Chapter 3 : The Die is Cast
| ||Rating: Mature||Chapter Reviews: 9|
Background: Font color:
Stunning chapter image by Anna_Black @ TDA
Disclaimer: I claim no ownership of J.K. Rowling’s work.
Portia Thurin: Milla Jovovich
Gellert Grindelwald: Anthony Hopkins
Chapter Two The Die is Cast*
The tyrant is a child of Pride
Who drinks from his great sickening cup.
--“Oedipus Rex” by Sophocles.*
Portia successfully delayed her meeting with Grindelwald for two weeks. She pretended to worry over some trivial matter in the Auror Office, wasting as much time as she could delegating where there was no need to delegate and tying up loose ends that were already securely knotted. It didn’t take Henry Elrod long to catch on that she was dallying about, and on a Thursday afternoon, he sent a polite, yet firmly worded memo from his office directly to her desk.
Portia was annoyed, but not angry. She promptly sent Henry a note of her own, hoping her sense of reluctant resignation would infuse her poor chicken scratch.
All right, she wrote. You win this time. I’ll be off.
On Friday morning, she went to the Ministry’s Floo Network dressed in her traveling clothes. Regrettably, she’d have to make the journey alone, for although she had requested that Moody accompany her, her most trusted and beloved lieutenant would be delayed on a necessary errand for at least three days. And since the errand was one of her own devising, she could not very well ask that he return before it was finished.
Unfortunately for Portia, even Moody’s presence wouldn’t have been able to assure a smooth start to her mission. She had been about to Floo to the International Confederation’s headquarters when an urgent message came down from Henry’s office, delivered on foot by the Minister’s own undersecretary.
“I’m so sorry, ma’am,” the young man panted as he handed her the scroll.
Portia scowled, casting her fistful of Floo powder back into the bowl held by the witch who served as the regulator for international transportation.
“If he’s changed his mind,” she muttered, giving the scroll a once over. To her surprise, the note was not from Henry, but from Grindelwald himself.
Portia felt her eyes widen as she examined the man’s neat, fluid writing. It was much too pretty for a soldier’s, she decided. Much too flowery.
But even she had to admit that his etiquette was impeccable.
To Commander Portia Thurin, Head of the War Department:
I regret that I am late in informing you of my absence from the Confederation’s headquarters in Southern Italy. If it would not be too much trouble, I would most humbly request that you join me at my villa in Capri. Please see the enclosed for the full address.
Once more, I offer you my most sincere apologies. I look forward to our imminent meeting.
Again, Portia was annoyed, but not angry. She guessed that Grindelwald might have ulterior motives in requesting that he meet her apart from the Confederation’s headquarters. It might be better, after all, if they were away from the alignment and regularity that was the politician’s domain and not the soldier’s. She should have expected as much.
Thrusting the note at the transportation regulator, she said, “My plans have changed. I am going to this address. Please connect me via Floo immediately.”
“Right away, ma’am.” The witch bowed her head and turned to the large black tiled fireplace that served as the main hub for those officials Flooing over to the Continent. After a series of complicated wand movements, a new green flame flared to life in the hearth.
Portia nodded her thanks at the witch and then added, “Send my luggage along later. I don’t want it knocking into me before I’ve gotten my bearings.”
The witch’s reply was lost to the sudden roar of the magical fire as it enveloped her. After a moment of spinning, she landed hard in a foreign hearth, her palms coming into contact with the marble floor.
Sputtering, Portia felt someone reach under her arms and pull her gently upward. She regained her feet, but floundered about for a minute, struggling to reestablish some sense of dignity.
A warm voice, tinged with a genteel Hungarian accent, reached her ears. “Portia Thurin, it is an honor, I assure you.”
She raised her eyes to glance at her helper. “Gellert Grindelwald.”
He was older than she had expected, although age had handled him gently. His skin, instead of sagging, was drawn tight about his face, leaving his eyes only slightly sunken. There was no color left in his hair now, which hung in wiry strands coming to just above his shoulders. Handsome black robes covered a frame that was not yet diminished by frailty, and as Portia appraised him, she realized that there was something of easy majesty about him. Something comfortable and confident.
She nodded her head in greeting. “We meet at last.”
“How portentous,” Grindelwald replied. His hand was still resting lightly upon her arm.
There was silence between them for a moment and Portia guessed that her host was giving her time to gather herself. She took advantage of his consideration and straightened her own clothing. She was still wearing the brown trousers and leather overcoat of an Auror, attire meant to stave off the chill of the moors and muddy ditches. Capri, however, was proving to be much more temperate, and beads of sweat began to gather at her temples.
Portia removed her overcoat, draped it over her arm and stole a quick glance out one of the large, square windows to her right. The villa’s position atop a high hill afforded it a view of the placid Tyrrhenian Sea. There was a porch outside, and beyond, the hint of a gracious garden.
And judging from the size of the room she had been received in, the place was indeed palatial. Portia let her eyes trail up to the high ceilings supported by stout columns. She beheld the rectangular proportions of the room, the murals painted on the walls, the floors inlaid with colored tiles.
But then something caught her eye. It was hanging above an ebony desk, fiendishly marked and marred, carefully plotted and planned.
The map was similar to the one she kept in her own office at home, except it detailed the likes of Northern Italy, France and Germany. One particular spot, however, on the border between Italy and France, had received extra attention. The markings there were uncertain, punctuated by vague sets of numbers and estimations.
Portia smiled and, once more, looked at Grindelwald. “I see what the problem is.”
“You do?” His manner struck her as insatiably curious.
Portia gestured at the map. “May I?”
He showed her his teeth in a wide grin. “Please.”
She approached the map, pretended to study it for a moment, made a few estimations of her own and reached a solution in her mind.
“This is a difficult case,” Portia said, pointing to a black smudge which was meant to represent a stronghold of some particular clan of dark wizards. “If your enemy has taken refuge here, then they won’t be easy to flush out. They are too well situated, if your geography is correct. They have the high ground and are protected by a forest. Of course, it doesn’t help that you have a series of gorges nearby. It would be easy for your soldiers to become trapped.” She pressed her finger over the smudge. “How long have they been marshalling their forces?”
Grindelwald raised his eyebrows, the white hair contrasting harshly with his olive complexion. “Three weeks. My scouts have been sending me regular reports for some time now.”
“Are they German?”
“Nazi sympathizers. We think they may have some military training too.”
Portia dropped her hand back to her side. “It could turn out to be a bloodbath for your people,” she said, knowing that Grindelwald would understand her at once.
Something of instinct told her that they spoke the same language. The limited words they had exchanged were the alike. Mirrored images and mutual comprehension. For once, Portia did not have to explain herself. And what a strange sort of joy it was!
“Yes, a bloodbath,” her counterpart said vaguely. “But the Confederation has been insistent. They want this finished. Ten years after the war and we still have not properly cleaned up the mess.”
“Not for lack of trying,” Portia said in a mollifying tone.
Grindelwald sighed. “If I could capture this one last stronghold, then the threat of dark magic might be obliterated from the face of Europe.”
Portia shrugged and turned her gaze from the map to look at him. “But you cannot attempt the maneuver without a suitable rearguard.”
“Or an independent force. I need someone who can help me in the thick of things, someone who can pursue any fugitives if the enemy flees and my men are left lacerated and bleeding.”
Something of complicity hearkened within Portia. Once more, she nodded her head. “I think I understand.”
Another smile from Grindelwald. His hand came down on her shoulder. “Thank you, Portia Thurin, for coming to Capri on such short notice.”
They sat in his office for an hour afterwards and talked. Portia realized that her initial worries about Grindelwald’s intentions might be unfounded. Henry Elrod, as usual, had been right. Grindelwald wanted help with his latest campaign and he had solicited her, because she was his what…his better?
That remained to be seen, and for the time being, Portia contented herself with the satisfaction that would inevitably come from participating in such a large campaign. It was one thing, of course, to be the best soldier in England, but quite another to take on the dark wizards of Europe.
She decided she would allow herself to like Grindelwald for now. They spent a good amount of time discussing the predicament in France and then went off track to compare war stories.
Portia had heard most of his already, for his exploits during the War were well known throughout most of Europe. What surprised her, however, was that Grindelwald had followed her own career closely. He seemed to know a good deal about her reputation and could recount her various victories up to the recent skirmish she had been involved in some weeks ago.
“I am sorry for all the fuss,” he said with a debonair glint in his eyes, “I tried to keep those little wretches on the Continent but they slipped away, sand through my fingers.” And he made a fist. “But I am glad you managed to get at them before they found asylum elsewhere.”
Portia tossed her head. “It was no trouble. I quite enjoyed the exercise.”
“Magnificent.” He sat back in his chair, resting his hands on the smooth, curved arms. “I think we shall get on very well, you and I.”
“If I agree to accompany you to France,” Portia replied, intent on playing hard to get. She did not want Grindelwald to think that he had won her over so easily, that she could be bought or bribed like some corrupt politician.
The man raised his eyebrows, his smile shrinking ever so slightly. “Oh, I had thought the matter was already decided.”
“Hmm.” Portia exhaled sharply through her nose. “Under certain conditions, yes.”
If she was going to help Grindelwald, lend him her aid in such a tight spot, she wanted to make sure that he fully understood her position, her particular standing. She knew she was being picky, ruffling feathers where she ought not to, but for Portia, supremacy served as her lifeblood. And if she could not have supremacy, then she would, at the very least, have equality.
“I am not your subordinate,” she said, sitting up straight in her chair in a futile attempt to add a few inches to her diminutive stature. “If I go with you to France, we shall be equals.”
Grindelwald sighed airily. “Of course.”
But Portia did not appreciate his off-hand attitude. “You are not omnipotent,” she replied firmly. “Neither of us are. We do not answer to each other. We do not bow to each other. It is important that I have your complete understanding and agreement in this matter.”
Although he was starting to look increasingly obstinate, Grindelwald nodded. “You have my word…my honor.”
Portia drummed her fingers on her knees, some old, martial tattoo running through her mind. Already, she could envision the field of battle, the field of glory and ah, it was a thing of beauty.
“Fine,” she muttered. “I go to France. But you’ll have to clear things with the British Ministry first.”
Grindelwald waved his hand lazily. “The Confederation will get permission. After all, our Supreme Mugwump is an Englishman.”
They both looked at each other. Portia sensed the presence of some heightened tension between them. The pleasantries were over, reality coming swift on the heels of forced congeniality.
Grindelwald’s expression was closed. “Forgive me for being forward,” he said, “but I believe you are critical of my methods.”
“Not at all,” Portia put in quickly. She stopped just short of telling him that she admired his renowned tenacity.
“But you do not think it would be an honor to serve with me?”
“On your staff?” she snorted. “Never.”
Grindelwald, for his part, did not appear offended. His pale eyes were calm, thoughtful, and he remained perfectly still in his chair. Composed and sage-like. “Would you be uncomfortable if I asked for some manner of clarification?”
For an instant, Portia felt something of nervousness flutter against her ribcage like a trapped hummingbird. But it passed and she put on her bravest, brashest face.
“Certainly,” she said, consciously relaxing her muscles so that she would appear at ease. “I take no issue with you, but you must understand, I have come too far to be an underling.”
“And your staff. I find they leave something to be desired.”
“But you have not met them.” Grindelwald’s eyebrows dropped.
“I have heard,” Portia said, savoring the taste of rumor on her lips, “that your most trusted lieutenant, one Tom Riddle, is a vulgar wretch.”
Grindelwald surprised her with a laugh. “Morality! This is new. Unexpected. You fascinate me.”
“Morality,” Portia echoed and said no more.
She consistently congratulated herself on her restraint. Her self-control. Her morality, which itself was a gift. Portia was the pillar, so perfectly upright, tall enough to cast a shadow on lesser beings, to make them see where they were wrong.
In some things she had been wrong, but in most she had not.
Grindelwald, keen soul that he was, seemed to sense this. He withdrew skillfully and altered his approach, just as any good soldier would.
“Just think,” he said after a pause. “We could end this, you and I. Effectively dispel dark magic. Heal Europe.”
But despite Grindelwald’s grandiose statements, Portia found it in herself to be more realistic. “I can only fight the battles,” she said. “Leave the healing to the politicians.”
For a moment, she thought he looked disappointed.
“You are very shrewd,” he replied, shifting his feet ever so slightly on the marble floor, “and I assume merciless, as well?”
Portia felt her lips curl with laughter. If she were not such a consummate warrior, she would be insulted. “I have blood on my hands, if that’s what you mean,” she said, raising her clean palms for him to inspect. “You wouldn’t be able to tell from my appearance, but I am rather effective at killing people.”
“When I was seventeen. Diagon Alley. Blew a detachment of dark wizards to bits. They deserved it, though. Tried to attack civilians.”
“Hmm.” Grindelwald’s square nose twitched. “Civilians. But there is nothing of the civilian in you, no.”
“Merlin, I should hope not.” Portia offered him a placid smile. This she could handle, this soldier’s talk, elegant in its sparseness, straightforward, cut clear and hard like a diamond.
Her counterpart seemed to examine her then, his eyes unreadable. Portia stared back at him, studying the lines on his brow, the slightly yellow discoloration just below his eyes. He wasn’t sleeping well, was staying awake through the night…why?
But before she could consider the matter fully, Grindelwald leaned forward across his desk, his features tightening with some hidden excitement, some private, perfect happiness.
“We are not things for humanity,” he said.
Portia was about to respond when the music sounded. It was the faint tinkling of a piano, fluid and graceful, all legato. Twisting around in her chair, she looked towards the door.
When she glanced back at Grindelwald, she found him on his feet. “Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody. Do you like it? Forgive me, but I am partial to my native composers.”
A sinking sort of feeling took hold of Portia as she listened to the music, its chaotic highs and lows, its frantic pacing that required the skill of a virtuoso. “I did not expect entertainment,” she said plainly.
“Of course you didn’t.” Grindelwald was by the door now, his robes trailing behind him. “Perhaps I did not mention my specific reason to inviting you to Capri? Forgive me! You must think that I’m senile.” And with a satisfied grunt, he threw open the great double doors and revealed an immense crowd of people gathered in the atrium below. There was music. There was laughter. And the house elves were carrying bundles of exotic incense through the halls.
“Merlin,” Portia said, jumping to her feet. The air of vulnerability had fallen upon her, settled about her shoulders like an unwanted shroud. She was thrown off balance. Disturbed and disrupted. “I didn’t even--”
“Hear anything?” Grindelwald asked. He was clearly pleased with him. “Again, I beg for your forgiveness, but I thought we deserved a little privacy.”
Portia stared at the throng of people just outside the door, her brow creased. All in all, it seemed like an rather obvious case of the effective use of the Muffliato Charm.
Grindelwald had tricked her.
“You thought we were alone?” he said, as if intent on rubbing in his minor victory.
“No,” she lied, her head spinning as the din from the music grew, the chatter, the noise, the chaos.
Portia could not help herself. She frowned.
A party. She hated parties.
And in so easy a fashion, Grindelwald gained the higher ground.
Author’s Note: This chapter has a little bit of history behind it. When I first wrote it, it was much, much longer. About 7,000 words, to be exact. However, when I was revising it, I realized that it was a bit too long to digest as a single chapter, and that there were way too many character intros. So, after some debate, I split the chapter in half and the second part will now be a separate chapter. If this installment seems incomplete, I do sincerely apologize.
As always, I’d like to thank everyone who has taken the time to read/review/favorite this story so far. I cannot possibly express how grateful I am for your support. The next chapter is currently being revised and should be posted soon. Until then, take care and be well!
*The chapter title comes from a quote by Gaius Julius Caesar.
*Quote taken from "Oedipus Rex" by Sophocles, second Ode, pg. 26, Bedford/St. Martin's (2003).
Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Other Similar Stories
Illusion of ...