Co-written with Darth Krande (fanfiction u/2276285/Darth-Krande) (archiveofourown users/DarthKrande/pseuds/DarthKrande)
Ch 1 – One more teacher lost to the curse
The rushed Patronus from Minerva really had ruined Dumbledore's day. He'd left his office immediately, despite the confusion in the message, because if something had managed to happen to the usually unflappable witch, it had to be truly severe.
He could hear the carnage from the corridor above – loud crashes and screams. He picked up his pace, unnerved but unsurprised to see Poppy hurrying up from the other direction. The source of the chaos was easily found: the Defence classroom... It was with trepidation that he drew his wand and pushed the door open, wondering how his newest staff member had managed to create such havoc so early.
Cornish Pixies were easily recognizable, and judging by the mess they had been released in dangerous numbers. Minerva was furiously casting freezing charms in the centre of the room, backed up by the Granger girl. Poppy hurried over to the fallen chandelier and Albus gave a resigned sigh, twirling his wand and freezing several more pixies. Immediately, two Gryffindors dove out from under a desk and snatched up the frozen imps, throwing them into the cage that was surprisingly still upright on the desk before the spell could fade.
Fifteen minutes later the pixies were almost all back in the cage, with the occasional straggler that Miss Granger was happy to deal with as Albus and Minerva turned to the second pressing issue. The students began to trickle out from their hiding spots under desks as the calm descended and inevitably formed a curious circle around the prone body that Poppy was tending to.
They parted like the Red Sea for Albus as he approached, and by a process of deduction he already knew that Gilderoy would be the one trapped beneath the massive metal structure. The experienced nurse had already scourgified the blood, but she kept having to repeat the charm, so the newest professor must have been bleeding heavily – hardly a suitable sight for impressionable twelve year olds.
He dismissed the class, all of whom reluctantly left at his orders, peering back as they went.
'How is he, Poppy?' Albus asked once the door banged shut behind the last student.
'Severe crushing to his legs and lower torso, a concussion and a broken wand arm; beyond my ability to fix. He'll have to go to St. Mungo's.' The mediwitch reported sharply, waving her wand over the body to clean yet more blood. Albus sighed and flicked his wand, sending a Patronus to request healer assistance.
'I suppose I will have to put another ad in the Prophet.' The old wizard sighed, lamenting about the now-obvious fraud before he left.
The healers arrived just a few minutes later – a team of efficient-looking witches and a wizard who pulled Poppy aside for a brief discussion. Knowing that he was no longer needed, Albus left with Minerva and strolled down to the staff room.
'Albus?' The witch ventured as they finally reached the privacy of the staff room. 'Do you think it's the curse?'
The warlock sighed again and said something meaningless about the complete lack of a curse and how coincidences could be easily misinterpreted. Even as he tried to reassure her, Tom Riddle's words rung in his memory, cursing the position and all whom Albus employed to fill it.
He'd looked at the curse of course, trying to unravel it but the strands of dark magic were twisted into a web he couldn't comprehend. It was like trying to read a novel in a foreign language without a single lesson. He could see it, but he had no idea where to even start to work out exactly how the spell worked, let alone cast the countercurse.
He must have missed Minerva's next question because he suddenly found her looking at him expectantly.
'Sorry, I must have dozed off. I do miss armchairs in my office.' He apologized vaguely and Minerva gave him an exasperated look.
'I asked whether you had anyone in mind to approach about the position now.' She repeated and Albus sighed.
'I might ask Remus, I'm sure accommodations can be made for his condition again.' Albus pondered but Minerva was already shaking her head.
'Remus has managed to get a steady muggle job. He will not give it up for a position that may as well be temporary.' She informed him and Albus winced. It was true, the young werewolf couldn't afford to give up any job he'd managed to get and the Defence position would be temporary with the rate they were going through teachers.
'I will have to think on it.' He finally decided. Maybe he could convince Alastor, although the fearless auror was said to be considering retirement.
Not an hour later the headmaster found himself facing his least favourite member of the Board of Hogwarts Governors, Lucius Malfoy. And unlike last time they talked, now he had to admit there was truth behind the (former?) Death Eater's words.
After all, Draco had witnessed first-hand the incapability of the most recent Defence Against Dark Arts teacher, who didn't even last one day in the position. He couldn't expect the news not to spread like Fiendfyre, especially where the Malfoys were involved.
Poor Draco, Albus thought. After just two months into his education, the Ravenclaws and several upped-year Slytherins had already started calling him 'My-Father-Will-Hear-About-This' behind his back and his only friends were those two half-trolls Greg Goyle and Vincent Crabbe. There wasn't much the headmaster could do about him, however.
Lucius Malfoy was a different case. Not a victim of an overly manipulative father, but a good source of trouble on his own. And, most bitterly, Albus had to admit that this one time the senior Malfoy was correct. Employing competent teachers was his responsibility, especially now that children of Draco's age were attending school. (Well, maybe there was no specific need to educate Draco further, but that year of students included Harry and his friends too.)
And, if the headmaster was unable to present said competent teacher, the Board might have to reconsider if he was truly the best person for the position. Lucius had a rather slimy grin when he had said that, in an elaborate and perfectly polite manner only politicians can pull off, but the truth in his words burnt like a wound.
"So, you want me to get someone who's doubtlessly knowledgeable about the Dark Arts. And willing to teach. And available in very short notice."
Lucius Malfoy nodded.
"And he had better hold the true values of the wizarding heritage," he added with a predatory smile. "Do you know any such person?"
Albus Dumbledore took one deep breath, because he just remembered one wizard whom the description matched perfectly. Maybe the parents of every other child will disapprove (not to mention the staff! How will he tell them?) but Lucius Malfoy would very predictably approve.
Indeed, if he had Malfoy's support in this one...
He gathered up his courage, looked the former Death Eater in the eyes, and said a name so meaningful, so hated, but still, very dear to him.
Lucius Malfoy nodded with a pleased smile. "I never thought I would approve of your ideas, Headmaster, but as it stands, there's still hope for you."
"Do I have your support in the Board about his employment?" Albus Dumbledore asked.
"Consider the Board supporting you unanimously," the pureblood offered.
Under any other circumstances, that pleased expression of Malfoy's would have sent Dumbledore into a fit of defiance.
The fortress had changed little on the exterior since Albus had last visited. The building was as dark and ominous as ever but now it no longer thrummed with dark magic, instead it had an abandoned, haunted air that sent shivers down Albus' spine.
He tried to banish the memories that resurfaced. The mad and murderous glare of the twisted shell that had once been his friend as he was dragged, disarmed and bound, to the highest cell. His heart echoed with pain as he remembered looking into his lover's eyes and seeing nothing but fury and the pure, unadultered hatred that couldn't be falsified.
He dearly hoped that his nemesis had changed, that he had realized the error of his ways at some point in his half a century of imprisonment. That the isolation and boredom hadn't driven the brilliant wizard to madness. But at the same time he prayed that it had, that he could find an excuse to spare himself the pain that his own foolish plan had brought.
He could never forget the route up to the tower, it seemed no shorter this time than the eons is had taken the last time, but now he could see the signs of true disuse. In the bright glow of his wand he could see the mouldering finery. The husks of long burnt out torches cast ghostly shadows across the walls which illuminated the spiderwebs that slung between them. The old warlock brandished his wand in front of him, waving it like a sword to clear the silken strands from his path. Dust blossomed with each footstep across the crimson carpet, and he was eventually forced to cast a bubble head charm to stop the hacking cough that had developed by the seventh floor.
He paused again on the thirteenth floor, this time to brace himself to see what had become of his friend. The other wizard already knew he was here; he'd felt the other reach for him when he'd been climbing the stairs but Albus had been able to discern very little before the presence withdrew. He'd never been able to rival his old friend in his ability to sense the arcane, a skill he believed was intrinsically related to being a seer, so Albus was unable to return the probe. At least it indicated some level of retained sanity.
Albus rallied his Gryffindor courage and hurried up the last flight of stairs to the heavy oak door. The rusted hinges squealed in protest as he pushed it open.
Gellert Grindelwald was almost as unrecognizable as he imagined himself to be. He was grubby, wearing his old black coat over the remains of the white shirt. His pale skin had been dyed grey by dirt, black lining the creases in his face. There were no smile lines, but neither where there frown lines and his expression remained carefully blank even as the dark wizard looked up from his spot in the corner. His hair had turned from pale blond to bedraggled grey, streaked through with grimy yellow. The beard had been hacked short, possibly with the shard that must have been broken off the wall in a failed escape attempt.
There was no laughing, no taunting. In fact, the prisoner was strangely silent. The only expression was visible in his blue eye which seemed to glow with an inner fire from the shadows. It burned with the curiosity the face would never show.
'Gellert.' Albus managed to say, his voice cracking slightly. The prisoner's lip quirked, revealing a flash of yellowed, decaying teeth.
'Albus. I didn't think you would come.' Gellert's voice was hoarse, the words strung together awkwardly as if he had almost forgotten the language.
'Neither did I.' The Supreme Mugwump admitted, trying to gauge the dark wizard's mood.
'Any yet here you are.' It was a statement, but Albus knew it was meant as a question.
'I came to ask you something.' Albus declared, receiving a nod in return. That was expected, the wizard opposite him knew that Dumbledore wouldn't have come unless he had to. 'I have a position at my school that is proving exceedingly difficult to fill.'
Surprise flickered across Grindelwald's face. He had not expected this. It felt strange to catch him unawares; the sight usually saw to his preparedness. The moment was not unwelcomed, as it allowed Albus his first glance behind the emotionless mask the dark wizard wore. Even from the brief glance he could see that something had changed, although whether that was for the positive or negative it was impossible to tell. There was less blind fury, more of a calculated darkness. Or was the other wizard's soul so damaged that it still appeared dark even when his intentions were good?
'Which position?' The dark wizard asked curiously, and Albus smiled. This was the true irony of the situation.
'Defence Against the Dark Arts.' Now the other wizard did laugh but it was simple humour, not borne of the twisted joy he'd expressed upon hurting Albus during their duel. If he closed his eyes, Albus could almost imagine they were still in Godric's Hollow as teenagers and Gellert was still his charming younger self. Back before their different morals had come between them.
'When do I start?' It was a quick agreement, but that was only to be expected. What was yet to be established was just how much havoc the dark wizard still hoped to cause.
The announcement in the Teachers' Room went less fluently. Filius Flitwick and Aurora Sinistra were the most up in arms against letting a war criminal in the school. Septima Vector wrote a long list of suggested security measures, while Minerva McGonagall simply demanded that Albus 'kept that monster away from the little lions'. To this, Severus Snape commented that she only cared about her own house and Gellert Grindelwald should be kept away from the student body as a whole. Hearing this, Pomona Sprout pointed out just who had been teaching at Hogwarts for the thirteenth year because of his need for a second chance, and Rolanda Hooch backed her up, pointing out the numerous howlers parents send about the unfair, unbiased and unsanitary potioneer terrorizing his students in class instead of teaching them, and the headmaster had to dissolve that debate before they could continue the discussion about the newly acquired Defence teacher.
Bathsheda Babbling, at this point, swallowed back her own commentary, and continued marking parchments of rune translations. Silvanus Kettlebell shrugged and murmured something about looking forward to their newest monster.
With Sybil Trelawney not participating in the discussion and Cuthbert Binns haunting in his own classroom as per usual, Charity Burbage was the last teacher whose opinion was yet to be heard. With a sigh, she only said a quiet, resignated 'okay,' trusting her headmaster to know what he was doing.
Dumbledore thanked them all, and started reading the Arithmancy teacher's list, gravely nodding at each point she had made. Clearly, keeping a fallen tyrant was a nightmare from the security's point of view, and knowing that said tyrant was currently enjoying a hot bath in his private quarters (in a bathtube larger than his entire cell had been) didn't exactly help keeping his mind on the matter.
Most of Septima Vector's suggested measures were already in place. Grindelwald was already wearing a tracker that would also enable any teacher to listen in to whatever he was saying all the time – Septima suggested that this would activate immediately when he was trying to talk to anyone privately. This same tracker, a necklace, had a portkey pendant on it that would take him back to Nurmengard as soon as he repeated his old motto in any language. He was not allowed to use magic outside of the DADA classroom, unless explicitly permitted by another teacher. Students would be warned against trusting him – while his identity would be kept a secret, even his new, public alias would be introduced as 'a known Dark practicioner'. There was no way around him needing a wand, but he had already sworn never again to use an Unforgiveable (although, as Albus was too aware, there were alternative spells with similar results) and anything he would be given must be returned upon leaving, including any piece of clothing.
His timetable was fixed on the wall of his quarters, an exact copy of it on the headmaster's desk. Should he offer any private lessons, the time, location and the attending students should be properly listed there, and a Protean charm ensured the two sheets wouldn't differ. The prefects would not be allowed to patrol his area of the castle after curfew, so as not to present an easy target. Aurora Sinistra offered to check on him after her classes, all of which ended at random hours during the night. During daytime, any and all suspicious behaviour should be reported to the headmaster immediately, and the countless paintings and ghosts of the castle eagerly agreed to the task.
After everything was arranged, Albus Dumbledore retreated to his own bedroom, his mind currently focused on the people who hadn't been told about the new professor's true identity. Rubeus Hagrid, because no magic in the world can keep him from spilling secrets. Argus Filch, because his hatred focusing on Grindelwald would test the new teacher's self-restraint on a level he clearly wasn't ready for. Poppy Pomfrey, because she had accompanied Lockhart to St. Mungo's and wasn't in a mood to be told anything for the last two days. And Aberforth Dumbledore, because... For a number of reasons, his brother summed up, instead of picking just one of the many.
Fawkes landed softly on his blanket, his wise eyes asking why his human wasn't sleeping yet. Albus patted his old phoenix on the head, and the bird let out a quiet trill.
"I know, Fawkes. But I fear I'd just fall victim yet again, how can I of all people risk that?"
The phoenix chirped softly.
"You haven't seen how neglected he was, up there. Do you remember how great he can look when he tries? It was I who denied him any company for 48 years. See, I'm making myself feel guilty without him as much as surfacing from his room. This can't end well."
Fawkes settled on the blanket near his human's shoulder instead of his usual night perch. He ruffled his greying feathers, and buried his beak under his wing, imitating to sleep.
"My wise advisor," Albus said fondly, and followed Fawkes's example.