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Rumours and Riddles

by LizBee

     Subject: Riddles and Rumours (HP, rated PG-13)
     Date: Tuesday, December 17, 2002 6:02 PM

     Rumours and Riddles
     By LizBee
     Summary:  Grindelwald attacks Hogwarts in 1945, and there
     are all sorts of rumours flying about.
     Rated: PG-13
     Notes:  Not at all the story I sat down to write.  A first-
     time foray into the '40s.  I believe I've diddled with fanon
     timelines to achieve this, but technically, canon is
     Thankyous: to Viola, for her beta, and Alec, for making
     encouraging noises.
     Feedback: is welcome.
     Characters: are the property of JK Rowling and

The worst part was the rumours. Even after the students had been confined to the common rooms, with magical fires raining around the school, the rumours had flown from house to house.

"Dippet died in the first wave. I heard it from a Hufflepuff."

"Parsons in Ravenclaw says that Grindelwald has killed all the staff. He's on the Astronomy Tower right now, draining their blood and preparing to take the students."

"The Aurors have fallen..."

"The Aurors never got here..."

"The Ministry has fallen..."

"The Minister was a traitor all along..."

"It's not Grindelwald at all; it's the German Muggles..."

"Tom Riddle has sent secret owls to all the prefects, saying that he's organised an evacuation, and now they're just waiting for the signal..."

"That's not true," snapped Minerva, wondering if the little first year would see the hesitation in her eyes, in her fluttering hands. "There's no evacuation plan. You shouldn't listen to rumours."

Ah, but rumours were all that they had, and there was a whisper: that there was no evacuation plan because there was no point in trying to escape. They would die now, or they would die later.

Or they would live.

The first year's eyes glistened, and Minerva wondered if she had been too harsh. "Tom will save us," said the little girl. "He did last year ... he'll get us all out."

Minerva bit her lip and said nothing. She slipped up to the prefects' office, high above the dormitories. They had been keeping watch for three days, now, sleeping, resting and patrolling the Tower in shifts. No one had heard from the teachers since the first day of the attack.

Ella Tremayne was dozing on the couch, but Alastor Moody was standing by the windows.

"Do you see anything?" Minerva asked.

"Smoke. Dust." He was normally a handsome student, as good-looking as the Head Boy (and much more manly, the Gryffindors liked to point out), but the shadows under his eyes looked like bruises, and his hair was a tangled mess.

"Have you slept at all?"

"Some. Yesterday. A couple of hours, I think." He shrugged. "I need to keep watch."

"You should rest."

"Let's survive this first, McGonagall. If we're going to die, I don't want to be caught sleeping."

They had been classmates for six years, but this was their first real conversation, their first exchange about something other than Quidditch, or classes, or the concerns of prefects.

"There's a rumour that Tom has made an evacuation plan," she whispered.

"Never heard of it."

"Me, neither. But you do think - it seems like the kind of thing he'd do..."

There was a flash of red, and the world went dark. Minerva felt like a fly, trapped in a spider web of time that stretched on and on and on...

A voice whispered, I am Grindelwald... A mind touched hers, cold and deathly-soft. What are you, little witch?

Alive, Minerva whispered, and the mind laughed.

They all say that.

And he moved on to the next student, touching each one in turn. The spider web became sticky, turning into honey. Or amber.

I'll save you for later, witch. You and your classmates.

Minerva floated in amber, utterly alone. Suddenly, lost in the recesses of her own mind, and the shell that Grindelwald had wrapped around her, she longed for the common room, where she was surrounded by people, and whispers, and rumours.

Save us, Tom, she thought. Where is your evacuation plan? Bring us back into the light, have a hundred points for Slytherin and another Award for Special Services...

There was a chuckle, a whiff of tobacco and old robes, and a presence.

Professor Dumbledore?

Miss McGonagall.

The presence moved on, and the amber felt more pliable. In the darkness, far away, she heard voices.

You cannot - I am Grindelwald, and you are dust--

Can't I? asked Dumbledore, and although his words were triumphant, his voice was unhappy.

The amber melted away, and Minerva found herself on the floor, hair in her face and blood in her mouth. She had bitten her tongue as she fell.

Beside her, Alastor was stirring, pulling himself up and returning to the window.

"The sun is out," he said.

Rumours flew. The Ministry had descended on the school, followed closely by the Daily Prophet. With a fortnight to go before the NEWTs, Professor Dumbledore stopped teaching, and Minerva led last-minute revision sessions and tried to pretend that it was meant to be like this.

There were rumours that Dumbledore had been taken to Azkaban, or the Ministry. That he was in the hands of the Department of Mysteries, that he was under house arrest. No one but the assistant groundskeeper seemed interested in hearing otherwise, but the rest of the school took this as a bad omen; hadn't Hagrid been expelled only a year before? And it had been Dumbledore who had arranged to keep him on...

"But Dumbledore saved us all!" said Minerva, and she viciously removed house points from anyone she caught gossiping. The prefects had appointed themselves the task of slowing the stream of gossip. Four teachers were missing, along with the headmaster, and no one seemed inclined to police the students in any way. The Ministry officials seemed to take their mere presence as an affront: students in a school? An outrage!

Minerva tried to ask about the voices she had heard, the cool touch of Grindelwald, and the gentle presence of Dumbledore, but no one would discuss it.

"Nothing happened," said Arabella, finally. Her Head Girl badge gleamed green and silver in the light. "We were just unconscious."

Tom smiled slightly, and Minerva wondered if he remembered something, even if no one else did. But he was more worried about maintaining order in the school than one student's memories - or hallucinations - of the attack.

"Sit down, McGonagall," he said now. He maintained strict standards of etiquette, and the meetings were the only sane things in the school.

"I heard the Aurors are arriving tomorrow," said a fifth year Hufflepuff.

"About bloody time," Alastor muttered.

"It's rumour only, Moody," said Tom. "I'm more concerned with the Ministry."

"They're getting awfully secretive," said Arabella. "I tried to send a note to my father yesterday, and the Head of the Department of Magical Censorship confiscated letter and owl."

"He's on the Board of Governors, isn't he, your dad?" asked Alastor. Arabella nodded, and frowned.

"We need to get the Ministry out," she said softly. "If I can borrow an owl - get a message to Father--"

"No," said Tom. "We will accept the presence of the Ministry for now. There's no sense in involving ourselves in politics, and we can hardly lead a coup d'tat with eight beaters and a mentally deficient groundskeeper, can we? However much certain Gryffindors may want to." He smiled, and several people chuckled, but Minerva had had enough.

"Leave Hagrid out of this," she snapped. "He's shown more loyalty to the school - to Dumbledore - than anyone else. Look how many people have happily sent Professor Dumbledore off to Azkaban, in their minds, if not in truth--"

"Thank you, Miss McGonagall." For years afterwards, Minerva wondered why no one had seen the professor standing behind Tom, a small smile on his face. "Although it would appear that Hagrid is not the only person loyal to me." Dumbledore sat down, looking pale and tired. And older, Minerva noticed; there were strands of silver in his once-auburn hair and beard.

Tom rose to his feet. "Welcome back, sir."

"'Welcome back', Tom? I never left."

With a flash of red and a lilting cry, a bird swooped into the room. Alastor almost went for his wand, before Dumbledore laughed and allowed the bird to land on his outstretched hand.

"May I introduce you all to Fawkes?"

"A Phoenix," whispered Tom. He, too, had turned pale at the sudden entrance of the bird. Hesitantly, he ran a finger down the bird's back. "My wand contains a phoenix feather, but I've never seen one of the birds in the flesh."

"Your wand's core comes from this very bird, Tom. Now is that not a remarkable coincidence?"

A very small smile touched Tom's lips. "He is magnificent. A beast to be proud of."

"Sir," asked Alastor cautiously, "where did you get ... it...?"

"He is a prize of war, I fear. His former ... owner ... has died."

"Grindelwald," said Tom.


"And now he is yours. Extraordinary."

"Do you think so? I have found that many so-called coincidences, the machinations of fate, if you will, are engineered by humans themselves. It was my research into the background of your wand, Tom, that brought Hogwarts to Grindelwald's attention. As for Fawkes ... he cannot be held responsible for the spells that bound him to his former master. But I released him, and gave him a new name, and he remains by my side of his own volition."

"This research, sir," said Tom, "might I see it? I'm rather interested in my history, since I never knew my parents."

"I suppose you might. See me before the end of term. We all have a great deal of catching up to do."

Minerva paused outside Dumbledore's office, and knocked quickly, before her courage failed.

"Come in."

Dumbledore was sitting by the fire, feeding sheafs of parchment into the flames. Minerva watched the words curl and burn: 'and the phoenix shall be of flame, death and life, yew and holly, born of the mentors...'

"Do you take Divination, Minerva?"

"No, sir. Arithmancy."

"A sensible choice. I fear that my patience with prophecies and predictions has worn quite thin of late. The past is enough of a burden."

"What happened, Professor? I remember the - the amber, and the voice. Then there was you ... no one will talk about it, and there have been all sorts of rumours..."

"I imagine that most people simply don't remember, Minerva. Grindelwald's spells are difficult memories for even the strongest minds to bear."

"You broke them, Sir. Didn't you?"

"Yes. Grindelwald needed power, vast amounts of it, and since he could not break through the Dark Wards surrounding Durmstrang and Beauxbatons, he turned his attention to Hogwarts, and an over-curious teacher. He sought to drain the magic out of every student in this school, bar one. Instead, I drained him. And after much deliberation, the Ministry of Magic has decided that I am a hero."

"I'm sorry."

He smiled gently. "Thank you."

"Will you be all right?"

"In time. But I have a great deal to think about." He threw more parchment on the fire. "Much of it unpleasant. Have you ever had the nasty feeling that you are merely playing a part in an elaborate game? One being prepared for decades - or centuries - or millennia?" Dumbledore rose and approached Fawkes. Gently, tenderly, he plucked a feather from the Phoenix's tail. "I find myself wondering," he said as he wrapped the feather, "whether I should play the game as best I can, hoping all the while that I understand the rules ... or should I end it here and now? I have done so once all ready..."

Minerva shuddered. Teachers did not speak this way to students, but then, nothing had been quite normal since Grindelwald's attack. No, the strangeness had begun earlier, last year, when that silly girl died and Hagrid was expelled.

"Professor," she said, "there was a rumour that Tom had arranged an escape route, an evacuation..."

"Ah. Well, no doubt he did. For some few, anyway. He has always found ways to reward those who are loyal to him." As Minerva prepared to leave, Dumbledore added, "Oh, Miss McGonagall? Congratulations. With Professor Dippet dead, I will be Headmaster next year, and you will be Head Girl." There was a shadow of a twinkle in his eye as he said, "let us hope that Gryffindor can regain the status we had before young Mr Riddle charmed everyone into wearing green and silver."

Minerva smiled. "Yes, sir."

"Chocolate frog?"

"Thank you, Professor."

The halls and corridors were silent as Minerva returned to her dorm. If rumours were circulating, they did not reach her ears.


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