…Will Bend the Hearts of Others To Your Own

Corpses stood beneath the floating glass lanterns, pale-faced and dark-veined. Circular shield-shaped badges gleamed on the chests of their tight black jackets, the reflection of the brazier’s white flames flickering on the alternating pattern of crimson and pink rings.

‘My distraction,’ Grise said, stepping through the huddle. ‘The British discovered Grindelwald was waiting for them, so I will play decoy as we try to rescue Fürst-Elect Weber from Alemannia.’ His pink eyes roved over his inferii. ‘These will pretend to be Baiuvarii aurors and I will take them to Lopodunum, just outside the muggle town of Ladenburg. If Grindelwald is waiting, he will come to me when I breach the wards.’

‘I hope you’re ready,’ Harry said.

Grise’s lips twitched and he passed Harry a slim piece of wood. ‘I will be on the far side of the town and will leave the moment Grindelwald arrives. You, Violette, must go to Nova Sumolecenna. Fürst-Elect Weber will meet you at the burial mound above the town and you will take him to La Déesse and Présidente Desrosiers.’

‘What’s the catch?’

‘There are several.’ Grise steepled his fingers in front of his chest. ‘First, Nova Sumolecenna sits right on the outskirts of Rottenburg am Neckar, near a busy muggle road. Be wary of being seen and risking the Statute. Second, Fürst-Elects Fürstenburg and Metternich had not tracked Fürst-Elect Weber to Nova Sumolecenna when we communicated a few days ago, but the moment I breach the wards, they will be on full alert and come straight to Lupodunum. You will not have long to get Fürst-Elect Weber out of Nova Sumolecenna before our deception is discovered and the wards restored.’

‘Fantastic,’ Harry murmured.

It doesn’t matter, really. He took a deep gulp of air and let it out with a soft sigh; the yearning bubbled underneath, burning hot as it stole the breath from his lips. I go in. I get Fürst-Elect Weber. I wait for Grindelwald to make Violette an offer. I make a deal. And if he doesn’t come, I find him as Lemon Sorbet instead.

‘There is no time waste,’ he said.

‘Indeed not.’ Grise pulled his wand out. ‘The word for the portkey is Heruli. Count to ten and then bonne chance.’

‘Bonne courage,’ Harry replied, bouncing the piece of wood in his hand. 

Grise and the inferii vanished with a deafening crack.

One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten.

‘Heruli.’

The Sunshine Room’s floating lanterns and brazier lurched left and Harry stumbled to one knee on the side of a grass-covered mound. 

Spells flashed through the night down the hill, bursting off flickering white shields in the trees, and yellow flames licked at the trunks and branches of the woods. A shimmer of wards fell over the slope and the small town lying in the hollow beyond the woods.

Fürst-Elect Weber has been found. He disillusioned himself and picked his way across the grass. I’ll have to break out through the wards.

Shadows hurled curses through the trees and an auror in dark robes crumpled to his knees, clawing at his belly as his entrails burst out, coiling around his neck and stringing him up over a nearby branch.

And I have no idea who is who. Fantastic.

Harry severed the noose of entrails and watched the wizard crawl toward a small cluster of silhouettes deeper in the trees. Shadows closed in around them, peppering the large oak trees with spells.

But I’d be prepared to bet that’s where Fürst-Elect Weber is

A pair of violet curses tore through the back of the wizard, tossing his smoking corpse into a heap of leaves. Bodies sprawled amidst the bloodspattered, smouldering heaps of leaves and scorched mud banks, trailing down the slope to where the small group of shadows fended off a rain of spells.

Harry stepped over his still legs and circled around the fray, dropping his Disillusionment Charm. ‘Fürst-Elect Weber.’

A thin figure whipped around from a group of four huddled behind a pair of thick oak trunks, the tip of its wand glimmering with pink light. ‘You better be Violette.’

‘I am,’ Harry said.

‘Wunderbar,’ Fürst-Elect Weber muttered, casting a string of pink curses at the shadows creeping closer through the trees. ‘Ansgar and Karsten trapped us in the woods before we could get to the burial mound. There are only a handful of us left, but we gave as good as we got to begin with.’

Harry pictured the courtyard of La Déesse and slipped his wand from his sleeve. ‘Portus,’ he whispered, tapping the tip against the piece of wood. ‘We’ll be out in a moment.’

White curses ripped through the other oak, hurling the two wizards ducking behind it back into the mud and spraying blood across the loam. Harry batted away the curses streaking from the trees as the witch beside Weber toppled over, clutching her ribs. Blood poured through her fingers, gleaming black in the moonlight.

‘Scheiße!’ Weber stepped around the trunk, unleashing a series of bright pink flashes of magic. ‘Ansgar! You traitorous shit!’

A shadow deflected them away into the trees, sending white curses back. Two burst against Weber’s shield, but the third burst through, tearing one side of his neck away and sending great gouts of blood gushing over the leaves.

‘Schei…ße,’ Weber spluttered, sagging into the mud.

Blood pooled beneath him, spreading through the leaves and trickling over the roots of the oak tree.

‘Crass.’ Ansgar Fürstenburg cast a string of fist-sized white lights through the trees. ‘And good riddance to you too, Fürst-Elect Weber.’ He raised his hand and the aurors drifted from the trees, forming a loose semi-circle of levelled wands. ‘Violette. I extend to you an offer on behalf of Gellert Grindelwald. We are not enemies. We are kin. Regardless of blood purity, nobility, or magical creed. Join us.’

Harry eyed the curving line of aurors. ‘There is something I need. If Grindelwald can get it for me, we can come to a deal, Fürst-Elect Fürstenburg.’

Ansgar flicked his wand back into a slim wrist holster. ‘That gladdens me. All too many leap for the presumed moral high ground and disregard the reality of our world’s situation.’ He dipped his hand into his pocket. ‘But if you wish to strike a deal with Grindelwald, you will have to speak with him, okay?’

‘That was the idea,’ Harry replied.

Ansgar stepped forward into the moonlight; its white glow bleached his thin, greying blonde hair and pale skin, turning his eyes into deep, dark wells and his long leather coat into creased, scorched shadow. ‘Most are not so brave as that.’

‘Well. I’m not most, then.’ Harry leant against the tree. ‘I’ll wait.’

‘Not for very long, Monsieur Dufort.’ Grindelwald stepped from the air onto the leaves, staring down at the body of Weber with a sombre gleam in his blue eyes. ‘Auf Wiedersehen, Fürst-Elect Weber.’

Unease knotted in the pit of Harry’s stomach. ‘You made me an offer.’

‘To join us. We are not here to destroy France. Or to tear down the ICW. We are here to make the hard choices. To stop kicking the rock down the road and hoping someone else will pay the price for it so we can live out our last days in peace at the cost of our childrens’ future.’ Grindelwald’s forehead creased. ‘But you must know this already. Your sisters refused Julien Aguillard when he made an offer on my behalf.’

‘They did, but I’d like to make a deal.’ 

Grindelwald glanced at Ansgar. ‘Restore the wards at Lopodunum and clean up there, Ansgar. Then return here and do the same. The Statute must remain intact until we are united and prepared.’

Ansgar bowed and waved a hand at the aurors, disapparating with them in a loud crack.

Harry took a deep breath. Last step, baby bird. Last step.

‘I need a phoenix,’ he said. ‘Alive. I know where it will be found. I know when it will be found. I just can’t catch it. But you could.’

‘I could.’ Grindelwald drew a long thin wand from his waist. ‘But, if I may, why would I? You would take this phoenix and vanish, or come back to oppose me even stronger should you work some magic upon it.’

‘Name your terms.’

‘What can you give me?’ Grindelwald chuckled. ‘Nothing, I think. There is no price of equal value to raising the risk to our dying world. No, if this deal you must strike, then among our number I must count you. Upon your oath.’ He raised his thin wand. ‘I can allow no leniency.’

Merde. Harry slipped his wand from his sleeve. Equal value. What does Grindelwald need? He groped for an idea through the cold flutter of fear in the pit of his stomach. Nothing. He’s just old. That’s all.

Harry took a deep breath. ‘I could give you time.’

Grindelwald ran a hand through his short, cropped silver hair. ‘Time? A time-turner would be most valuable. Perhaps we may reach an accord after all.’

‘No. Time for you. Rejuvenation.’ Harry pressed the tip of his wand to his palm and sliced a thin line across it, watching the red swell in the cut and fade as it melted closed into a faint pink mark. ‘A little like this.’

‘Most fascinating,’ Grindelwald murmured, taking a step forward. ‘Some kind of alchemical enchantment, to change the very nature of yourself.’

‘Blood magic. A ritual of sorts.’

‘A powerful medium and clever framework through which to work alchemical enchantments…’ He tucked his free hand through the silver buttons of his waistcoat. ‘Tell me, Violette, what can you do with such magic?’

‘Anything,’ Harry replied. ‘But there is a price…’

‘There is always a price.’ Grindelwald tapped his thumb against one of his buttons. ‘Albus and I, we gave up everything else to try and change the world. It made us strong. He changed his mind, of course. He never quite could cut away his family and I was always the greater of the pair of us because of it. He bested me but once. Unfortunate, of course, that it was the most important moment he bested me in. And yet, in failure we so often learn what we need to finally succeed. While still we strive, still we must err.’

‘All those other dreams…’

‘Ja.’ A faint, sad smile crossed Grindelwald’s lips and the corners of his blue eyes crinkled. ‘Exactly so. This blood magic and its ritual, they are the same, yes? You sacrifice to demonstrate the strength of intent and to power the transmutation of alchemy that enchants you as you hoped.’

‘More or less.’

‘Then you cannot provide the sacrifice.’

‘No. Only the ritual.’ Harry held Grindelwald’s bright blue eyes as they bored into him. ‘I can design it to do whatever you want. I will leave space for your choice of sacrifice.’

‘But I must be careful, I should think, when I choose what I give up, lest I risk the ends in acquiring the means.’ Grindelwald conjured a gleaming copper chain from the air, weaving a ribbon of white flame around it. ‘I, Gellert Grindelwald, give my word. I will snare the phoenix and bring it alive and unchanged to Nurmengard when we agree to make our bargain. I will not pass the knowledge of this deal to another in any form.’

This is what happened to Liliana. Harry swallowed hard. No risks.

‘I swear to create a ritual to achieve only what you ask and to bring it to Nurmengard when we agree to make our bargain. I will not pass the knowledge of this deal to any not already aware of it in any form.’

‘Who is already aware?’ Grindelwald watched the white flames melt into the necklace. ‘Your sisters?’

‘They will not speak of it. They would not approve.’

Better hope than despair. But this is the only sure hope left.

‘I shall take your word,’ he said. ‘This phoenix. Tell me of it.’

‘It will come to Albus Dumbledore’s tomb at Hogwarts on the anniversary of Ariana Dumbledore’s death. You know that date, I assume.’

The shadows deepened on Grindelwald’s face. ‘So be it.’ He flicked his wand, sending the copper necklace floating toward Harry. ‘You are correct in your estimation, Violette. I need time. I am old. Tired. My near solitude in Nurmengard was unkind, as solitude so nearly always is. What I hope to do may take longer than I have left and none come forward with the strength to carry on in my stead. Suleiman is no foe to be faced lightly, either; he will wait behind the walls of Constantinople until his odds of besting me are highest. In the end, even a couple more years may make all the difference to our world and no matter what you intend to do with the phoenix, it is a risk I must take.’

‘Rejuvenation, then.’ Harry took the necklace and tucked it into his pocket. ‘I can do that. You will need to find a sacrifice and something that strongly symbolises rejuvenation to you before we meet.’

‘A week.’ Grindelwald pulled his hand from his waistcoat. ‘The necklace will bring you to Nurmengard. You know the words.’

‘A week…’

The yearning bubbled up, burning the breath from his lips. Only a week, baby bird. That’s how close we are. Beneath the sharp, hot whirl of need, a quiet whisper welled up; it swallowed the searing storm with a small, sad knowing smile and sent his heart tumbling down into the dark, like rose petals falling through his fingers into the drain. But it will cost everything.

‘Will you stay with us afterwards, Violette?’ Grindelwald asked. ‘I know well how abhorrent our goal is, but what other true solution is there? It is them. Or it is us.’

‘I cannot.’ 

‘Your sisters…’ He slipped his thin wand away. ‘I understand. We all do love our family, if not the brothers we were born with, the ones we later find. It is an open offer, Violette. Until next we meet, auf Wiedersehen.’ Grindelwald turned on his heel and vanished.

Harry let out a long sigh. ‘Au revoir.’ 

Whatever La Victoire Finale takes. And with a little luck, Grindelwald will sacrifice too much. Like Salazar did. Or too little for it to work at all.

He tucked his wand back into his sleeve and raised the portkey. ‘Heruli.’

Harry stepped out onto the balcony of La Deésse. Présidente Desrosiers and Grise whirled around in the courtyard below.

‘I take it you failed.’ Desrosiers’s brow creased.

Harry apparated down. ‘Grindelwald was waiting again. Fürst-Elect Weber and his aurors were caught by Ansgar Fürstenburg and Karsten Metternich before he reached the burial mound and cut to pieces.’

Grise’s pink eyes darkened. ‘I feared as much when nobody came to Lopodunum.’

‘At least we did not lose Violette,’ Présidente Desrosiers said. ‘We will have to primarily focus on the preparation of our defences now. Grindelwald’s allies mass at Nurmengard and the Hraddrakan Mysteries will soon be over. We have little to spare for any more attempts at offence.’

‘Sarcelle can reinforce our wards,’ Grise said. ‘I will speak with them tomorrow.’

Fleur won’t like that. Harry stifled a wince. But we have a phoenix. There are no holes in that oath. I just have to get out after the exchange.

‘And me?’ he asked.

‘We may attempt one more assault on Grindelwald’s allies at the Hraddrakan Festival.’ Présidente Desrosiers pursed her lips. ‘Otherwise we must prepare and wait to counter his moves once again.’

Isobel, Celine and Colette drifted from beneath the balcony, their grey eyes widening as they caught sight of him.

Présidente Desrosiers glanced between them. ‘Perhaps this is a moment for the four of you. Grise, my office.’ She vanished with a pop.

Grise disapparated in a loud crack.

The Duforts swept across.

‘Bonsoir, mes sœurs,’ Harry murmured. ‘Ça va?’

Isobel swept him into a tight hug. ‘We are fine. It is you who vanished.’

‘How are you?’ Colette asked. ‘We wrote…’

Celine nodded. ‘You didn’t reply.’

‘Sorry.’ A niggle of guilt wriggled in his gut. ‘I was preoccupied.’

‘We understand.’ Isobel straightened his robes. ‘Do not dwell on these things alone, little brother. We are here.’

A hot lump swelled in the back of Harry’s throat. ‘Merci,’ he whispered.

Colette offered him a small smile. ‘If there is anything we can do—’

‘Just ask,’ Celine said. ‘Anything.’

‘How is your lovely wife?’ Isobel asked. ‘How is our little goddaughter?’

‘She misses her sister,’ Harry said. ‘A lot.’

‘And your baby girl?’ Celine murmured. ‘Is she okay?’

A soft murmur of yearning rose from somewhere beneath his ribs, tugging at his heart. ‘Every time I see her, she’s smiling,’ Harry whispered. ‘I think she’ll be okay soon.’

‘That’s good,’ Colette said. ‘We know words will not truly help, but you will always have us.’

‘Will you look out for them?’ Harry asked. ‘Just in case?’

In case it costs everything.

‘We will look out for them with you,’ Isobel said, patting him on the cheek. ‘Grindelwald cannot kill us. While one of us lives…’

‘None of us can die,’ her sisters whispered.

‘We will not allow it,’ Isobel murmured. ‘Now be a good boy and come and spend a little time with your older sisters, Henri. They have missed you and I’m sure your lovely wife will not mind so long as you let her know first.’

A small smile spread across Harry’s face and a soft little pang knifed through his ribs. ‘Where are we going?’

The Duforts exchanged a glance. 

‘It’s my turn,’ Colette said.

‘It is not.’ Celine shook her head. ‘It was your turn last!’

Isobel stuck out her fist.

Her sisters held out theirs. 

‘Rock, paper scissors again…’ Harry laughed. ‘I don’t mind where we go, whoever wins can choose.’

After all… A quiet melancholy swallowed the flash of humour. This may be the last time I see you.

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