The Perks of Being a Wallflower

A single crimson spark shone in the dark, glimmering like a fading star bleeding into the black.

‘Ba’alat Tanit demands sacrifice.’ Sophonissa’s whisper welled up from some distant place, rising like the slow swell of storm winds. ‘Two for the flames.’

Over and over she murmured it, her words blurring together and soaring to screams; they rang in Harry’s ears, echoing like the hammering of his heart, sending him reeling with each beat.

Its throb turned to words on the tip of his tongue. 

‘Ba’alat Tanit demands sacrifice,’ he whispered as the beat of Kart Hadasht’s heart reverberated through him from head to toe.

The fading red spark burst into blinding dawn-bright light, washing across a world of dull grey concrete and orange tiles and the storm shrieked.

A figure of shadow stood upon the sky wearing a face of glowing amber. ‘Nothing lasts forever,’ it hissed, its voice full of roaring flames. ‘Not sunsets. Not wishes. Not dreams. Not hope.’

‘Eclipse them all,’ Sophonissa murmured in his ear. ‘Eclipse them all, last son of Kart Hadasht.’

A sharp rap snapped him from sleep and he snatched his wand from under his pillow, scrambling out of the bed.

‘Henri,’ Isobel called. ‘Présidente Desrosiers wants to get there first to observe all she can when the other delegations arrive and convey a good impression.’

‘I’ll be out in a moment,’ he replied, dragging on his robes. ‘There—’ Harry checked his face in the mirror, smoothing his blonde curls down with one hand and slipping his wand into his sleeve ‘—all set.’ He opened his door.

‘Ready when you…’ Présidente Desrosiers frowned. ‘Your face?’

‘You may call me Henri Dufort for the remainder of this,’ Harry said. ‘I have borrowed an identity.’

Her lips pursed and adjusted the iron rose pinning her hair in a tight knot. ‘Very well. While it is an obvious deception, it is far more acceptable than a wizard without a face lurking over my shoulder.’ She set off down the corridor. 

‘This doesn’t seem like it’s going to be very exciting,’ Harry muttered, hurrying after her.

‘It’s better that way,’ Celine said. 

Colette nodded. ‘Much better.’

They turned on Isobel. ‘Right, sister?’

Isobel gave them an impish grin. ‘Yes?’

‘You’re so impetuous, sister.’ Harry wagged his finger at her.

They laughed. 

‘What a good petit frère you are, Henri.’ Isobel patted him on the cheek. ‘Keeping your big sisters honest.’

Présidente Desrosiers glanced over her shoulder with a small frown. ‘Henri…’

‘Yes madame présidente.’

‘Perhaps I should not ask this, but… are you really Henri Dufort?’

Harry grinned. ‘I’m not at liberty to say, madame présidente.’

The Duforts burst into laughter. 

Présidente Desrosiers lips pursed. ‘I suppose it is either an excellent ruse or a truth our rivals will assume to be a lie.’ She swept into the conference hall.

Helka sat before the lake view, the silver charms dangling from her leather jacket gleaming in the morning sunlight reflecting off the water. ‘Welcome, Leia. I have you seated here, just to my right.’ She indicated the tricolour flag hovering above the desks. 

‘Merci beaucoup, Helka.’ Présidente Desrosiers took a seat behind the flag.

Harry drifted around behind amongst the Duforts and glanced across the tables. ‘We’re next to… America.’

Présidente Desrosiers wrinkled her nose. ‘Joseph Lee,’ she muttered. 

‘An odious little man,’ Celine murmured.

He scanned the other desks, flag by flag. A gold lion reared upon a red background, a curved blade between its snarling teeth. 

‘The Ottoman Caliphate,’ Isobel whispered in his ear. ‘Suleiman.’ She pointed at a snarling white dragon upon a stark, stone grey. ‘The Russkayan Tsardom. Tsarina Bugrov.’

Harry stared at the red, white and blue cross. ‘That one I know.’

‘Britain,’ Colette murmured. ‘Behind the storm.’

‘As it always has been, for centuries,’ Celine whispered.

‘Helka.’ A smooth, deep voice filled the conference room. ‘And Madame Desrosiers.’

Amos Diggory stood in the door, more lined in the face and about the eyes than he’d been three years ago. Two tall slim blondes hung at his left shoulder carrying a stack of files.

‘Amos.’ Helka indicated Britain’s table. ‘You are here.’

‘Thank you.’ Amos ushered his two assistants through. ‘Just pile it all up there, Daphne and Astoria. I’ll let you know which bit I need as and when.’

The Greengrass sisters. Blaise Zabini’s words fell into place. These are the members of the Last Scions he said weren’t on the run.

Isobel stepped forward. ‘Isobel Dufort—’ she held out a hand to Daphne ‘—nice to meet you.’

Astoria poked Daphne in the hip. ‘Don’t be rude, Daph.’

‘Charmed,’ Daphne replied, ignoring the hand. 

‘It’s nice to meet you.’ Astoria smiled. ‘I hope we can be friends for the duration of our time here.’

‘Of course.’ Isobel dragged her sisters across. ‘This is Colette and Celine—’ she patted Harry on the cheek ‘—and this is Henri, our brother.’

‘Pleased to meet you all,’ Astoria said, glancing at her files. ‘But I’m afraid I need to organise some things.’

Ginny prowled past Amos, the bronze sun upon the lapel of her tight red robes shining in the light. ‘Tracey.’ She motioned with her head to the figure in red auror robes behind her. ‘Stay alert.’

‘There will be no fighting here,’ Présidente Desrosiers said. ‘You can relax, captain.’

‘You have brought your finest auror captains, Leia,’ Amos replied. ‘So I have brought both mine.’

Both? Harry turned toward the door.

Neville leant against the frame, twice as broad as he’d been before, the boyish edges of the face Harry’d known sharpened to the line of a strong chin and jaw. ‘A pleasure to meet you, Présidente Desrosiers.’

‘Monsieur Longbottom.’ She dipped her head. ‘I trust we can all remain… amicable.’

A faint smile crossed Neville’s face. ‘Oh I don’t fancy my chances.’ His eyes bored into Harry. ‘There are some wizards it’s best not to tangle with if it can be avoided. The Duforts I have come to know since Amelia Bones thrust me into being auror captain, but your face I don’t recognise. Henri… Dufort? Was it?’

A little chill trickled down Harry’s spine. Neville suspects. He crushed his fear down into the emptiness. Names don’t matter. You can have one of my other ones.

‘Sometimes.’ Harry smiled a small smile. ‘Sometimes I’m just a colour.’

Fire flashed through Ginny’s eyes and her hand crept to her waist. ‘Vio—’

‘Captain Weasley,’ Amos snapped. ‘These are peace talks. Your wand will stay where it is.’

Ginny balled her fists. ‘Of course, minister.’ She dropped into a chair, glaring daggers at Harry past the British flag as the other delegations drifted to their seats.

Présidente Desrosiers shot Harry a sharp look. ‘Henri…’

He raised his hands. ‘Pardon.’

Isobel tugged him back against the window. ‘Henri?’ she murmured. ‘Why let them know?’

‘I don’t trust them,’ he muttered. ‘Amos Diggory might be here in earnest but those Greengrass sisters, they were on the list of Julien’s contacts in Britain. Maybe if they know I am here, it will put them off trying anything.’

And the last thing I need is Neville finding Harry Potter here of all places.

Isobel stiffened. ‘You’re certain?’

‘Dead certain.’

‘We will watch over them, then.’ Isobel closed her eyes and a little shiver rippled through the Dufort sisters. ‘But they would be very brave to start a fight here with Suleiman present.’

They won’t fight fair. It’ll be something devious. They want to start a war.

Helka cleared her throat and stood, pressing her wand tip to her neck. ‘We are all here, so let us begin. First, we ought to place all the questions we each would like to be raised and answered onto the table. Let’s begin with Caliph Suleiman.’ She tapped her wand against the blue-feathered quill on the desk.

The quill leapt up, hovering above a blank sheet of parchment.

Suleiman stood adjusting the collar of his sharp black robes. ‘We wish for the assurance of Egypt’s independence and request the discussion of certain questions over the Aegean and this… principality of Kyiv.’ He rested one hand upon the blade at his side. ‘That is all.’

The blue-feathered quill scribed it down letter by letter.

‘Tsarina Bugrov,’ Helka said. ‘Your concerns?’

‘The freedom of the principality of Kyiv to choose its own benefactor.’ Valeska swept a scarred hand through her blonder hair, rattling the silver lightning bolts hanging in her braids. ‘No more. No less.’

‘Minister Diggory.’ Helka extended a hand toward him. ‘Yours?’

‘We are prepared to discuss many things. Chiefly, the questions in the Caribbean, Aegean, and that of Egypt.’ Amos smoothed out his long moustache. ‘Those must be satisfied.’

Helka watched the quill until it stilled. ‘Présidente Desrosiers?’

‘Sint Maarten and the removal of a particular clause from Britain’s recent… treaty.’ Présidente Desrosiers twisted the gold ring around her finger. ‘The ICW and many neutral countries raise far more worrying concerns than our national squabbles, rejoining the ICW is paramount for all those who have left it.’

‘Mr Lee?’ Helka glanced to her right.

A short, balding man with thick eyebrows stood, fiddling with the gold pocketwatch chain of his waistcoat as Grant Hardsworth and Megan Tarbeck ignored each other behind him. ‘The Confederation of Magical Communities in America demands that European powers cease their attempts to control magical peoples in the Caribbean and Americas.’

A low murmur rose around the tables.

‘Fürst-Elect Fürstenburg and Fürst-Elect Weber, the Germanic States are neutral in this, but if you have concerns…?’ Helka spread her arms. ‘This is the moment to add them to the tally.’

‘We concur with Présidente Desrosiers.’ A tall, thin old man stood, a stern look in his blue eyes. ‘The clause that binds all British protectorates into defensive military action beneath British direction must be altered or removed from their treaty. The ICW agreed in the wake of Grindelwald’s wars that we would house the voices of our many nations in discussion, not trample them beneath the banner of Empire.’ He sat, exchanging a long tense look with his partner. ‘Fürst-Elect Weber may speak for himself.’

‘I have nothing to add.’ Fürst-Elect Weber folded his arms. ‘Only that it is of utmost importance we have states such as Britain and Spain and Russkaya upon the ICW once more.’

‘Senor Osuna?’

A tall lean man stood, brushing his dark curls off his forehead. ‘Spain insists that its territories upon the north coast of South America be returned to it and that American aggression and subversion in the Caribbean be halted forthwith.’

The blue-feathered quilt hovered above the page.

‘Then we have our discussion.’ Helka waited for Senor Osuna to sit. ‘Perhaps we ought to start with a simpler one, the principality of Kyiv.’

Tsarina Bugrov stood. ‘For decades my predecessor and I have protected this region. I and mine. Kyiv was part of Russkaya before the Ikhanate incursion. Let them choose their own fate.’

Suleiman rose to his feet. ‘It is true, Tsarina Bugrov. Your people have far more in common with those of Kyiv, just as the people of Egypt and Greece share more with my people than Britain.’

Amos Diggory drummed his fingers on the table. ‘Egypt, perhaps. Greece? I do not see how.’

Harry yawned and leant back against the glass. ‘This is going to be a long squabble, isn’t it?’

Isobel laughed behind her hand. ‘Want to play rock, paper, scissors while we wait?’

‘I know you’ll just cheat.’ He snorted. ‘What do we know about who’s here?’

‘We?’ Celine leant forward to look past her sister. ‘Isobel never reads the files.’

‘Only one of us needs to, sister,’ Colette murmured. 

‘Who are you curious about, Henri?’ Isobel asked.

‘All of them, really.’ Harry grinned. ‘We don’t have anything better to do than gossip, do we?’

‘Well…’ She cast an appreciative glance over the Greengrass sisters. ‘Actually…’

Colette and Celine giggled.

‘Be careful of them,’ he whispered. ‘They were involved with Julien Aguillard. Don’t trust them.’

Isobel huffed. ‘I don’t want to trust them.’

‘I don’t think I want to know what you want to do with them,’ Harry muttered.

They stifled their laughter into their sleeves as the discussion grew sharp in the room, rising up to echo off the sloping glass dome.

‘Let’s start with Suleiman,’ Celine said. ‘He’s the most powerful wizard alive, but he hasn’t left Constantinople until now.’

‘Not fond of Grindelwald or vampires.’ Colette cast a glance across the floor. ‘The sword is supposed to be very powerful and very old. Each Caliph passes it to the next.’

‘We don’t know much about him, he’s too reclusive,’ Isobel said. ‘We know plenty about Joseph Lee, though.’

Harry frowned. ‘You do?’

‘He is an unpleasant man,’ Celine murmured. ‘Listen, you will see.’

Joseph Lee stood, taking a hold of the front of his waistcoat. ‘It has been two thousand years since Rome began to fall apart and yet as I stand here all I see are consuls. Alfonso Osuna’s ancestors massacred the natives of Central America for their gold and because they refused to have the terms of their lives dictated to them by European powers. Britain. France. Spain. The Ottomans. The Old World has had its time. The dark and ancient magics you hoard must be put aside. This is a new age. Of muggleborns. Of democracy. Of freedom from empiricism.’

Suleiman’s slim brows drew together into a sharp vee. ‘Those who do not respect history do not learn its lessons, President Lee.’

‘The lesson of history is of the failure of empires,’ Lee retorted. ‘Aristocracy. Autocracy. Forbidden magicks. All of these things have failed. The future is in the rights of the people.’

‘The American speaks of people’s rights as if his people have any greater freedom than ours.’ Fürst-Elect Ansgar Fürstenburg stood. ‘A lack of respect for tradition and heritage does not mean superiority. That is the cry of a bitter nation born without either. Rising on a tide of muggleborns it can barely cope with or control. There hasn’t been an obscurial on this side of the Atlantic in a hundred years. In America, one is found every five.’

Helka fired a floating orb of red light across the room. ‘Perhaps, as this discussion has moved away from its purpose, we should take a short break to compose ourselves and return to discussing guarantees of Egyptian independence from Ottoman absorption and the renegotiation of the new Egypt’s treaty with the goblins there.’ She vanished her crimson ball. ‘The grounds of the lake are lovely and the clear air cools hot tongues.’

A low rumble of agreement came from the room. 

Joseph Lee stood and stalked out, Megan Tarbeck and Grant Hardsworth on his heels. The other delegations followed one by one.

‘Amos,’ Neville cast a pointed look toward the files.

‘Of course.’ Amos Diggory turned to the Greengrass sisters. ‘I apologise, but it would probably be for the best if the two of you remained here. Just in case.’

‘Have no fear, Minister.’ Présidente Desrosiers rose from her seat. ‘We do not intend to remain.’

‘Even so.’ Amos Diggory plucked his hat from the desk and set it atop his head. ‘Prudence is generally wisdom.’

‘I will stay,’ Harry whispered to Isobel as the rest of the British delegation left. ‘To keep an eye on them.’

‘Be careful, petit frère,’ she said. ‘Don’t do anything reckless like I would.’

‘I won’t do anything my wife will get upset about.’

Well, Fleur will probably pout a lot when I tell her about talking to Daphne Greengrass. A small smile crept onto his face. Who knows what she’ll want to do to make me forget about her.

Présidente Desrosiers exchanged a quiet word with Isobel and gave Harry a nod, turning on her heel and sweeping out.

‘Au revoir, petit frère,’ the Duforts called as they skipped after her.

Harry sat on the edge of the desk and watched the Greengrass sisters stack their files up. ‘You know, I vaguely recognise your names.’

Astoria beamed, abandoning her sister to the files. ‘We were duelists together when we were younger. Daph and I won lots of things.’

‘That’s probably why.’ 

‘Quite possibly.’ 

He caught her pale blue eyes, but found no thoughts to touch. Protected, like Blaise. His gaze swept over their formal, dark robes. And no obvious source.

‘The sun looks nice this morning, don’t you think?’ Harry glanced out the window at the shining lake and the forest.

‘It does,’ Astoria said. ‘The palace is lovely. Hopefully we get the chance to explore the grounds before we have to leave.’


Daphne set down her files, measuring him with a sharp, cool stare. ‘The sun?’

‘The palace.’ He smothered a smile. ‘I’m sure if I saw a resplendent sun, I would know it.’

‘Does it have a particular colour?’ Astoria’s eyes shone with mischief. ‘Daph and I love colours. Black is our favourite. In French it’s noir, right?’

‘It was.’ Harry grinned. ‘But I always think finding the right colour can be hard. Like searching for a needle in a haystack.’

‘Burn the haystack.’ Daphne folded her arms. ‘Needles are not worth wasting too long over.’

‘You should go enjoy the sun, Violette,’ Astoria said, gesturing out the window. ‘We’re in no rush. For us, it never sets.’

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  1. Question: Is Suleiman stronger than Harry? I know you commented in a previous chapter that he is not as strong as he used to be before he got resurrected. When Harry fought Voldemort he was almost as strong as him and Voldemort was almost as strong as Dumbledore(or maybe even stronger) who was said to be the most powerful wizard in the world and the only person who defeated Grindelwald. Suleiman’s achievement is that he survived Grindelwald so is it the case that after the death of Dumbledore, Voldemort and Harry he was presumed to be strongest wizard alive or is he actually stronger than Harry?

    1. Ah, I’m afraid that this is the sort of question I can’t answer without spoiling the fun a bit! But you never know, at some point we might find out… xD

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