Nicolas told me there is Breath in everything. It has been called pneuma, spiritus, and prana. Breath is in the stars, the earth, the wind, the water…it is in gold, in panacea, and in the universal solvent.
It reminds me of the Bible. God creating the world and the first man.
In alchemy, Breath is the active principle that makes life as it is. We draw upon Breath to make change: to transmute metals, to wake homunculi, to balance out the transference of alchemical properties.
Oftentimes I think Breath means the souls of all living and dead things. Or maybe it’s magic itself. Or maybe it’s the elusive fifth element of quintessence.
I don’t know. I mix my mercury, salt, and sulphur, seal it within glass, set it to the flames, and I breathe, I breathe, I breathe.
The little boy stood within a whirlpool of shadows. His eyes glowed a soft pale white, but his pupils were flickering underneath.
There was still a human there.
“What’s your name?”
The voice that addressed him was lightly accented, and it came from a man with a short trimmed grey beard and a non-descript black coat.
The boy didn’t answer. The shadows that swirled around him were frantic, desperate, trying to tear down the invisible barrier that surrounded him.
“My name is Nicolas,” the man said. “I’m sorry about the circle” –for the boy was standing on top of a carefully etched symbol on the New York street pavement—“but you’re causing quite the mess in the city. The Americans here are rather harsh about exposure and I don’t think they would treat you kindly.”
Earlier, the circle had flashed white, encapsulated the boy into an invisible cage, and he was trapped.
The boy blinked, and his eyes came back. They were dark eyes, scared eyes.
"I'm--I'm sorry," the boy said in a whisper. “I don’t know why I do that. I don’t know why I change.”
“You are called an Obscurial,” Nicolas said. “It is when your magic turns inwards and takes the form of something like a destructive storm.”
"Magic? My ma said witchcraft is a sin."
“It is no such thing. I am a wizard myself,” Nicolas said. “An alchemist, to be precise.”
“Dante put us—put alchemists—in the eighth circle of hell,” said a quiet voice, laughter. There was a woman standing next to Nicolas.
She had long silver hair and hazel green eyes, and the boy thought that she looked like an angel.
“Bonsoir, little one,” the woman said. “I am Nicolas’ wife and alchemist partner Perenelle. We can help you.”
The boy was confused, overwhelmed. “I’m a monster.”
“I think,” Perenelle said gently, “there must be some way to control or confine that shadow of yours.”
At that, his shadow shifted, restless.
“I don’t think it wants to be shut away or taken away,” the boy said.
He stared at the mass around him. There was something almost protective how it curled around his back like wings.
“We’ll figure something out, then,” Nicolas said, confident. “In all my years, I’ve found there always lies answers in the alchemical arts. Even if half-formulated, even if kept secret, there is always an answer.”
The reverence is Nicolas’ tone was startling. For some reason, it made the boy think of the surety in his adoptive mother’s voice when she talked of the Bible, but here…there was a deeper meaning to this.
And the boy took a leap of faith and it changed his life forever.
“Tell me, what’s your name?”
“Credence,” the boy said. “Credence Barebone.”
The Muggle Great War was over, and Nicolas and Perenelle Flamel were planning to return to France for the first time in four years.
And of course, they were taking the now thirteen-year-old Credence Barebone along with them.
Credence’s homunculus Jericho was acting erratic. He usually took the form of a black cat or a grey pigeon, but he was a now black swallowtail butterfly ringed with yellow edges at the tips of his wings. Jericho darted through the glass vials and apparatus in the Flamels’ New York laboratory.
“Settle down,” Credence said, without looking up from a Lullian treatise he was reading. “Perenelle will be upset if you break something again.”
“I won’t break anything,” Jericho said, his voice coming out high-pitched and lilting. “And don’t forget to speak in French. You have to get used to it since you’ll be going to Beauxbatons.”
The Flamels had taught both English and French to him since he was nine years old, and he had picked up French in speech and in writing. Credence obliged, sliding effortlessly into the flow of French. “I think my French should be passable,” he said. “No, it’s the—”
"It's the students that might be the problem,” Jericho finished, reciprocating in French. “You’re a sad hermit, Credence Barebone. Pathetic childhood with a magic-hating Muggle, then homeschooled by the Flamels for four years and you have been obsessed with alchemy.”
“You shouldn’t complain,” Credence said. “It’s how you’re here.”
"Perhaps," Jericho said. “But you need friends! A boyfriend!”
Credence flushed and scowled. “Shut up.”
But he knew Jericho wasn’t wrong. Maybe it was the result of having lived with Mary Lou Barebone, for Credence didn’t like interacting with other people other than the Flamels. He liked reading and learning, studying how magic could be everything that his adoptive mother said it wasn’t.
It wasn’t the work of the devil at all.
Having heard their voices, a familiar silvery blond head poked through the door. “Credence, are you quarreling with Jericho again?”
Credence ducked his head. “Maybe. He’s rude, Perenelle.”
“I am not. I am worrying how we’ll fare in France.”
“You’ll both be fine,” Perenelle said firmly. “You’ll do well at Beauxbatons. I’m certain you’ll love the gardens. There are plenty of valuable herbs to pick so you’ll never run out of your current stock, and I’ve always wanted for you to see our fountain. It took years for us to make the waters.”
Credence had heard about Beauxbatons from Perenelle and Nicolas many times: the luscious gardens, the beautiful halls, and the fountain of healing waters that the Flamels had built for the school long after they graduated.
The healing waters were no panacea, of course—there was no such thing in existence, not yet, and the rumors about the Philosopher’s Stone being able to produce it were false—but it was a very close approximation to it.
Credence was curious about studying the fountain.
Perenelle suddenly frowned. “Credence, you need a wand.”
Baffled, Credence said, “I have alchemy.”
“Silly boy,” Perenelle said. She strode over to him, touched the ponytail of his long dark hair. “It’s Nicolas’ fault. Too single-minded and he keeps encouraging you.”
“Nicolas rarely uses his wand.”
“That’s Nicolas,” Perenelle said. “Go over to Hans and ask for a wand.”
Jericho snorted. “With Credence’s luck, none of Hans’ wands will work.”
“It will work,” Perenelle said, glaring at the homunculus, who nervously shifted into a black cat under the heat of her gaze. “Purchase it now, Credence, before we leave. There have been theories about how the wands of one’s country may be more amiable than the wands of another country, and I believe you should have something of home.”
“I understand. I’ll go,” Credence said, though the idea of New York, of America, as home, didn’t feel quite certain. Home was the Flamels and Jericho and alchemy.
Perenelle smiled, and she looked proud. “Your first wand. We should have done this two years ago.”
Credence found the Floo powder and disappeared into the fireplace, Jericho at his heels.
The ticking was the first thing you heard when you arrived at Johannes Jonker’s shop.
Johannes Jonker was more than a wandmaker. He was also a master clockmaker. All throughout the small shop, there were wooden clocks, ornate and beautiful, tall and small, ticking-tocking-ticking and pendulums swinging.
Some clocks were the magical kind—you could check the locations of friends and family; you could get a clock where a cuckoo bird would fly out and tell you the time—but some were ordinarily Muggle.
“More of the usual mercury order before you leave for France?” Johannes asked, when Credence emerged from the fireplace.
The Flamels usually bought mercury from Johannes. For years, Credence had been wondering why they went to him for mercury instead of the apothecaries where they usually purchased ingredients.
Then Jericho matter-of-factly reminded him that Johannes was of German ancestry and his business wasn’t likely doing too well during the war. There were many Americans wizards and witches who fervently supported the Allies and spent their dragots accordingly, though the affected people were certainly Americans themselves.
That was very much like the Flamels, Credence realized at the time. They were not petty—they would help someone unfairly disadvantaged who was too proud to ask for help—and they were very much bound to the national alchemist tenets of nonintervention in matters of politics and war, even if they were French.
Credence shook his head. “No, Hans. I need a wand.”
Johannes blinked and adjusted his narrow spectacles. “It’s about time. You’re thirteen, aren’t you?”
“Wands aren’t necessary for alchemy,” Credence said.
“Alchemy, alchemy, alchemy,” Jericho murmured. He perched atop of one of Johannes’ counters, his tail twitching. “All you ever go on about. ‘There is Breath in everything.’”
The corners of Johannes’ mouth twitched, fighting back a grin. Credence could swear that Johannes was the only person who genuinely liked Jericho and thought he was amusing.
"I don't sound like that," Credence said, wrinkling his nose.
“You do,” Jericho purred.
"The first time I met you, Credence Barebone,” Johannes said, “you drew an alchemical circle on the countertop and turned the wood into water. And you told me how the powder you used invoked hydrogen and oxygen, and how you could infuse Breath—”
“I was nine years old and that was the first transmutation Nicolas taught me,” Credence muttered.
"Alchemy is an esoteric, ancient art,” Johannes said, with a shake of his head. He moved under the counter, withdrawing boxes of wands.
Credence was about to leap to the defense of the Flamels, but Johannes seemed to know what he was about to say.
“Yes, I know. The Flamels are geniuses, and of course they should be applauded for the Philosopher’s Stone. But alchemy is a secret field.”
Alchemy was confusing, strange, and private work. If you figured out gold transmutation or how to make the elixir of eternal life, you had to take a magical vow before the ICW to swear non-interference. You couldn’t fund a political candidate/war/movement or destabilize the economy; you couldn’t sell or distribute the elixir to other people.
As a result, most alchemists focused on making curative powders and elixirs to individual diseases, and Credence always thought that they should go into potions or healing instead.
Other alchemists aimed higher: to create panacea. That was Nicolas and Perenelle’s goal in life. They chose immortality so they could dedicate themselves to making the remedy of all diseases.
And there was another part of alchemy as well, and it was widely regarded as outdated…
“The way you use alchemy,” Johannes said, disapproving, “would be much easier if you had a wand. Runes and circles drawn with personally made alchemical powders—you could transfigure something with the right wand and spell!”
“I’m purchasing a wand, Hans,” Credence said to placate the man. Alchemical magic might be more complicated, but it made the most sense to him.
“Good,” Johannes huffed. “Try this one.”
Credence picked up the wand, but it didn’t react. Johannes offered him another, and another, and another, but they all felt like regular wood in his grip.
Credence didn’t think much of wand-based magic, but he knew Perenelle would be disappointed if he went home empty-handed. And he didn’t want Jericho to smugly brag that he was right about Credence not being compatible with a Jonker wand.
“They all have wampus hair cores,” Credence said, thoughtfully. That didn’t sound necessarily incompatible when it came to his magic and felines, because Jericho was fond of his cat form. “The problem is the wood. What wood would suit me?”
Johannes paused. “I could connect it to your alchemical roots, since that’s how your magic is used to functioning. Hmm, the alchemical trio…there’s no such thing as a tree associated with mercury or sulphur, but there is salt cedar wood. And eucalyptus trees have been known to absorb gold if they sit on ore deposits, but I’ve only heard that about Australian trees. The eucalyptus wood I have is from California.”
“Salt cedar,” Credence repeated. “Tamarisk. I’ve read of that tree in the Bible. And the Egyptian stories say Isis found Osiris’ body under a tamarisk tree. Isis is considered to be one of the first alchemists.”
“Then I shall give you a tamarisk wood wand.”
The first wand that Johannes handed Credence felt like a rush of Breath. It was as if the universe exhaled, inhaled, a silent communication between his magic and the wand.
Nothing changed; nothing transmuted. It didn’t feel like the familiarity of alchemical powder at his fingertips, but it didn’t feel entirely wrong, either.
The wand was reddish brown, gleaming silver with Johannes’ mother-of-pearl signature inlay. The wood was tough and hardy.
Jericho’s hair was standing on end, his cat eyes luminous. “Interesting,” he said.
For one of the few times in his life, Credence was in agreement with his homunculus. “Thank you, Hans,” he said. “I—I will miss you.”
He didn't know if they were exactly friends. Credence had essentially served as the Flamels’ delivery boy to Johannes’ shop, picking up mercury since they didn’t trust it to not be contaminated or spilled through owl post.
But he had known Johannes for years, popping into his shop to demonstrate the newest alchemical trick he had learned or talking about the latest alchemical treatise he had read.
Johannes smiled, pushed up his spectacles with a finger. “Learn some proper magic at Beauxbatons, Credence. I hope I’ll see you again in the future.”
Credence took in what might be his last sight of the wandmaker and clockmaker: neat Muggle vest, golden spectacles, sandy brown hair.
Maybe the wand was something from home after all.
The Flamels’ home in France was on Beauxbatons school grounds. Throughout the years, Nicolas and Perenelle taught students Alchemy classes in between their work on panacea.
‘Home’ wasn’t the correct word for it. It was more of a laboratory than anything, more equipped than the Flamels’ lab in New York, filled with furnaces and stills and shelves of alchemical ingredients and texts…
“I can practically hear your heart speeding up,” Jericho said from his place on Credence’s shoulder.
“There is still so much I have to learn,” Credence said, quietly.
“Are you the Flamels’ young American charge?”
Credence turned, and he saw a round man dressed in a sharp blue robes. The man addressed him in English, and Credence said in French, “Yes, Monsieur. My name is Credence Barebone.”
“Ah,” the man said, nodding, pleased. “I am Beauxbatons’ headmaster François Imbert. Are you a registered alchemist like the Flamels?”
“He isn’t yet,” Nicolas said, who was preoccupied unpacking, carefully stacking vials onto the shelves. “He is thirteen. I believe he can learn much here at Beauxbatons. He has no formal schooling to date.”
Perenelle sighed. “He has a strong alchemical background, but he only obtained a wand just yesterday.”
Imbert’s eyebrows shot up. “Yesterday?”
“We may have been slightly, er, lax at teaching wand magic,” Nicolas said, abashed. “But he’s very clever. He’ll pick it up.”
“Alchemists,” Imbert muttered. “Monsieur Flamel, I have the utmost respect for you and your wife’s generosity, but you have severely neglected this boy’s education.”
Imbert was an old acquaintance of Nicolas and Perenelle’s—they exchanged letters, the Flamels inquiring about France and Beauxbatons—but Credence remembered how Nicolas often remarked how Imbert regarded them like relics, curiosities.
“Alchemy isn’t insignificant, Monsieur Imbert,” Credence said. “It is the synthesis of potions, healing, and transfiguration.”
“You really don’t want to get him started,” Nicolas said, resting his hand on his chin. “It’s rather obvious that Nell and I are his adepts, isn’t it?”
“I can imagine,” Imbert said wryly. “But it as you say, Credence. Alchemy has led to important magical advances, and I know that Monsieur and Madame Flamel are capable teachers. I shall give you a trial period of one week to see what remedial teaching you might require.”
Credence nodded. He knew that there were gaps in his knowledge.
“Don’t worry,” Perenelle said. She reached over to wind her hand in his ponytail, that calm familiar gesture of hers. “We’ll help you in any way we can.”
"Transfiguration class starts in five minutes,” Imbert said. “I will show you where.”
Beauxbatons was a glittering palace in the Pyrenees. The windows glowed; the forms of the castle were curved and elegant; the columns were twisted and towering.
The Transfiguration Hall was filled in students. Credence was surprised that they didn’t seem to be solely third years.
Noticing Credence’s expression, Imbert said, “Many upperclassmen joined the Muggle Great War. Brave, foolish boys…we ended up combining several classes because of the smaller class sizes. Half of the class is dedicated to basic transfiguration, while the other half is more advanced.”
Most of the remaining older students, perhaps sixth or seventh years, were girls.
Nonintervention, Credence thought. This is the continent that the Flamels had to walk away from. These are the students that they had to walk away from.
Being an alchemist—a true alchemist—was a secretive, lonely existence. That was how it always had to be.
Imbert cleared his throat. His gravelly voice echoed through the hall, catching the class’ attention. “Excuse me. There is a new addition to Beauxbatons. This is Credence Barebone from America.”
“Enchanté,” he said, trying to look anywhere except the thirty or forty pairs of inquisitive eyes. Jericho touched his nose to Credence’s cheek in encouragement.
Imbert said, “I will leave him in your capable hands, Madame Chauvin. Good day.” He nodded to a red-haired woman who was presumably the Transfiguration professor, and he departed.
"Welcome to Beauxbatons, Monsieur Barebone," Chauvin said. "Take a seat. Today’s lesson is on the manipulation of elemental transfiguration.”
Credence picked an empty desk near the window. The girl next to him—she was brown-skinned, brown-eyed, her hair a short cropped nest of curls—was staring at Jericho, who had settled on top of the desk. Jericho, for all that he had rambled on about Credence making friends, seemed exasperated and he narrowly engaged her in a staring contest, bristling.
Credence tugged one of Jericho’s ears. Jericho made a strangled meowing noise, and the staring contest broke.
Credence looked at the girl sheepishly. “I’m sorry about him. He can be prickly.”
“Eh bien, I think he looks sweet,” said the girl, with a smile, and Jericho let out another strangled meow. “What’s his name?”
“Jericho,” Credence said. “And—what’s your name?”
“Isabeau Vigier,” she said. “Tough luck getting Chauvin as your first class. She’s fair, but this class is a nightmare. There’s so much vague theory. How’s Ilvermorny Transfiguration class like?”
“I didn’t attend Ilvermorny. I was home tutored.”
Isabeau blinked. “I didn’t take you for one of those wealthy pureblood types. Unless it works differently in America--? Er. Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with being a wealthy pureblood,” she said hurriedly, but not entirely convincingly.
“No, I’m not,” Credence said.
He didn’t elaborate. Mary Lou Barebone had mentioned his real mother to him sometimes, calling her sinful and wicked, and Credence never knew if that meant if she had been a witch or not.
“‘Credence’ is certainly a funny name,” Isabeau said, “but yes, it doesn’t sound pureblood at all. My apologies for bringing up blood; I know it’s rude. I’m a half-blood myself.”
Rhases, Credence thought, this girl was blunt. She very much reminded him of Perenelle.
Madame Chauvin started teaching class, and Isabeau quieted.
“Do you see those stones in front of you on your desk?” Chauvin said. “It is your task today to turn a stone into air. However, the transfigured gust of wind cannot simply blow away: you have to be able to manipulate the shape of it.
“For the younger years here, I expect you to be able to keep it in one place and change the air’s direction. For the older years, you are expected to be able to manipulate it into a funnel, change its size from larger to smaller, and temporarily vanish it and make it reappear. You have forty-five minutes to figure out the transfiguration and I will explain the theory afterwards.”
Then she nodded, and the students got to work.
“We learned the air transfiguration spell last lesson,” Isabeau informed Credence. “The incantation is Mutatio Ventus. And you wave your wand like this.” She pointed her wand and demonstrated a loose, tight circular motion.
Credence took out his wand, rubbing his thumb against the silver mother-of-pearl filigrees. Gesturing his wand at the stone, he said, “Mutatio Ventus.”
He hadn’t expected much from his first spell with a wand. He frowned, though, because he was used to getting his alchemical magic correct.
“Try again,” Isabeau said, with a shrug. “It took me several tries to get the transfiguration right last lesson. Let me see if I still have it—Mutatio Ventus.”
Instead of transfiguring the stone into wind, a jet of wind blasted out of Isabeau’s wand, knocking the stone off the desk.
“Oh, Maugris,” Isabeau muttered. “Same problem as before. Too much emphasis on Ventus.”
“If you knock me off this desk, I will contaminate your monthly stock of mercury,” Jericho said in a hushed tone to Credence, while Isabeau was occupied with attempting the spell.
Credence tried three more times. He felt exceedingly foolish waving his wand and saying the spell, and finally, frustrated, he sheathed his wand into the trouser pocket of his Beauxbatons uniform.
“No, no, no,” Jericho murmured, as Credence started digging around in his other pocket. “Causing trouble on your first day?”
Credence withdrew a simple black leather pouch. “I have the alchemical powder for air with blended traces of nitrogen and oxygen.”
“Air,” he said, and a handful of white powder that felt like sand flew into his palm.
With the white dust, he drew a triangle that had a horizontal line pierced through the top. He placed the grey stone in the center.
He clapped his hands together, sensing the Breath from the stone.
Weeks ago, at the Flamels’ New York lab, he had taken an empty bottle of air, held it over a fire, and he had cast albedo powder into it. He’d extracted from air the things that made it air, not just the chemical composition, but the Breath of it.
The triangle flashed white; the dust dissipated; and a gust of air swept in front of him, taking the place of the rock.
Hands still clasped together, Credence made the air twist in front of him, darting in frantic flowing waves. He guided it into a twisting funnel that stretched and shrank, smiling as it fanned outward. It was strong enough to throw open the window next to him, escaping to the sky—
That was when he realized that everyone in the whole hall was staring at him. Isabeau, meanwhile, looked impressed.
Jericho pounced up to sit on his shoulders. “Credence,” he said into his ear, “you’re an idiot.”
“As fascinating a display as that was,” Madame Chauvin said, and she looked striking with her fiery red hair, “this is Transfiguration class, Monsieur Barebone, not transmutation.”
The good thing about French schools was that they had a long lunch break. After Transfiguration class ended—Credence had mumbled an apology and kept his head down for the duration of the class—he escaped into one of the gardens.
Isabeau followed him.
“What in Morgana’s name was that?” she said. “That was alchemy, wasn’t it? I never had the Flamels as my teachers because they left before I enrolled, although they’re back now—” She cut herself off. “Oh. You came with them, of course.”
“Smart girl,” Jericho said approvingly. Credence shot him a sharp glare. The Flamels had told them that Jericho should keep low profile. “Friends, Credence. We need friends.”
“The cat…can talk,” Isabeau said.
“Yes,” Credence admitted. “Jericho is my homunculus. Nicolas and Perenelle said that it shouldn’t be common knowledge that I know some advanced alchemical magic, because I’m not officially a registered alchemist yet. Nicolas said it’s not a good idea for underage wizards to be held to magical vows. I should wait until I’m seventeen.”
“Hmm,” Isabeau said thoughtfully. “That wind thing you did was interesting, but strange.”
“He doesn’t know how to do any magic with his wand. At all.”
“Shut up, Jericho.”
“Seriously?” Isabeau said. “I suppose that’s what happens when you live with centuries-old alchemists.”
This was the worst possible person to befriend, Credence thought in despair. She got along too well with Jericho.
“--Are you immortal?”
Startled, Credence looked at Isabeau and met her light brown eyes evenly. “No. Nicolas and Perenelle can’t share the elixir with me because of their ICW vow. And I don’t want immortality anyway.”
“That’s a big decision to make when you’re young,” Isabeau said. “Especially if you’re probably capable of making the Philosopher’s Stone yourself. Maybe not now, but when you’re older, considering who your teachers are. It sounds like it could be useful. My father went to the war—”
“The Elixir of Life lengthens your life, but it doesn’t make you invincible to injury or illness,” Credence said quietly. It was a common misconception. “Was your father--?”
A momentary flicker of disappointment crossed Isabeau’s face, then she cracked a grin. “He’s fine. He’s actually a Beauxbatons teacher. Bane of my life, really.”
“What does he teach?”
“Fencing,” Isabeau said. “It’s the class I’m best at besides Quidditch. I’m not too good at conventional witchy stuff, Barebone.”
“You’re not alone,” Credence said. “I know I’m terrible at anything except alchemy because I’ve never done it before.”
Jericho said, “As for me, I’m excited to see you getting whacked by a sword.”
Jean Vigier was tall, brown-skinned, his eyes the same clear brown color as his daughter’s. Credence and Isabeau had arrived to class early, and he touched his cheeks against hers. “Sa ou fé, Isabeau?”
“I’m doing well,” she said. Credence was wondering if he knew less French then he thought, then Isabeau said, “Oh—Martinique Creole. We live in mainland France now, but we used to live there when I was little. Papa, this is Credence Barebone. He’s from America and he’s apprenticed to the Flamels.”
Jean gave Credence a friendly smile. “Enchanté, Credence. Pleased that you’ve become acquainted with my daughter. I used to write to her all the time, telling her she needs more friends.”
There was where Isabeau’s bluntness came from, Credence surmised.
“Papa!” Isabeau exclaimed.
“You do,” Jean said, swooping down to kiss her cheeks again. “You needn’t have moped over me when I was gone, my darling. I came back, didn’t I?”
“I wasn’t moping,” Isabeau said. “I was practicing my fencing so I could beat you when you returned.”
“And you still didn’t,” Jean said, his eyes bright. “The day will never come.”
Isabeau seethed, and Credence was sure that Jericho was silently laughing, shaking from his place on Credence’s shoulders.
Jean turned to Credence and said, “Hmm…Credence Barebone. You can’t be--?”
Oh. Credence was surprised that it had taken so long for someone to point it out.
“I was adopted by a descendent of Bartholomew Barebone,” he said, with an incline of his head. “The Flamels took me in later on, when I was nine years old.”
“Bartholomew Barebone?” Isabeau asked.
“You ought to pay more attention during history class,” Jean said cheerily. Isabeau glared at him again, and he chuckled. “Just joking. I don’t think Beauxbatons’ Magical History & Geography class goes into detail because it’s American history. I actually heard about the incident from American wizards I met during the war.
"I was talking about you and your dear departed mother (let her soul rest in peace and never come back to defeat me in a fencing match ever again) and they mentioned how American wizards and witches can’t marry or befriend Muggles.”
“Oh, I’ve heard of that (also, please don’t talk about Maman that way),” Isabeau said. “Rapport’s Law? Rappaport’s Law,” she corrected herself. “But what does that have to do with Credence?”
“The Muggle Bartholomew Barebone seduced a MACUSA official’s daughter and almost caused the Statute of Secrecy to come crashing down,” Jean said. “Which is why the Americans came up with the unduly harsh Rappaport’s Law. I imagine you had quite the complicated childhood, Credence Barebone.”
“Something like that,” Credence said vaguely.
“I hope you don’t have any similarly unwise plans of seduction. Like perhaps involving my daughter.”
Isabeau sputtered, and Credence flushed. He said, “What? No. I only just met her and I don’t even—”
“Très bien,” Jean said, nodding. “Reassuring. Carry on with your friendship, then.”
Whistling, Jean walked over to a rapier that he began to sharpen with several waves of his wand.
“Your father is,” Credence started, but gave up.
“No, I know,” Isabeau said. She rubbed her forehead. “I apologize.”
Fortunately for Credence, fencing class wasn't as abysmal as Transfiguration had been.
Jean told Isabeau to take Credence aside and teach him the basics while the rest of the class engaged in practice matches.
Despite all her banter with her father earlier, she was extremely serious about fencing, and Credence immediately deferred to her authority.
Credence learned fencing safety (Isabeau showed him how to strap on the protective gear correctly) and fencing etiquette ("It's not a medieval sword fight, Jericho. You only get scored points for using the tip of the foil").
"I can show you guard position and how to grip next lesson," Isabeau said, after she quizzed Credence several times to make sure he knew the terminology and rules.
The rest of the week after that was a blur. Most of the Beauxbatons' student population seemed intimidated or unnerved by Credence because of his connection with the Flamels, especially having heard of the Transfiguration Hall incident, but that was alright because Isabeau stuck to his side as if there was nothing unusual about him.
Credence's abilities with his wand—or more precisely, the lack thereof—continued to be a problem. The Charms professor Madame Astier frowned severely when Credence couldn't do a simple Lumos charm, and Madame Corredor, the quiet Spanish woman who taught Defense, had immediately offered him remedial lessons after his first day.
At least he could get by for Potions, Magical History & Geography, Astrology, and Music. Music class was the second elective that Credence had picked, alongside fencing – Mary Lou Barebone had thought most of music as a frivolity...
Credence had decided not to take herbology or alchemy because his alchemical apprenticeship with the Flamels covered those areas well. Headmaster Imbert allowed him to be excused from the former, which was usually a required class, on the condition that he would still take the herbology exam.
It was tiring and odd, trying to adjust to school life when he was used to the freedom of experimentation.
But he kept going, urged by Jericho's grumbling and Isabeau's cheerful boldness and Nicolas and Perenelle's support. The first setback – a nightmare – turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
He could still remember Mary Lou Barebone. He distantly recalled somewhere else, sometime else, but the murkiness of his memory always led back to the Second Salem chapel.
Sermons and stinging palms. Prayers and admonition. Alone in the dark, on his knees, calling for someone who wasn't God to come for him.
As Credence dreamed and remembered, he wondered why he thought of ouroboros right then. No, he had never honestly considered immortality—he always felt like a fragile, unstable child on the verge of death—but he thought of the snake curling inward, endless, and there was almost a comforting safety to it.
Wasn't that the devil in the garden--? Wasn't he...?
Jericho woke him up, his cat eyes winking bright.
"I think you were about to scream," Jericho said.
Credence sat upward in bed. Jericho nestled into his lap.
"That which is above is from that which is below, and that which is below is from that which is above," Jericho said, quietly. "Working the miracles of one thing. As all things were from one."
Ouroboros, Credence thought.
"You listen more than you let on," he said.
"The Emerald Tablet is one of the fun ones," Jericho said. "It's loaded with Decknamen, but it's not as completely nonsensical as some of the other works."
Credence privately thought Decknamen could be interesting to play with. For a week, Perenelle had written her alchemy notes replete with all Biblical code words, instead of the traditional mix of animals, planets, mythology, elemental, and Biblical cover names she usually employed. Credence had deciphered them within a few hours, his upbringing with Mary Lou Barebone proven not entirely useless at all.
"Do you think Obscuruses can be immortal in their own ways?" Credence asked Jericho. "The Breath of the shadows--"
"Don't ask me deep metaphysical questions so late at night," Jericho said, yawning, showing his sharp teeth. "You're the one with the answers. Why don't you give us some light?"
Credence didn't know why he reached for his wand. But he did, and he said, "Lumos," and the wand tip glowed like a lodestar.
Wand magic became slightly easier for him after that.
One week later, during breakfast at the Flamels' Beauxbatons quarters, Nicolas announced that he was leaving France.
"The Great War has finally quieted down," Nicolas said. "And it's time again to keep looking for panacea ingredients around the world and to meet other alchemists. Credence, I know we just settled in, but I trust Perenelle to continue teaching you."
Credence had anticipated something like this happening. He knew that Nicolas and Perenelle took turns traveling and teaching at Beauxbatons, and their usual habit had been interrupted by the war. He hadn't expected it to be so soon...
"How long?" he said.
"Two years," Nicolas said. "Perhaps three. I'll keep in contact as often as I can." He looked somber, apologetic.
"There are so many wonders out there we still haven't discovered," Perenelle said, wistful. "I can take you when your schooling's done, Credence. But you're not ready yet."
Credence nodded. He knew that his apprenticeship couldn't be the center of the Flamels' lives. Panacea was their intended magnum opus.
"I hope you find what you're looking for," he said.
Credence wasn't overly affectionate, and Nicolas and Perenelle respected his wishes when it came to physical contact. Now, he stood up from his chair and touched his cheeks against both of Nicolas' cheeks—la bise, like how Jean said hello and farewell to Isabeau—and Nicolas smiled quietly and returned the gesture.
"When I come back," Nicolas said, "I expect you to be nothing less than amazing, mon garçon. You already are."
Two years passed.
Credence learned, trained, and dreamed. He crossed rapiers with Isabeau in practice matches and argued with Jericho. He furthered his alchemical studies with Perenelle and by himself, wondering what his chosen pursuit would be in the future.
Not panacea, not the Philosopher's Stone, not chrysopoeia—it would be something miraculous, something important yet unknown, but he didn't know, not at the moment.
His routine of studies was abruptly interrupted when Imbert pulled Credence out of music class. Credence dropped his hands away from the piano keys, and he found Isabeau and four other students in Imbert's office.
He and Isabeau were the only fifth years. The others were sixth and seventh years.
"Do you know what this is about?" he whispered to her. "Did your father...?"
She shook her head. She was wearing dirt stained sky blue Quidditch robes, hastily called out of her elective sport class. "I don't know. I thought it was a fencing thing."
Imbert regarded the six of them from his desk, his bushy moustache twitching, his dark eyes serious.
"Have any of you ever heard of the Triwizard Tournament?" Imbert began.
Credence stilled. He had. Perenelle had mentioned offhand that the fountain of healing waters that she and Nicolas constructed for Beauxbatons was partly because of the Triwizard Tournament.
One of the older girls, blonde and grey-eyed, answered Imbert's question out loud. "Yes, Monsieur. It was a magical competition held between Hogwarts, Durmstrang, and Beauxbatons. The Tournament was canceled because of the high death toll."
"Indeed, Melusine," Imbert said. "The British Ministry has instituted plans to reinstate the Tournament – with certain safety measures, of course. Since the Muggle Great War is over, they believe that it would be powerful proof of unity and peace between magical communities. Our ministry is in agreement."
"I can sense a 'but' coming," Isabeau said wryly.
"Durmstrang declined to participate," said a seventh year. Nizar Rodrigues, Credence remembered. His father was a Spanish poet and his mother held a position within the French Ministry. "Their school population is – ah – still not in the best circumstances after the war, and the administration is trying to find its footing regarding politics."
"Delicately put," Imbert said. "Ilvermorny volunteered to take Durmstrang's place, and they offered to host the Tournament. I've selected the six of you to go as potential champions."
"What?" Isabeau burst out. "Why me?"
Credence couldn't help but think the same when it came to himself as well. He could understand choosing Melusine Matagot, who everyone knew excelled at all her classes and had her sights set on becoming an editor at the newspaper Le Petit Sorcier; or Nizar Rodrigues, who was clearly going to be on top of the political hierarchy one day; and Isabeau, who shouldn't doubt herself because she had ambitions to become either a Quidditch or fencing star--
Credence didn't wish to aim for popularity or leadership like that.
"There is a reason," Imbert said firmly. "All of you come from varied backgrounds with different skill sets and talents. You may not be perfect students for every single subject, but you represent the best of Beauxbatons."
"Does he really count?" Melusine said, dryly, glancing at Credence. "He's American, Headmaster. He might as well root for Ilvermorny."
"I have dual citizenship," Credence said, though he understand her point. He hadn't attended Beauxbatons until his third year.
"He was trained and raised by the Flamels themselves!" Isabeau exclaimed. "If that's not French enough for you--!"
"No," Credence said, his head inclined. "I should step this one out, Monsieur Imbert. The alchemical tenets of noninterference."
"You are not a registered alchemist," Imbert said. "And I doubt that that the Triwizard Tournament qualifies as a matter of war."
"It's a matter of politics."
"On some level," Imbert said. "It is officially a friendly contest, Credence."
Credence looked at Imbert. He didn't want to risk his life to participate in what was essentially a modern gladiator fight to the death, but there was a kind of restlessness he had been feeling recently. Sometimes he felt the impulse to leave Beauxbatons to find where Nicolas was traveling now.
It wouldn't be terrible to return to America, to see the school he never had attended, and the likelihood of his name being picked wasn't very high.
Isabeau, he knew, wouldn't back down from the challenge because she was stubborn and naturally competitive. At the very least, it would be worth going to support her. Perhaps he could offer alchemical healing services and make sure an unfair rival didn't try to poison her or something.
"I'll go," Credence said, finally, gripping Isabeau's arm, and she leaned against him back. She was shaking with anticipation.
Imbert cleared his throat. "If there's anyone in this room who doesn't wish to participate, you may leave now."
Eternal fame and glory, Credence thought. As an alchemist, he very well knew the pitfalls of a promise like that.
“Gormlaith Gaunt thought that the ring passed down through her family was etched with an alchemical symbol,” said a young blond man, touching the piece of magically preserved parchment with the tip of his wand. “She wrote that it looked like a bastardized version of the Philosopher’s Stone symbol, turned inside out and simplified. I want you to find that ring.”
His audience was a burly dark-haired man who wore a dusty trench coat. Unlike the blond man, who spoke English accented in German, he was an American who spoke in a slight Southern drawl.
“Why approach us for a treasure hunt?” said the burly man. “Our services are usually focused on other matters.”
“Yes, I’ve read the papers. Private security guards for the Calderon-Boot Company. Hired by families for murder and kidnapping investigations. Foilers of train robbers and stagecoach robbers, most notably the Lawrence gang, who were expert Polyjuice brewers. No, my American friend, I need your services because of the resources you have on hand.”
The burly man made an amused noise. “Resources? From the whispers I’ve heard about you, you have your own resources enough. You have an interesting network of friends. My European contacts--”
“I advise you to be careful, Accord,” said the blond man sharply, his gaze cool. “Do you want to take the job or not?”
Accord was silent. Daniel Accord ran one of the biggest wizarding private security agencies in the United States, and he wasn’t one to decline a job, especially when there was a considerable amount of dragots involved.
Accord said, “Sure. We’ll take it. But what makes you so confident that this ring of yours is in the States?”
“It could be, or it couldn’t,” said the blond man. “The Gaunt family seems to have disappeared from recent historical record in Britain, though they used to move among pureblood circles--” here, Accord scoffed, because Brits and their pureblood elitism nonsense, and the blond man echoed his distaste with a thin smile-- “--but we do know about the Sayre line.”
“Or rather, we don’t,” Accord grunted.
“That’s where your investigative prowess is supposed to come in,” the blond man said, reaching up to pat Accord on the shoulder. “I may have an interesting network of friends, as you say, but it doesn’t quite extend into America. Especially among Muggles.”
The way he smiled around the word Muggles was the same as he did with the phase pureblood circles, but sharper, harder.
Politics. Accord didn't care much for politics, because he was hardly in the private Auror business for civic duty and justice and other high-handed ideals.
A treasure hunt, Accord reflected. That could be fun.
It was slow, grinding work.
It involved reading through back issues of The New York Ghost and textbooks about Ilvermorny’s history, as well as thoroughly utilizing his agency’s access with the Calderon-Boot Company.
The last link was where Accord struck gold, and he had a suspicion that this was exactly why Gellert Grindelwald had employed him in the first place.
The Calderon-Boots had been keeping track of Martha Steward’s descendents until the early 1800s.
Martha Steward. Daughter of Isolt Sayre, the founder of Ilvermorny. She was a Squib who married a No-Maj, and she disappeared into the fabric of history.
Accord found a couple of her descendents' last names in the Calderon-Boot family archives, then he turned to the usual slew of No-Maj paper records.
Birth certificates, wedding registrars, obituaries.
All of the trails went cold but one.
That was how Daniel Accord found himself standing outside of a dilapidated apartment building in New Jersey, wondering what in Gordian's name was he doing for this German upstart.
Grindelwald appeared with a crack. Accord had sent him a pigeon letter earlier, and now the wizard appeared in a black flash.
He was a strange fellow, Accord thought. Grindelwald was handsome in a sort of delicate way -- his hair shoulder-length and golden, his blue eyes like glass -- but he gave off the impression that you shouldn't mess with him.
Politely – politely! -- Grindelwald rapped his knuckles on the No-Maj apartment door. There was no answer.
"They're in there," Grindelwald murmured. He waved his hand over the doorknob and turned it.
There was a very young boy sitting on the ground a little ways away from the door. His hair was jet black, half falling over his face and covering one eye, and there was a grass snake slithering around him.
The boy's unobscured eye widened when he saw the uninvited guests. He scampered away to the nearby kitchen, grabbing onto his mother's skirts. The mother wasn't alone; she had a daughter as well, a girl who barely looked older than her brother.
The woman clung to her two children, her face a wary mask. "Who are you? What are you doing here?"
"Names aren't quite important," Grindelwald said, with a kind of soothing, gentle smile. "I was wondering if you might have in your possession something like an old ring. It has a stone with a strange symbol on it. I'm a collector, you see, and that ring is part of a certain set."
The woman shook her head. "I don't have a ring."
Grindelwald held her gaze. "You're telling the truth. Oh--? One of your children is a Parselmouth. You're a Muggle, but there have been family stories being passed down and you know. You've been rather unnecessarily paranoid; I promise you, there's no reason to be scared."
The woman shivered, looked away, drawing her children closer to her.
"Which one?" Grindelwald said, mildly, as if he was retelling an amusing story. "It would be helpful if I brought her or him along with me. The name Slytherin still means something in some parts of the world. And a child with the serpent's tongue could help me find the ring. I would be honored--"
There was a clicking noise, and Daniel Accord, accustomed to violence in all forms, knew the sound of a gun being cocked.
Accord had his wand out immediately.
The woman had drawn out an old small revolver from a cabinet behind her, and she pointed it straight at Grindelwald.
"I hate Muggles who try to fight back, especially if they know they're facing down a wizard," Grindelwald said. He didn't bother taking out his own wand. "I was planning on Obliviating you, you know."
"I knew," the No-Maj said, "that someone would find us one day. You won't take my children."
The No-Maj fired off a shot, but Accord easily threw a shield charm over him and Grindelwald.
As she cocked the gun again, she whispered, "Run!"
Her children darted over the counter, the girl helping the boy climb. The boy was confused, his ears ringing from the gunshot, and the girl hauled him to the doorway.
"I'm going back to Mama," she said, pressing a quick kiss on his cheek. "Hide here. I'll come back for you."
The boy cried out for his mother and sister, while the grass snake skittered across the cold floor--
Eli Nemain woke up, his breath coming out frantic and unmeasured.
Momentarily, he had no idea where he was. Then he remembered. He was in Ilvermorny's Pukwudgie dorms. His yearmates were sleeping around him: some snoring, some silent.
Eli could never go back to sleep after he had nightmares, especially that one recurring nightmare about his family. So he leaped downward from his bunk bed and slipped on his cranberry-colored school jacket.
When he padded out to the Pukwudgie lounge room, a pretty curly haired girl was sitting on one of the chairs, rubbing her eyes.
Eli knew that she was a seventh year like him, but he didn't know her name. The term had just started, after all. He was a new transfer student who had stood on the Gordian Knot two days ago like the first year students.
"Your dreams are loud," she said, matter-of-factly, her tone light and airy.
"I'm a Legilimens," the girl said. "I suppose the others didn't warn you yet. I'm Queenie Goldstein."
Involuntarily, Eli found himself clenching his wand in his coat pocket. This wasn't good at all. Would she go to the Headmistress? His presence wasn't necessarily illegal, but in the overall scheme of things, if word got out--
"It's all right," she assured him. She gave him a quiet smile, tossing her head forward, her yellow curls like a halo around her head. "I won't tell. I know you don't mean any harm to the students. You should probably keep your Occlumency barriers up, Eli."
He did so. He mentally tugged the walls around his mind. He sighed and brushed his hand so his hair fell back to its usual parting, obscuring his left eye.
"You won't tell," Eli repeated, seeking confirmation again.
"No," Queenie agreed. "You're only here to watch the Tournament."
That was true, for the most part. Eli nodded. "Will you enter?"
During the Welcome Feast, Headmistress Wanderer announced that the Triwizard Tournament would be taking place at the school. She hadn't disclosed how the champions would be selected, but she said that the Beauxbatons and Hogwarts delegations would arrive next month.
Eli had known ahead of time, of course. That was the whole reason why he was here.
Queenie didn't answer him right away. Then she said, "Oh, I expect so." She waved a dismissive hand and said, "I feel awfully sorry for eavesdropping on you. I know how to make up for it."
Before Eli could protest, she tugged him out of the Pukwudgie quarters all together.
She led him down the shimmering glass steps of the Pukwudgie Tower, with something like a skip in her step. When she threw open one of the castle side doors, Eli hissed, "The guards--!"
"Legilimens, remember?" Queenie said, tapping her forehead.
Mount Greylock was a stunning sight to behold on that early fall morning. The trees glimmered red and orange, the sloping hills stretched out vivid shades of green.
Eli, who had lived in cities all his life, found himself gaping at the sun about to rise in the distance.
True to her word, Queenie managed to guide them so that they eluded the usual Pukwudgie guards. She walked through the trees, holding Eli's hand all the while, and she finally stopped at the edge of a creek.
The water, strewn with lily pads, glimmered as the sun's rays began to touch it.
"Go on," Queenie said in an encouraging tone. "Call for her."
Eli knew the old stories that his mother had told him, passed on to her by her mother, who had heard it from her mother, and so forth. But connecting parts of it to reality, to Ilvermorny now, seemed intangible, impossible.
"The Horned Serpent of Ilvermorny rarely emerges," Queenie said, kneeling by the riverbank. "I can't quite read her. Sometimes I get the impression when she's hungry or sleepy, but otherwise, it's hard to tell."
Tentative, Eli said, "Hello. What'sss your name? I am called Eli."
"You look like her," said a voice from the waters.
"I have Sssayre blood," Eli said.
The voice cackled. It was a gurgling, coarse voice, and a mottled serpentine head bobbed above the water, revealing piercing blue eyes. On the creature's head, there was a flashing jewel and a trio of horns, slightly chipped.
"I knew," the Horned Serpent said. "I have foreseen thissss. Rionach Sssteward chose not to have children becaussse she didn't want to continue the Ssslytherin line. While her own sister had children herself! As if being a Sssquib, marrying a human, and not ssspeaking the tongue would make her descendants not Sslytherins. No, the ability reoccursss, of course the bloodline continuesss..."
"I don't desssire to be a proper heir of anything," Eli said tightly. "I lossst my family becaussse of my Parseltongue."
"But you are here," said the Horned Serpent. "You have claimed sssomething of your heritage. Come visit me every full moon, and I will tell you about Isolt and Rionach. I will tell you about the early yearsss of Ilvermorny."
Eli knew it wouldn't be wise to refuse a Horned Serpent, one of the most dangerous magical creatures in existence. She was a legend herself, a remaining connection to the stories his mother told.
And the Horned Serpent might be useful...
"The European Triwizard Tournament is coming to Ilvermorny," he said. "What do you sssee?"
The Horned Serpent's blue eyes seared into his, and her tail lashed against the water, spraying rivulets behind her. "There are no certain possibilitiesss for the near future. There is another."
"No. A human Sseer."
On that note, the Horned Serpent smoothly sank back into the creek, leaving a trail of bubbles. Eli was left to stare at the space she left behind.
"Well!" Queenie exclaimed. "I hope you two had an interesting chat."
Eli summarized his conversation with the Serpent to Queenie. He didn't know who else to talk to right now, and it might as well be this strange girl, who suddenly knew everything about him.
"Seers are very rare," Queenie said, when he finished. "There's a Divination class here, but no one has the ability for it, not even our professor. He talks about the theories and histories of Second Sight, and the mathematical possibilities of futures happening. It's all very complicated."
"You're taking Divination," Eli guessed.
"I am," she said. "I'm good with numbers. I find calculations very relaxing to think about when I don't want to get too caught up in other people's heads." She added, "Of course I can help you."
Eli jerked his head up. "I thought my Occlumency walls were keeping you out."
"It is," Queenie said, with a smile. "I've still got the instincts for empathy and reading faces, Eli. And I've never joined an undercover mission before. I don't want to miss out on all the fun."
"This isn't an adventure," he told her. "This is—politics, really."
"You're a Puk," she said. "We can be independent like Pukwudgies themselves, but like them, we can be very loyal. This is about loyalty for you, not a job or a powerplay."
Loyalty. Gordian-damned Alex, Eli thought. His arrogant, absurd childhood friend.
"I'm like that about my sister," Queenie said, simply. "This'll be a chaotic year, Eli Nemain. You needn't be a Seer to guess that."
"Are you suggesting a deal?" Eli said. "Watching each other's backs?"
Queenie gave him a dazzling smile, her round pink mouth a graceful curve. "Yes. Keeping each other's secrets and offering support, especially in light of the Triwizard Tournament."
Mercy Lewis, this girl was more clever than she let on.
Queenie Goldstein was definitely a conundrum, Eli soon learned.
Enlisting Eli as a friend was a smart move, first and foremost, because Queenie didn't actually have any friends. She was attractive, demure, and polite, but her talent for Legilimitancy made her yearmates uncomfortable.
The other students gossiped to Eli how when she was younger, she didn't have a strong grasp on her abilities. She had always responded to other students and professors' thoughts, not able to tell that they weren't actually talking, and sometimes she still did it now. It inadvertently led to embarrassing situations, and the other students learned to keep their distance.
"She's gorgeous," said one of Eli's Pukwudgie's yearmates. "Though it's unsettling how she reads your mind. It always makes me wonder if she's cheating on tests, or poking around our heads to figure out our secrets.
"I remember when she was in first year and she knew that Holly Jauncey had a crush on Graham Gordon. Poor Holly. I mean, imagine dating Goldstein and knowing that she could tell if you thought about another girl."
Eli wondered what Queenie thought of him, since he was capable of Occlumency. Was it a relief for her? Did it make him emotionally impenetrable?
Did she expressly want his help for the Triwizard Tournament because of her knowledge of his abilities and connections? Was that why she introduced herself to him in the first place?
She continued being friendly to Eli. She taught him Divination theory so he could puzzle over the Horned Serpent's words, and she helped him become acquainted with Ilvermorny's classes.
Finally, he asked her. "Why do you want to participate in the Triwizard Tournament?"
After all, she didn't seem like the kind of person who wanted fame, despite her silent film star looks. And on the outside, you didn't see any hint of aggressiveness or the inclination to fight or compete.
They were in the Ilvermorny library, studying Divination. Queenie was trying to adjust variables to see how the future could be affected by the crossed prophetic streams of a Horned Serpent and a human Seer, each who affected timelines differently. It was all gibberish to Eli.
Queenie was chewing on the end of her pencil – Eli flushed as she curled her lip around it; a glimpse of the pink tip of her tongue – and after Eli said his question, she said, "Oh. I suppose I haven't been exactly fair, knowing all your secrets. It's not a difficult answer. The dragots."
"Me and my sister have been sort of hard up after our parents' deaths," Queenie went on to say. "We've gotten by on some money our parents left, Ilvermorny's fund for students who need it, and Teenie working odd jobs. But we've borrowed here and there, and Teenie had to set up a payment plan for her Auror training. I don't want her to ever worry again. And me, I suppose."
It was a startlingly honest confession, and Eli felt immediately ashamed for asking. "I'm sorry," he said.
He knew he had been poor when he was raised by his mother. After that, his upbringing may have been unusual, but he didn't have to worry about rent, food, or caring for a sibling.
"Don't," she said, pressing a finger to his mouth. "I told you, it's only fair. Baring our secrets."
Eli said, "You know that I--"
"It doesn't matter," she said firmly.
"The Triwizard Tournament!" Sanford yelled, raising his arm in triumph. He was in high spirits after Headmaster Black relayed the news last night, but Monty had more of a lukewarm reaction.
They were lazing on the benches of the Quidditch pitch, book bags carelessly discarded to the side.
"Can you imagine visiting Ilvermorny?" Sanford said. "They have Pukwudgies instead of house elves! They have this structure called the Gordian Knot instead of our stuffy old hat!"
"You know so much about it already," Monty pointed out. He knew that Sanford had relatives in America. "If you were picked, do you think you would be competing against that one distant cousin of yours you mentioned? That boy around our age?"
"I think he already left school a couple of years ago," Sanford said, with a loose shrug. "I'm glad that he did. I heard he's a wicked dueler, although he's managing the family business now."
"I'm a wicked dueler," Monty said.
"Monty," Sanford said witheringly, "everyone knows your true passion lies with potions. You're probably going to die in one of the Department of Mysteries' secret underground labs."
Monty made a noncommittal noise. He didn't like to think much of the future; he was a sixth year and wanted to prolong his stay at Hogwarts as long as possible.
There was something about this Tournament set-up that was bothering him, though...
"It's such a bizarre political situation," he said, his forehead creased in thought. "Durmstrang has always been the third school to make up the Triwizard Tournament, but now Ilvermorny's in with the lot? Merlin, why not Castelobruxo or Mahoutokoro?"
"Well, the war," Sanford said. "Britain, France, and America sounds so familiarly cozy together."
Sanford neglected to mention that the populations of Ilvermorny, Hogwarts, and Beauxbatons contained students from other nations or countries – Beauxbatons with Spanish students, Ilvermorny with Canadian students, for instance - but the popular association was obvious.
"The story that Black told us and the official story the Ministry's telling the Prophet is that Evermonde proposed reinstating the Tournament," Monty said. "Mate, that man and his cabinet are allergic to making any big political moves involving other countries. And anything that might disturb the Statute of Secrecy."
Reflexively, Monty bit back tacking on an insult directed at Evermonde. Evermonde was, truly and really, an arsehole of a minister.
Sanford rolled his eyes. "Go ask your dad about it, then. He'd know the political intricacies. I'm surprised he didn't tell you about the Tournament ahead of time."
"I'm surprised, too," Monty admitted. His father wasn't always talkative about politics with him, but he thought his dad would have alerted him since the Triwizard Tournament concerned Hogwarts.
"I wonder how Black's going to pack the Hogwarts delegation," Sanford mused, suddenly. "Obviously Lycoris and Regulus are guaranteed spots. But that leaves about eight more."
Regulus was only a fourth year. The Tournament was traditionally open to fifth through seventh years, but it was clear that Black would allow his grandson to have such a special privilege.
Black, Monty thought, would probably fill the rest of the delegation up with Slytherins. Maybe a pureblood Ravenclaw or two to pretend that he wasn't completely biased.
Monty didn't feel the urge to compete. The Tournament sounded foolhardy. He was more suited to the Wizarding Schools Potions Championship instead (Monty had missed his chance. It was held every seven years and was canceled in 1918 because of the war). But he found himself being disappointed on Sanford's behalf.
Sanford always seemed jovial. Right now, he was watching the sky and daydreaming, his sandy brown hair neatly combed back, the spatter of freckles on his cheeks curved upward as he smiled, and his brown eyes radiating warmth.
Before class, Professor Jarrow let him use her Floo to Floo call his father. Monty was one of the potion mistress' favorite students because of his enthusiasm for the subject; he helped her with some of her research, serving as an assistant.
"Dad!" he said, peeking his head out of the fire. "Are you there?"
He had Floo called his father's office back at the mansion that was their home. If his father wasn't there, he would try his father's office at the Ministry.
Luckily, Henry Potter was at home. He was sitting at his desk, smoking a cigar, shuffling through stacks of parchment. He looked like Monty: same messy black hair and hazel eyes, but he was older, with a carefully trimmed mustache.
"Fleamont," Henry said, frowning, "this couldn't wait for an owl--? You're in school."
"I'm sorry," Monty said. "But it's about the Triwizard Tournament. I was wondering what in Merlin's name is going on."
He didn't outright accuse his father of not informing him, but let the underlying subtext speak for itself.
Henry exhaled, a cloud of smoke billowing around him. "I apologize for not letting you know. I'm busy trying to unravel this whole mess myself."
"So I was right," Monty said. "It's not Evermonde. Someone else thought up of resurrecting this Tournament and then old Evermonde decided to take credit."
"He's not happy about it," Henry said, with a snort. "But he's realized that the Tournament makes the general public happy. Peace, unity, friendly competition, bloodsport-that-shouldn't-be-too-bloody. He knows he's not too popular for trying to make us sit out of the war and he wants to restore his image."
"So who came up with the original idea? What do they want out of this?"
"Mm, I don't think I should be knocking around conspiracy theories with you, son. I don't want you to let something slip and cause an international incident."
"Dad," Monty said with a scowl. He paused, an unexpected thought flitting through his mind. "It's not you, is it?"
"Morgana, no. I wouldn't put you or any other child in danger like that."
Monty thought of Lycoris and Regulus Black and thought, well. Exceptions existed.
"Is that your ongoing theory?" Monty said lightly. "Long winded assassination attempt?"
"No," Henry said. "It's a powerplay for reputation, Fleamont. Which is all well and good, because that's politics, but it's walking a very fine line when it involves our children. I'm surprised that there's little objection when the Tournament is so soon after the war. Inventing circumstances like this."
Henry looked tired.
When Henry Potter had stood on the Wizengamot floor and called for Magical Britain to join the Great War, there had been an uproar.
A Prophet reporter had somehow been able to sneak on Hogwarts grounds and Monty had been asked how would he feel if he was drafted to fight for the Muggles, since that was basically what his father was calling for, wasn't that right, Fleamont?
Monty, then a first year, had cursed the reporter with jelly legs. He still wasn't sure if he hated him more for slighting his father or calling him 'Fleamont', which only his mother and father could get away with doing.
Monty had managed to get out of that situation fine, and others like that afterward, becoming a decent dueler in the process.
Nevertheless, everytime Henry Potter saw his son in the hospital wing or in the headmaster's office, he'd look tired just like this.
For not the first time that day, Monty sighed. "I'll survive, Dad. Professor Black's going to stuff the Hogwarts delegation with Slytherins. Give Mum my love. Good luck at work."
He pulled back from the Floo, drawing back to Jarrow's office.
The way his father talked about the Triwizard Tournament was very hyperbolic, Monty thought. It wasn't guaranteed that someone would die, after all. The past fatalities were more like accidents, and Triwizard Tournament champions purposefully chose to put themselves at risk.
But maybe his dad was taking it so seriously because of those supposed unseen political influences that might be guiding the whole thing.
Maybe, despite assurances about the new Tournament, it wouldn't be so safe after all.
During Potions class, Monty fell into a pensive mood. He didn't know whether he should tell Sanford about his father's suspicions; his father had indicated that he wanted Monty to keep it confidential.
While they brewed antidotes, Sanford was cheerfully talking about the Triwizard Tournament. "What tasks do you reckon Ilvermorny will come up with? Probably something based around that mountain of Ilvermorny's, or wrestling pukwudgies..."
"The Triwizard Tournament," Monty said, finally, while grinding a graphorn horn. "There's little chance of either of us being picked for the delegation, but – be careful, Sanford."
"What did your dad tell you?" Sanford said, leaning forward, since he'd seen Monty emerge from Jarrow's office.
"The same sort of things I was talking to you about," Monty said. "The Triwizard Tournament isn't--"
"You know, Potter," said a dark haired girl next to them, in an almost conversational tone, "Sanford's going to the Tournament. He might not be champion, but he'll be there."
Monty stilled. How--?
Sanford was a Gryffindor. His family didn't move within the usual Dark pureblood circles; they were neutrally positioned purebloods. Not blood traitors, but not central pureblood players.
They had ties within the ministry, like many other purebloods, but it didn't count for much lately. Family members here and there who had worked for the Wizarding Examinations Authority or the Department of Magical Transportation. Nothing recently controversial or heavily political. Sanford's parents ran a small but respected book publishing company.
Then Monty felt extremely stupid. Of course.
"Lycoris," Sanford said, giving the Slytherin girl his usual eager grin, amiable as always. "I didn't hear anything about that."
"Grandfather Phineas told me about that cousin of yours running the Calderon-Boot Company," Lycoris said. "It would be remiss of him not to bring you along."
"I'm from the British branch of the family," Sanford said. He wrinkled in nose in consternation. "My family's not much like them, although we exchange letters. It seems like a poor excuse of connections, though I'd love to come along."
Lycoris hummed, waving her wand over her cauldron. "Well, yes, but it's important to take advantage of what opportunities you can, don't you think? It'll be fun."
"I suppose so," Sanford said. "No matter who's champion, Hogwarts should bring home the Cup. Certainly not the Americans, even if I do have relatives there. Did you know that Quodpot is a disgrace of a sport--"
Lycoris and Sanford began to exchange banter about Quodpot. Monty could never understand how Sanford was able to get along so well with Slytherins, but it helped that Sanford didn't have a Muggle-loving blood traitor for a father.
Then again, Sanford was on friendly terms with practically everybody; there was an easygoing manner about him that made him a natural acquaintance.
The idea of something bad happening to Sanford amidst the Triwizard Tournament made Monty feel suddenly upset.
When Lycoris disappeared into the ingredients cupboard, Sanford turned to Monty with a half-embarrassed expression. "It seems like I'll be going after all. Honestly, I don't know what Black's thinking. My family doesn't have any financial stake in my relatives' company at all; there's no use dragging me along, hoping my name would make an impression. And I was hoping you'd come, too, Monty."
"The Tournament isn't something I'm quite interested in participating in," Monty said. He made a resolution, silently apologizing to his father. "But I'll see if I can find some way to join the delegation anyway, Sanford. To watch your back, just in case."
Monty turned the options over in his head and tried to think like a politician.
He couldn't simply demand Professor Black to give him a spot on the delegation, because he had no influence or leverage. He could try to get Professor Jarrow to convince Black, but he knew that was asking too much of his potions teacher and she wouldn't succeed.
Calling in his father to exert pressure would fail, too, since Black detested Henry Potter like most other purebloods. And his dad didn't want Monty to be anywhere near the Tournament anyway.
The answer eventually came to Monty: Lycoris Black.
He found her standing next to the Great Lake, feeding a flock of crows. She scattered seeds with a wave of her wand, and the birds swirled in the air, a mass of fluttering wings. Her long black hair and her Slytherin green robes streamed behind her like a fluttering banner; it almost seemed like she was flying along with them.
She was strange one, Lycoris Black. Proud and haughty like the headmaster, but other students said she was already showing hints of the supposedly hereditary Black family madness.
Monty wouldn't know. Ridiculous, inbred purebloods.
"What is it, Potter?" Lycoris said. It was a grey, windy day, the surface of the Great Lake reflecting the stormy color of the sky. She had to raise her voice a pitch higher to be overheard over the sound of the wind, the crackling leaves, and the rustling crow wings.
"I need a favor," he said. "The Tournament. I want to come along with the delegation."
"Grandfather's already made up a list."
"I thought as much," Monty said. "I want to ensure Sanford will be alright, and I promise you I'll do whatever I can to repay you."
She let out an amused noise. "You're not Boot's guardian, Potter. And I don't think you have anything to offer me that I need or want."
Stubbornly, Monty said, "Yes, I do. If you or Regulus are chosen, I have better connections than you."
He stepped forward into the maelstrom of crows, waving one away. He said, "Your grandfather might be headmaster, and your older brother might be in the ministry, but they don't have ties to MACUSA like I do.
"Black -- remember, MACUSA entered the Great War a full year before the American Muggles did. My pro-war blood traitor of a father is close with MACUSA people. I can slip the Hogwarts champion valuable information about the tasks beforehand.
"British politics around pureblood families doesn't transfer to America. You might have clout here, but it will be different there."
Lycoris' face was an impassive mask. "You're bluffing. MACUSA's administration has been upturned after last year's election."
Monty held back a wince. He had been bluffing; he didn't even know whether his father was willing to leak anything, or even if his father would have anything concrete to leak about the tasks.
Still, it wasn't as if the new administration was any friendlier to stuffy British pureblood politics than the previous one had been. He knew that Lycoris knew that.
He said, "There are still some senators in office who are my father's friends. Don't forget about Sanford, either."
"What about him?" Lycoris asked.
"He might be able to learn about the Tournament from his family in America," Monty said. "He's polite to everyone, but he's also very honorable and fair-minded. I'm his close friend. I can persuade him to share information to you, your brother, or your Slytherin friends. Whoever is Hogwarts' champion, you need me there, Black."
It was another bluff.
To Monty's surprise, Lycoris smiled. "You play an interesting game, Potter. But the other members of the delegation have been chosen and informed: Avery, Fawley, Prewett, Rowle, Selwyn, Shafiq, Yaxley, and they'll cause a ruckus if they're forced out."
"I won't enter my name," Monty said. "I want to be there for Sanford and serve as a resource."
"Triwizard Tournament rules state that visiting schools cannot bring more than ten prospective students," Lycoris said, coolly. "I have a solution."
Monty narrowed his eyes. "What will that be?"
She twitched her wand, and a sound like thunder erupted from the tip. The crows around her scattered into the sky, their fleeting dark bodies reflected in the Great Lake below. "You'll see."
He did see. The next morning, he read the front page of the Daily Prophet.
CONCERNS RAISED OVER HEADMASTER PHINEAS NIGELLUS BLACK'S GRANDSON AS A POTENTIAL TRIWIZARD CHAMPION
A list of students in Hogwarts' Triwizard Tournament delegation was recently leaked to The Daily Prophet, with Headmaster Phineas Nigellus Black's fourteen-year-old grandson among the names.
Yesterday, Minister Evermonde announced the reinstatement of the Triwizard Tournament. Instead of the traditional triad of Hogwarts, Durmstrang and Beauxbatons, Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry will replace Durmstrang and act as the host school.
Usually held every five years, the Triwizard Tournament had been canceled due to past fatalities. The Magical Congress of America promised that this year's Tournament will contain vigorous safety measures.
However, the inclusion of Regulus Black, a fourth year, has raised worries about the young boy's safety.
"Traditionally, the Triwizard Tournament has been open to fifth, sixth and seventh years," said historian and retired Hogwarts professor Bathilda Bagshot. "The logic was, if you're old enough to take your OWLs [Ordinary Wizarding Levels], you're old enough to participate in the Tournament."
"If Regulus Black is chosen, one has to hope he won't get into a tragic cockatrice accident like 1792's judges."
Bagshot said that even if Regulus is of the prominent Black family, he doesn't have "the same magical ability or knowledge as a fifth year."
"Assuming this list is authentic, the inclusion of a fourth year student does appear troubling," said Secretary Henri Potrykus of MACUSA's Department of Education, which is organizing the Tournament.
Potrykus refused to condemn or denounce Headmaster Black, but he said that this year's Tournament, like past Tournaments, has been modeled on the assumption that fifth through seventh years will be participating.
Minister Evermonde and the Black family declined to comment.
It was typical Prophet fare, not stating the obvious fact that Regulus was among the delegation because of blatant favoritism. The article hadn't even pointed out how pureblood names dominated the entire list.
But, Monty thought, Lycoris did this to her own brother.
He snuck a sideways glance over at the Slytherin table, and he saw Lycoris grimly talking to Regulus. Regulus was nearly the splitting image of her, dark black hair and grey eyes, but he was shorter, smaller, oddly delicate, and Monty could understand why the Prophet splashed his picture over the front page of the Prophet.
Typically, one would think that the Prophet would go out of its way not to humiliate an important pureblood family by patronizing one of its children.
Monty suspected that it liked the whiff of scandal and the accompanying hand wringing, and it helped that Headmaster Black wasn't a well-liked headmaster, even among pureblood ingratiates.
Sanford nudged Monty and gestured toward the paper. "What's this about?"
"Why do you assume I know about it?"
"Because you wanted a position on the delegation and one's suddenly opened," Sanford said. "Did you sabotage Regulus?"
"No," Monty said sharply. "I made a deal with Lycoris and she leaked the list herself. I didn't know what she was going to do."
He told Sanford about his conversation with Lycoris by the Great Lake.
"Oh," Sanford said. "Y'know, I think she probably appreciates that you gave her the opportunity. She never said it directly, but she was worried about her brother. Her family's too proud to withdraw him or let him withdraw, but now they'll be forced to because of Ministry and MACUSA pressure."
"She was worried?" Monty said. "I didn't notice."
"I paid attention," Sanford said, with a shrug. "I don't know; I could tell. I mean it, Monty, when I said that she probably liked the opportunity you gave her."
"Because Lycoris will talk the matter over with Black and suggest me, saying that my father's connections might soothe tension with MACUSA if they're angry about Regulus," Monty murmured in realization. "Instead of simply letting her brother and grandfather feel like they've been thrown out to the wolves."
"See?" Sanford said. "That's Slytherins for you. Clever."
Lycoris Black was a protective older sibling, but of course, she acted on those instincts in a purely Slytherin way.
Then again, Monty thought wryly, that was one thing that he had in common with her, even if he was a Gryffindor at heart. He was doing this, after all, for Sanford Boot.
Monty nearly forgot to write to his parents about the Triwizard Tournament, and he hastily scrawled a letter that night. He didn't want his father to find out from anyone other than him, like through his ministry contacts or any other impromptu Prophet leaks.
Dear Mum and Dad, the letter read. Surprise! With Regulus Black being pulled out, I got myself on the Hogwarts Triwizard Tournament delegation. Before you start fretting, I PROMISE I WON'T ENTER MY NAME TO THE TRIWIZARD JUDGE.
You probably saw Sanford's name on the Prophet's list. He's on there because of his American family and he's excited about the prospect of being champion. But because of the things you told me about, Dad (won't put it into writing, but you know what I mean), I was immediately worried and I knew I needed to come along.
An American adventure doesn't sound so dreadful. I'll be careful, make new friends, watch Sanford's back, bring a souvenir for you, Mum, etc, etc.
Your loving son,
With the letter tucked into his pocket, Monty swept his Invisibility Cloak around himself and tiptoed out of Gryffindor Tower. He made his way to the Owlery, where his owl Nyctimene roosted with the other owls.
While he was passing through a dark hallway, he froze when he heard someone mention his name.
"Monty Potter seems to have been substituted for Regulus Black," a voice was saying. "I'm not surprised, considering that boy is an excellent potioneer. But it seems out-of-character for Phineas, considering Monty's father. That delegation list is a farce."
It was Professor Jarrow, his Potions professor. She was standing in the hallway, wearing her usual outfit of Muggle clothes, eschewing witch's robes: an olive green day dress, a grey suit jacket, and a green head wrap that Jarrow always said helped keep her hair out of the way when she brewed.
"Ah, yes," said another voice, and Monty recognized Dumbledore, his Transfiguration professor. Contrary to Jarrow, he was clad in crimson red robes that seemed to shimmer in the darkness. The robes were of a darker shade than his auburn hair. "I told Phineas that there was no need to use a Doubling Charm on the list of Hogwarts' donor families and those seated on the Board of Governors."
Jarrow snorted, but her tone shifted into seriousness. "I do think that many talented students were denied a real opportunity, Albus. I can't help but imagine myself as a student again. I know I would've wanted to compete in the Tournament."
Jarrow was the only Muggleborn professor at Hogwarts, and she flouted her status openly, in defiance of Black's very obvious prejudices.
The only reason why she still had her job was because good potioneers had been hard to find during wartime. The majority of them threw their lot into battle potioneering and healing potioneering unsanctioned by the ministry, sending out batches to warzones, too preoccupied to take up teaching.
(Monty knew for a fact that Jarrow covertly brewed battle potions during the war, between classes and at night, but it was a well-kept secret.)
"Perhaps it's for the best," Dumbledore said thoughtfully.
"It's for the best that we get to have ourselves a couple of months without Phineas and some of those little horrors who parrot their parents' odious beliefs?"
Dumbledore inclined his head. It wasn't a yes or a no.
Meanwhile, Monty shifted underneath the Invisibility Cloak, taken aback by Jarrow's forthrightness. But he understood. The war had made the political climate at Hogwarts very ugly, especially with Phineas Nigellus Black as headmaster.
Monty had been on the receiving end of backlash because of his father. Muggleborn students, who Jarrow regarded as her responsibility, had received worse treatment.
"There are troubling matters in the wider world that I hope our students can avoid while they're young," Dumbledore went on to say. "There exists three schools of thought in this current generation. There are those who build bridges, those who burn them, and those who build walls in an attempt to stop bridge crossing, not realizing that the walls in question are made of parchment, doused in petrol, and surrounded by flammable dried catoblepas dung. I fear that it is the ideal moment in time for the bridge burners..."
Dumbledore suddenly sounded very tired.
"That's a thoroughly unpleasant metaphor," Jarrow said. "Catoblepas dung fumes are also incredibly poisonous, you know. But, Jesus, Albus. All this politics shall drive me mad one day..."
Jarrow and Dumbledore moved on across the hallway, leaving Monty alone in the corridor.
What in Merlin's name was all that about?