“The Nimbus Five was supposed to be the fastest and most responsive broom in history, and it is. That’s because he reinstalled the second Flying Charm along with the handle curve, but rather than putting it in the socket, he put it here,” and here she indicated the point in the curve Harry had just repaired, “in the apex. For the most part, you only fly with one Charm active, but for an extra burst of speed, you operate the second Charm.”
“And that’s the Afterburner?”
“Yep. Came out on thirty brooms and it killed three riders in the first six months.”
“Well, all the benefits in steering you get from a front-shaft drive, it negates. If your weight isn’t perfectly balanced along the broom, you’ll lose control. The other thing is all that thrust exerts more power than the curve of the handle can take; you actually have to fight to keep the broom from tipping downward. And it imparts huge strain on the handle—hence the cracking. My guess is the afterburner on this broom was only engaged once. Otherwise, your dad could have broken his neck.”
“They must be able to fix it now.”
“No way. Afterburners are illegal throughout England since they discontinued the Nimbus Six. No one has even worked with the technology in decades.”
Harry looked at his father’s broom. He wondered if the Afterburner still worked; if Tonks was right and it had only been used once, the spell should still be fine. But then, perhaps his Firebolt, with its lighter weight, was faster; he still could not get over his initial impression that the Nimbus Five was a very heavy, clunky broom.
“Anyway,” said Tonks, cutting into his reverie. “Sorry to bore you. Once I get on a roll with brooms I can go on for hours.”
“It’s okay,” said Harry, and it was; it was a great relief to talk about something other than school, Ananda, or Voldemort. “So, do you ever play Quidditch?” he asked.
“I throw around a Quaffle with a few people from the office on weekends, but I’m not much good,” she said. “Nothing like you, I’ve heard you’re brilliant. Maybe I’ll see if I can get a day off and come see your first match. When is it?”
“First week of November,” said Harry. “That would be great if you could come.”
“Well, I’d like to. I never played Quidditch at school here.”
“There were just so many good players from my House in those days, the Hufflepuff team was a legend. Plus, I liked being equipment manager, but that was in the days before Hogwarts had a Flying Professor. The teams had to take care of their brooms themselves.”
Harry barely heard the last few words of Tonk’s sentence, however, so preoccupied was he with her first
revelation. “You were a Hufflepuff?” he said incredulously. “But you’re so brave! I thought for sure you’d be a Gryffindor!”
In the stark shadows of the stables, it was hard to see the expression on Tonk’s face. Horrified, Harry realized what he’d said.
“Oh, I—I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that to sound the way it did...”
“That’s all right. Don’t worry about it.” Tonks’ voice had acquired a clipped, falsely bright tone which let Harry know in no uncertain terms that he had insulted her, even if the phoenix tears had left him in any doubt. “Well, anyway, Harry, I had better head back, I’ve got an early morning tomorrow.”
“No, don’t just leave, I shouldn’t have said—“
“I’m not leaving because of what you said. I just have to get home. But it was good seeing you.”
“Oh, okay…see you then.”
With no additional comments, Tonks walked out the door, leaving him alone in the cold, cavernous stables. Furious with himself, Harry kicked at the stone wall, before collecting his broom and quietly hobbling back up to the dormitories.
“Harry, wake up!”
“Huh?” It was Transfiguration class, and for the third time, Harry had fallen asleep during the middle of Professor McGonagall’s lecture. Luckily, the lesson was about to end, and the only acknowledgement made of his sleepiness was the very severe look McGonagall shot him over her square spectacles as he stumbled out of class.
“Where are you going, Harry?” Ron asked from behind him. Harry turned; Ron and Hermione had stopped by the entrance of the Great Hall.
“Jeez, you’re out of it. Let’s get you some caffeine,” said Ron, pulling him by the satchel strap into the Hall, where similarly exhausted students were queing up for tea.
“But…don’t we have class?”
Hermione rolled her eyes. “It’s break, Harry,” she said, sitting him down with a large cup of very strong, sugary tea in front of him. “What were you doing up so late anyway?”
“Fixing my broom,” he said shortly. He had a feeling Ron and Hermione might make rather a big deal of the fact that he had been doing so under the castle alone with Tonks if he volunteered that information. “What about you?”
“We just did some homework,” said Hermione neutrally. Harry was sure she was keeping back as much information as he was himself.
Ron changed the subject. “I can’t wait for the weekend,” he said. “First Quidditch practice!”
“Really? I was wondering what was taking so long,” said Harry. Ostensibly, Katie Bell was still Gryffindor team captain, but her intense NEWT schedule meant that Ron was planning most of their practices himself. Already he had kept Harry up late into the night on a few other occasions, asking him about the strategies Oliver Wood had used to propel Gryffindor to greatness in the past. Harry wondered what Ron’s coaching style would be like; he already seemed much more confident as a captain then he was as a Keeper.
“Well, remember we have that big essay due, you can’t ignore all your homework for Quidditch,” said Hermione.
“What essay?” asked Ron.
“Oh, come on, Ron, didn’t you pay any attention? Your History of Magic essay.”
Harry started. Ron and Hermione looked at him
“What’s up?” asked Ron.
“I forgot to tell you yesterday. I figured out who it was in Dumbledore’s office two days ago.”
“What? Really? Who?”
“What?” screeched Hermione, causing several other students around her to jump and glance around nervously. Ron shushed her. “Are you sure?” she asked, a bit more quietly.
“Positive,” said Harry. “After you left last night, she asked Dumbledore if the still had an ‘appointment.’ I think he was going to do it again.”
“But, why would she just let Dumbledore hurt her?” asked Ron, who had been brought up to speed on Harry’s unusual Occlumency lesson earlier.
Harry shrugged. “Dunno,” he said. “But we need to find out.”
“How, though?” asked Hermione. “You can hardly just go up to her after class and ask.”
The bell rang. “We have History of Magic now,” said Ron. “Just listen and maybe we can find a reason to talk to her later.”
As it turned out, this wasn’t difficult. The first thing Professor Gilbraith did, after calling roll, was hand back the first essay. Harry, as usual, gave his homework barely a glance as he threw it into his rucksack, but he saw that he had gotten a six out of ten. This was a little lower than he had been expecting, but it was, after all, only September; there was plenty of time to bring it up. Pushing it out of his mind, he pulled out his sheaf of parchment and quill, when Ron elbowed him in the ribs.
“What?” he asked.
In answer, Ron indicated Hermione. She was staring at her essay with a look that was equal parts confusion, terror, and hysteria. Her lower lip was quivering madly and she seemed hardly aware of the room around her.
“Seven out of ten?” Harry heard her mutter incredulously. “Seven out of ten?”
Ron and Harry looked at each other. As far as Harry knew, Hermione had never gotten lower than a nine out of ten on anything since the beginning of their first year. Before he could say anything, however, Professor Gilbraith, clad today in green pants with a green-and-brown jacket, rapped her ruler on the podium to get everyone’s attention. It took a few moments, as the students were all whispering mutinously or staring at their essays; apparently, Hermione and Harry weren’t the only ones surprised by their grades.
“Everyone? Can I have your attention please? Please? Thank you. Now, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, your first essay, a critique of the Epic of Gilgamesh, has been graded. Unfortunately, I have to tell you all I’m rather disappointed with the quality of your responses. For the most part, all you did was restate my original question and follow it with a list of textual citations.”
Parvati Patil raised her hand. “Please, Professor, isn’t that all that’s supposed to be in an essay?”
Professor Gilbraith blinked. “Well, Parvati, put it this way. If you had to read thirty lists of the same lines of poetry, wouldn’t you get bored after a while?”
No one said anything.
“Anyway, I’ve decided to give anyone who wants it an opportunity to replace this grade. The next essay is due on Monday, on the magical background of the Cult of Isis, but I’m pushing it back to Friday. For Monday, you can choose to hand in an additional essay summarizing the career of a famous witch or wizard of your choice. If it’s better than the essay you’ve just gotten back, I’ll discount this grade. But I warn you; this isn’t a softball assignment. I want a clear thesis statement, at least three sources, and no fewer than two rolls of parchment.”
Ernie MacMillan asked, “If the replacement essay is worse than the original, will our grade drop?”
“No,” said Professor Gilbraith, “in that case I’ll let the original grade stand. But if you’re really concerned, you can make an appointment to meet with me after class to discuss your paper.”
“Well, that’s it,” said Harry. “All we have to do is make an appointment and see if we can get her talking.”
“Maybe that’s what you’ll do,” said Ron, “but I don’t think you’ll be able to get Hermione to shut up about grammar and source citing.” And indeed, Harry could see Hermione over Ron’s shoulder frantically checking her homework planner, trying to find the next available time to meet with Professor Gilbraith. With a jolt of shock, Harry contemplated the fact that he might have to take notes for her today.
Hermione did manage to pull herself together enough to pay attention to the lecture, but the moment the bell rang she jumped up as though she had been sitting on a Dr. Filibuster’s No-Heat, Wet-Start Firework. Heading a sizable queue at the front of the room, Harry and Ron watched her make an appointment for the three of them for later that evening, after dinner. They didn’t have time during the day to figure out ways to get her to talk; Hermione said that it was probably best to allow her to steer the course of the conversation so she didn’t get suspicious.
“I booked us an hour,” she said. “That should be more than enough time to figure out what’s wrong with our essays. Oh, and find out why Dumbledore’s casting spells on her too.”
Harry and Ron exchanged significant looks. But, despite Hermione’s optimism, Harry couldn’t help thinking, as they waited outside the door to Gilbraith’s office that evening, that he would have rather had a plan of attack.
Professor Gilbraith opened the door and ushered them all inside. Harry had never been in the History of Magic office before, and was surprised to find it was even larger than the Defense Against the Dark Arts one he visited so often. Surely Professor Binns hadn’t needed this much space? Yet Profesor Gilbraith seemed to be making good use of it; from floor to ceiling the room was filled with books. Harry had only ever seen so many books in the school library before; this was even more than the Room of Requirement used to produce for DA meetings. Hermione stared at the overflowing shelves with a hungry look. Above the books, the walls had more of the maps that covered her classroom, but these seemed to be rarer and more valuable. On her desk was a large selection of quills and fountain pens, as well as an antique metal typewriter and a vase of dried flowers.
“Are there enough chairs in here? Good, sit down. Do you want anything to drink?”
“I’ve got tea, coffee, butterbeer, and Coca-Cola.”
Hermione’s eyes widened. “Real Coca-Cola?”
“Yeah, I know, I get sick of butterbeer after a while too. Here,” she said, reaching under her desk and pulling out two cold glass bottles filled with dark brown liquid, “enjoy. I’ve got plenty more where that came from.”
Hermione popped the cap off her bottle and sipped the Coca-Cola with a look of utter rapture. Ron stared at her.
“I love this stuff,” she said. “And my parents never let me drink it because it rots your teeth.”
Professor Gilbraith said, “Well, come by and have some on occasion. Nights here are very quiet. Anyway, you wanted to discuss the reason I was visiting the Headmaster last night.”
A split second after Ron, Harry, and Hermione all nodded their heads, they realized what Professor Gilbraith had just said. Ron and Hermione stared at her in shock, while Harry tried his best to salvage the situation. “Um, no, that’s not, we wanted to know about the, uh, essay…”
Professor Gilbraith smiled. “I’ve been warned about you three. Anything that even looks like a mystery and you’ll probably know what’s going on within the hour. Frankly, I expected you sooner.”
Ron said, “So, are you going to tell us then?”
Professor Gilbraith laughed so hard Harry was afraid Coca-Cola was going to squirt out her nose. “Subtle, aren’t you, Ron?” She wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her green-and-brown jacket. “But, in all honesty, I can’t tell you anything about it. Apart from the fact that it’s private and concerns things I promised the Headmaster I wouldn’t reveal, I don’t even understand all of it. I have my guesses, but all I know for sure is that Professor Dumbledore needs my help for a project of his.”
“What kind of help?” asked Harry.
“Research, mostly. That and occasionally making use of my contacts overseas.”
Apparently, Professor Gilbraith didn’t know Harry knew about the pain spells. He decided not to tell her, since there was a chance she could pass it along to Dumbledore.
“Anyway, sorry to disappoint you all, but I can still tell you about the essays if you want.” She looked at Ron and Harry. “Do either of you want a drink?”
“I’ll try that Coca-Cola stuff,” said Ron.
Harry nodded as well. When they were all furnished with cold glass bottles, Professor Gilbraith began a long, complex explanation of what had been wrong with their previous essays and what she expected of them if they were to do the make-up one. Privately, Harry thought she was asking a lot; there was a whole bunch of things about sentence structure variation and tonal shifts he wasn’t even sure he understood, let alone would remember when he sat down to write. He wished he had brought a sheet of parchment and a quill to write it all down, but Hermione was following every word with a look of rapt attention; she was better than notes any day of the week.
After what seemed like hours of dissection and advise, Professor Gilbraith finally stopped. “Well, that’s about the size of it,” she said. “Like I told you before, yours weren’t the worst essays in the class by any means. Incidentally, which wizard are you going to write your make-up essays on?”
They looked at each other uncomfortably; none of them had given any real thought to the supposed reason for their visit. Harry spoke first. He had no idea what made him say it; perhaps Professor Gilbraith’s mention of her contacts overseas had reminded him of Cassius Goyle, and the trip Lucius Malfoy took for just that purpose. At any rate, the first wizard that came into Harry’s head was,
Hermione, Ron, and Professor Gilbraith stared at him. Professor Gilbraith steepled her hands.
“Grindelwald, eh? Well, there’s plenty of scholarship on him, no doubt about that, you won’t have any trouble finding sources. In fact, your main problem might be picking one aspect of his life to focus on. Did you have any thoughts as to your thesis yet?”
Harry shook his head.
“Hmm. Perhaps you could consider the transition period between the first and second parts of his career. There’s been plenty of research done on that. Some of it’s spurious, obviously, but you should be able to tell what’s what.”
“What do you mean, first and second parts of his career?” asked Ron.
“Well, just how he went from head of the Research Division of the Zauberbundestag to one of the most evil wizards the world has ever known. I mean, it’s quite a shift.”
“The Zauberbundestag…isn’t that the German Ministry of Magic?” asked Hermione. “You mean to say he started off in government?”
“It’s actually more interesting than that. He started off in science.” The look of distant excitement and the slight deepening of voice that came upon Professor Gilbraith whenever she got really into a story of the past crossed her face.
“At the beginning of his career, Ehrich Shoedel was probably one of the most brilliant scientists in the world, Muggle or Magic. Graduated from Durmstrang top of his class, had a stint with the Verfluchenkorps and spent three years in Prague studying with the best thaumacologists in the world.”
“Thauma whats?” asked Ron
“Thaumacology. It's a very old branch of magical science, a distant cousin of alchemy. It examines the differences between Muggles and Wizards. Almost no one studies it any more.”
“Why?” asked Hermione.
“After its association with the Grindelwald regime, it’s politically anathema. There are still a few people calling themselves thaumacologists wandering around, but they’re either pie-in-the-sky spiritualists or plain bigoted thugs who feel better with a fancy title. It’s a shame really, because no new school of thought has grown up to take its place. And before it got twisted for such horrible ends, it found out some very interesting things.”
“Such as?” prompted Harry.
“Well, the last reputable papers published in the thaumacologic field seemed to indicate that there might actually be no biological differences between Muggle and Wizard at all.”
“How—how could that be? Muggles can’t learn magic,” said Hermione.
“Oh, that’s not what Shoedel thought,” said Professor Gilbraith. “His main theory, called the Shoedel Hypothesis, was that everyone is born Muggle—Pureblood, Halfblood, whatever.”
“But that doesn’t make any sense! Why would magic be passed down through families if that were true?”
“It isn’t always, you know that. Plenty of times, magic springs up in places where it shouldn’t, and sometimes even the oldest Pureblood families produce a Squib offspring.” She leaned forward and picked up a fountain pen from off her desk. “Look here. I’m left-handed, right?”
For the first time, Harry noticed that she was. “Yeah,” he said.
“Well, in a famous paper of his, Shoedel equated magical abilities with left-handedness. For some reason, left-handedness is often passed down through families, but, as near as we can tell, there’s nothing biologically different between left-handed and right-handed people; you can’t, for example, examine a baby’s brain before it can write and tell which hand it’ll favor as it gets older. And other times, left-handed people will just spring up in families with no history of it at all. It’s certainly rarer, but there are even occasions when two left-handed parents will have a right-handed child. Left-handedness and magical ability occur nearly as often in any given population—about five percent of the time. And here’s the crucial part…it’s not a black and white thing. There’s all sorts of different degrees of left-handedness and right-handedness.”
Hermione’s jaw dropped. “And…a left-handed person can learn to use their right hand, and vice versa.”
Professor Gilbraith grinned triumphantly. “Exactly,” she said. “Shoedel’s Hypothesis stated that magical ability was an inherited skill, but the skill itself was mastery over what was, essentially, a learned behavior. Ergo, the only difference between Muggles and Wizards was that Wizards had an easier time using magic.”
Hermione stood and began to pace. “But…but I don’t get it. This hypothesis…in order for it to work, then magic would have to exist independently of the ability to use magic.”
Professor Gilbraith leaned back in her seat, impressed. “Whoa,” she said. “You are quick. It took the Review Board at the Scientific Research division three months to figure that out. But yes, that was one of the implications of the Hypothesis. If Wizards were merely better able to manipulate magic than Muggles, then Magic must be something, some kind of power or force which resided in all people. Shoedel called it the Starkern. Well, once he let that slip, you can guess what happened.”
“What?” asked Ron, a slightly desperate expression on his face as though he were drowning. Harry knew how he felt. Though Hermione seemed to be keeping up all right, Harry was completely lost.
“Well, that was the end of his career. The conservative establishment couldn’t accept that. All his work was suppressed. His name became a byword for a laughingstock. He disappeared completely from public life from about 1927 on.”
“So what happened then? How’d he turn into Grindelwald?” asked Ron.
“And why did they suppress his work?” said Harry before Gilbraith had a chance to respond.
She chose to respond to Harry’s question first. “Well, I should think that was obvious, wouldn’t you? Even today, there’s such unbelievable anti-Muggle prejudice among the Wizarding community, and it was even worse in Germany in the twenties. A lot of the old magical families blamed the Muggle politicians for the collapse of the national economy, which meant they had to be more careful and anonymous than ever before. Even the merest suggestion that magic might be something Muggles could access just as much as they could, given the proper training…well, it caused a scandal. And Shoedel had a lot more than a suggestion. He had a rock-solid theory backed up by some pretty considerable data. If he had been given time, funding and encouragement, who knows what he could have done?”
“How did he become evil?” asked Hermione.
Professor Gilbraith grimaced. “After his name was dragged through the mud, Shoedel disappeared for years, like I said. He started going around to small communities in the Black Forest, places like Hogsmeade where, for one reason or another, magic was more commonplace than in large urban areas. He interviewed people, asking how they first learned to use magic, what they could do. Then reports began coming back to the Zauberbundestag of…experiments. Really bizarre ones. Apparently he had built himself a research station in the middle of the Black Forest and was continuing his work. But his thinking had changed in exile. Now he saw Muggles as…a kind of lapse in evolution. He believed everyone was supposed to be a wizard or witch, and that he could somehow find a way to force Muggles to manipulate magic.”
“How?” asked Ron.
“He observed that many people first discovered their magical powers under situations of emotional or physical stress. He tried to replicate those scenarios and see if Muggles could break through the wall and access magic.”
“Did it work?” asked Harry.
“No.” Gilbraith took another swig of her Coca-Cola. “Who knows? Maybe by the time he built Grindelwald he just liked torture and killing. He certainly came to like them later.”
“Grindelwald was the name of his fortress?” asked Hermione.
“Yes,” said Gilbraith, “though he came to be known by it as well. Grindelwald means something like, 'The Monstrous Forest.' Anyway, the Grindelwald experiments quickly degenerated from any genuine scholastic pursuit to just…an excuse to exterminate Muggles. But in the midst of the bloodbath, Grindelwald did make one major discovery; the Starkernklauen Spells.”
A chill traveled up Harry’s spine, so dark and menacing did the word sound. “What are they?”
“It’s a family of spells, much like Jinxes or Charms are a family of spells. Basically, he found that it was possible to augment the power of his own spells by siphoning off the Starkern of others. It’s easier to do with Muggles because, as they can’t utilize their own Starkern, they don’t realize what’s happening. The more pain and fear the Muggle is in, the easier it is to steal their Starkern. And once the victim of the Starkernklauen Spell has enough of their Starkern drained away, they become pliant to the will of the wizard casting it.”
“What happens when the Spell is over?” asked Hermione quietly.
“It seems that Starkern doesn’t regenerate very well,” answered Professor Gilbraith in the same hushed voice. “It’s a kind of life force; you only have so much and you need all of it to be a fully functioning human being. Starkernklauen Spells, even light ones, leave the victim unhappy, listless, and disinterested. Cast with enough force, they can take so much Starkern that the brain is permanently damaged.”
Ron was the one who asked the question on all their minds. “And what happens if the Starkernklauen Spell is so…so strong that…”
“That it drains all the Starkern from a victim?” Ron nodded. Professor Gilbraith sighed. “Then the victim becomes…something less than a human. They don’t die; indeed they can’t. But nor can they live. They can merely exist, flitting from place to place, feeding on the Starkern of others but never themselves being replenished by it. They have no mind, no feelings, no thoughts but…of endless hunger.” Harry’s mouth was dry. “Shoedel called them Starkernsaugers, a pun on the German word for vampire. But in time, they came to be known as something else.”
“What?” asked Hermione.
Hermione sat down, hard, in her chair. Harry’s stomach wrung in disgust. That every Dementor he had ever fought…that the hundreds of Dementors he had seen…that they had all once been—human…it was more than he could comprehend.
Professor Gilbraith continued. “Once the Zauberbundestag got wind of what he was doing, they tried to attack Grindelwald Fortress. It was a doomed effort. Not only were they stretched pretty thin trying to combat the German Muggle armies, but by that time he had a whole legion of Starkern zombies under his command. He slaughtered them.”
“The Zauberbundestag was working against the Nazis?” asked Ron.
“Oh, you know about them?” Even Ron had heard of Nazis. “Well, yes, somewhat. There were a few members who wanted to compromise, and a few actively working with Hitler, but by and large the Zauberbundestag was opposed to the Third Reich. But they never moved out of the shadows, never tried to make their presence felt. It was a cowardly move, but perhaps a smart one. They were weak. They also flattered themselves that, as long as they kept on the sidelines, they could wound Hitler without alerting him to their presence. They vastly underestimated the intelligence available to the Muggle side.”
“The Muggles knew about the Zauberbundestag?” asked Harry.
“Oh yes,” said Gilbraith. “And quite a few top-level Nazis had even gotten ahold of Shoedel’s early work. Very fascinating reading, they found it. So when the wizard in the Black Forest who so kindly disposed of the Zauberbundestag nuisance turned out to be the same one who seemed to show promise in superiorist genetics all those years ago, they couldn’t pass the opportunity up. They offered him the chance to join them.”
“Yes. Hitler offered Shoedel the one thing he couldn’t resist; huge numbers of trapped people to practice the Starkernklauen Spells on.”
“Oh my God, the concentration camps,” said Hermione, her hand at her mouth.
“Right. It was a convenient arrangement. All Shoedel had to promise to do was direct his research in the area of weapons. He finally got the recognition and support the Zauberbundestag had always denied him, in return for feeding the Nazi war machine.”
“What kind of weapons did he develop?”
“No one is particularly sure on that. He was notoriously reluctant to let people into his confidence, which is understandable after what happened to him early in his career. He wrote very little down and never kept an assistant for more than a few months. When he died or was killed by Dumbledore in the Battle of Dachau, most of his last work died with him. But there were rumors.”
“Rumors of what?” asked Harry.
“He was trying to find a way to combine a large-scale Starkernklauen Spell and Wandless Magic,” answered Professor Gilbraith. “He thought he could turn his whole body into a…a kind of Starkern conductor, sucking dry thousands, perhaps even millions of people at once. It’s a bit like the Tesla teleforce weapon; something magical history graduate students think they can make their name publishing about. No one knows what it really is. The most convincing theory comes from Dumbledore himself; he thinks that Shoedel was trying to use the massive Starkern influx as a defensive weapon, a kind of force field which could protect all of Germany from invasion. He called it the Shield of Grindelwald. But no one listened to him.”
“Why not?” asked Hermione.
“Well, he said that, during the Battle of Dachau when he finally faced Shoedel, Shoedel tried to operate his Shield, but to use it offensively, piggybacking it to an Avada Kedavra curse to kill Dumbledore. It killed Shoedel instead; it was simply too much Starkern for anyone to handle. But that wasn’t what the public wanted to hear. After the war, they were so desperate for heroes that they simply didn’t believe, for the longest time, Dumbledore’s version of the story. Thought it was modesty. Even today, most books give him credit.”
Suddenly a clock chimed in the corner of Professor Gilbraith’s office; Harry, Ron, and Hermione jumped. Professor Gilbraith turned around and yelped.
“Good God, I’ve been holding forth for nearly two hours! I’m sorry, you three, I hope I didn’t bore you.”
Mutely, Harry, Ron and Hermione shook their heads. Whatever emotions and thoughts were busily scurrying around their brains, Harry knew for sure boredom was not among them.
“Well, I’m sorry to pontificate and run, but I promised I’d meet Professor Lupin ten minutes ago.”
“Professor Lupin?” asked Harry, surprised.
Professor Gilbraith blushed a little. “Well, I wanted to apologize to him, for overreacting yesterday. Lord knows, Severus gets to me sometimes too.” The red in her cheeks deepened. “I probably shouldn’t have said that.” Reaching under her desk, she picked up a small basket covered with a cloth. “It’s chicken hearts,” she said. “I thought I’d bring them for that poor animal. He’s moved into the stables today, and he must be lonely down there. Well, you three can let yourselves out, right? Good. Now if you have any questions, make another appointment or ask me after class. And take some Coca-Cola with you if you want. Bye!”
And with that, Professor Gilbraith closed the door, leaving the three of them slumped in their chairs, at a complete loss for words.
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