July 4, 1992, 8:00 PM, Medical Section, Phoenix’ Roost, England
I winced and tried to shy away, only to be pulled back by Healer Durand.
“Hold still!” She said with a tut and a bit of a mischievous smile. “Do I have to put you to sleep again, Mr. Clarke?”
I looked up to see the mirth in her blue eyes and knew that she was joking. “I’ll be good.”
“Good boy.” She said and resumed her work, running her wand over various parts of my body before focusing on my right shoulder again. “This should be the last treatment your arm will require.”
“‘Should’?” I said. I didn’t like the sound of that.
“One can never be fully certain— only reasonably.” She said as she pressed her wand against my shoulder and began to murmur.
My body tensed as I braced for the expected wave of pain to come just like it had twice before when she’d used the spell, but I felt nothing but a comforting warmth moving through my shoulder this time.
I took a long, deep breath before letting it out as I felt my muscles finally relax.
Ah… That’s the stuff; glad she was right. I thought, resisting the urge to reach out and grab my shoulder, instead looking at the focused Healer before me. She really is good at this.
It was a shame that I didn’t think to ask her for any healing pointers while I was here.
“There.” Durand said with a smile, pulling me out of my thoughts as she leaned back again. “All done.”
I nodded slowly at her statement before finally allowing myself to reach up and give my shoulder a little poke. Expecting pain, I still pushed my index into the soft, tender flesh of my shoulder and felt nothing but the pressure of the poke and just a small hint of pain.
“Thank you.” I said and got up.
“Not so fast!” She said, but it was too late. I forced my eyes shut and fought off a wave of dizziness. “You’ll get… Dizzy.”
“Yeah. Think I get what you mean.” Was all I said in response as I blinked to try to get my vision under control.
Durand scoffed, though the sound seemed more amused than reproachful. “You really should be more careful, Mr. Clarke. At this rate, you’ll end up back in here before the hour is over— unless that’s your aim?”
I turned my eyes away, not at all sure how to respond to that. Durand laughed, and it was a melodious, joyful sound that lifted my spirits. I found myself smiling despite the awkwardness I felt.
“Thank you for the help, Madam Durand.” I said, slowly swinging my legs over the bed and preparing to go.
“Not so fast, Mister.” Her voice rose an octave. I tried to reply, but she placed a finger on my lips, holding a small vial in the other hand. “Not until you take this.”
I gave her a deadpan stare before pushing her hand away. “What is it? More alcohol?”
Durand rolled her eyes, holding the potion out for me. “Oh, spare me. You make it sound like I was doing something untoward when I first treated you; we just didn’t have the supplies, then. Now, we do; this potion will simply allow your body to better process the food you eat in the next twenty-four hours. You may be healed, but you’ll find that you are very weak right now.”
“Oh.” I said and took it. “Well, all right, then.”
I stared at the vial’s contents for a few moments before unstoppering it and bringing it to my lips. “Bottoms up.”
The potion tasted as awful as I expected, but the sight of Durand’s satisfied expression seemed to soften the blow to my mood.
“Very good.” Durand said, nodding twice. “Now, you can go. The feast should have already started.”
“The feast?” I said, feeling a little confused.
“Oh, yes.” Durand said. “It seemed only fitting to end the festivities with a feast— to honor all who participated in the Symphony.”
I nodded, feeling a little silly. “Makes sense, I suppose. You aren’t coming?”
“Oh, my.” Durand said, placing her hand over her mouth. “Could it be that the illustrious prodigy wishes to take me to the feast? I’m so very flattered…”
I looked up towards the sky far above the tent’s roof. Why me, God? Why me?
That only seemed to make the woman laugh, though, which increased my irritation.
“But in all seriousness… I’ll be along shortly. I still have a few more things to do here.” She said, gesturing at the fairly large clutter in the large tent. “But once that’s over, I’ll come and join everyone else.”
“Well, all right.” I said, stepping off of the bed. My legs seemed to hold my weight just fine, and so I nodded to myself before turning to Durand again. ”As good as new. Thank you, again.”
“Just doing my job Mr. Clarke.” She said with a smile, and I knew that she meant it.
I looked at her happy expression mixed in with pride before turning and leaving the tent itself, a thousand thoughts swirling in my head.
Call it strange, but I’m really starting to feel a little connected to all the people here.
The sounds of the feast ahead interrupted my thoughts for a few moments before I moved away to look at the almost completely dark sky. Far ahead in the west, I could see the final hints of the daytime being eroded away by the inky blackness.
The stars had already begun to show their majestic selves, dotting the dark canopy above with chaotic, but beautiful designs.
I took a breath. The past few weeks had arguably been the strangest ones I’ve had in either life.
What am I doing here? I thought. I should be at the Orphanage, bored out of my mind while I wait for the adoption papers to come through— and for Sirius to take me to my new home; and yet here I am, living with the enemy. Fraternizing with them as if they were my chums.
But were they the enemy, though?
It wasn’t the first time I’d asked myself this question, and yet with every successive incident, it became harder and harder to answer it.
I was no longer as sure as I was at the start of my time here.
Durand certainly wasn’t an enemy of mine, I could say that much.
And how could she have been? Durand was just a talented witch who was snubbed by the Wizarding community for daring to have been born part-Veela. Was society really being fair to her here? Could I blame her for joining Grindelwald’s order?
Not just her. Amy, too. I thought. Is it fair that the Prophet basically excommunicated her from the journalism industry? What’s she expected to do now? I mean, sure, she could have focused her attention on learning something else and adapting to the rough hand she was given in life, but what does that actually accomplish? It’s not what she wants to do, is it?
Was Amy really wrong to join Grindelwald’s forces— did I have the right to begrudge her that? What about Rafiq or Vanessa? Or even Guffries, however ill thought out and anger inducing his actions towards me were? What about any of the people who joined because of similar traumatic events?
All of the wizards and witches I’ve dealt with here, it wasn’t like they were psychos lusting for power. I wasn’t saying they were perfect or anything, but more that they were just, for the most part, regular people trying to make the world a better place.
What the Hell am I doing here? I asked myself the same question again. Wasting my time with questions of socio-political morality…
“Always more questions.” I murmured in annoyance as I heard the sound of grass shifting under someone’s footsteps from behind me. “Never any answers.”
“Clarke.” Guffries’ voice came from behind me. “What are you doing?”
I turned to see the man I disliked above almost everyone here; I gave him a dismissive look before turning my gaze towards the stars above. “What do you care?”
“They’re all hosting the feast in our honor, you know.” Guffries said, though he made no move to drag me away from what I was doing. “I just figured you’d want to take your seat at the table.”
Shows how much you know me. I thought viciously. So much for being a glory-hound, eh, Guffries?
I didn’t voice my answer to him, though my stomach did make some considerable noise in response to the idea of having a wonderful meal.
Guffries laughed. “See, even your stomach is telling you to come.”
“I will in a bit.” I said reflexively, placing a hand over my stomach as if the gesture would give me control over its function somehow. “I just wanted some time to think.”
“About what?” He said.
“What kind of things?”
“Stuff.” I smirked.
“Fine.” He rolled his eyes at my childishness. “Be that way. Everyone’s been waiting for you, though. Should I tell them to start without you?”
I resisted the urge to groan. “No, no. I’ll come along.”
“Good.” Guffries said as I moved to stand beside him before we walked towards the large gathering ahead. “Now come on, brooding when you’ve got something on your mind ends up making everything worse.”
I smirked again for a moment before the expression fell away at the sight and smells before me. There were three large tables where most of the assembled people sat, and a small one a little higher than the others for the highest ranked officers within Grindelwald’s forces.
Between them, there was a table lined with all of the foods a man could ever desire. The smells of roasted chicken, beef and pork intensified the more I approached, and I felt my mouth water with anticipation.
I’ll be eating well tonight.
“And there he is.” Vanessa’s voice came from near the head of the officer’s table, turning my attention away from the food and towards her. She lifted her goblet towards me. “The boy-wonder, himself.”
Everyone turned from what they were doing to greet me— some with cheers, others with smiles, and many with raised cups. “The boy-wonder!”
Oh for fuck’s sake. I thought in a strange mixture of satisfaction and annoyance. That name better not stick, damn it.
“Over here, Adam!” Diallo called out above the din of the excited chatter. I turned to see him standing beside Wagner and Guffries; he was pointing at two empty seats. “Been saving one for you.”
I nodded and made my way past a few of the tables, exchanging greetings with well-wishers and receiving many pats on the back before I made it to my seat.
“Glad you could make it.” Diallo said as he gave me a friendly shove that felt more like one of Hagrid’s love pats. He was already a few cups in his wine, I realized. “I was starting to get hungry.”
“And drinking half of the order’s alcohol still hasn’t sated him, either.” Wagner sniped and got a few laughs out of their immediate surroundings. She gave me a small smile of greeting. “It’s a good thing you came when you did. He would’ve gone after the other half had you taken any longer. Man’s like a sponge, just sucks everything up.”
Another wave of laughter passed through me, and I found myself smiling. “Glad to be of help, then.”
I was about to open my mouth to say something else when I noticed that the noise began to quiet down to nothing. I turned my head to the head of the main table and saw that Grindelwald was standing.
Speech time. I thought.
As expected, Gellert opened his hands and began to speak. “My friends; I have not been to one in nearly a hundred years, but that was a Symphony of Blood to remember!”
Cheers rose from the assembled people for a few seconds before quieting down at the man’s upturned hand. He took the goblet sitting beside his plate and raised it up high. “I wish to make a toast, to recognize those who braved through our challenges and made it to the very end.”
I quickly found the cup in front of me— filled with water, I realized with slight amusement— and raised it alongside everyone else.
Grindelwald turned his gaze to the Chinese woman sitting beside Vanessa. “To Ai Xiu, the Sickle Spellslinger! May your marvelous fighting ability continue to evolve and rise to new heights! Prost!”
“Skàl!” “Cheers!” “¡Salud!” “乾杯!” “Cin Cin!” “Ваше здоровье!” “Down the hatch!” “干杯!” “!كيسكن” “Saúde!” “Santé!”
The exclamations kept coming, and though they all spoke different languages, I could tell that they were all expressing themselves as one.
One order. One unit. I thought, and joined in with a smile. “Skàl.”
Grindelwald smiled at the show of unity and took a sip before setting his goblet down. “Now… dig in.”
The dishes from the main feast table went into a flurry of motion as they soared through the air, populating the remaining tables with far more food than I thought they would. Assaulted with the delightful aromas and scents of the cooked meats and vegetables before me, my stomach couldn’t help but growl in protest again.
I didn’t waste time, piling on as much steak and potatoes on my plate as I could fit.
“Woah, ease up on the food, Clarke.” Diallo said as he snatched a few chops before I could get my hands on them. “The rest of us will starve!”
“That’s rich, coming from you, Diallo!” One of the men on the other side of the table said as she pointed her fork at Diallo. “You already drank enough for ten people, so I don’t wanna hear it!”
“Sounds to me like you should’ve fought harder for your beer.”
“Of course, you would say that.”
I watched as the conversation between the two men continued to get more intense for a few seconds before shrugging and snatching another bit of steak off of the main plate when Diallo wasn’t looking.
Now that my plate was full, it was time to dig in.
A groan came out of me the moment I bit into the juicy, succulent flesh, and for a moment, I could almost hear the sizzling the steak made as it was first put on the grill. I savored the flavor as I continued to chew before swallowing.
Absolutely nothing like a feast after a day like that. I thought in a strange exhilaration and began to consume the food before me like a man who’d never seen food before in his life.
And so, the next few minutes passed by in a blur of meaty, savory goodness, pushing away any and all errant thoughts. Grindelwald’s order, their call to action, their methods; none of that mattered to me at that moment.
All that mattered was the good atmosphere, the good food, and the lively conversation around the table. Friendly barbs were exchanged, shit-talking was had, the battles in the Symphony became embellished and overexaggerated— as these things usually are.
Eventually, I leaned back in my chair, feeling more satisfied than I had in a long time. “That was a good meal.”
“Glad you’ve enjoyed yourself.” An amused voice came from behind me as I wiped a bit of grease off of my mouth. “Then again, considering the way you’ve been stuffing your face for the past ten minutes, you’d better have!”
Feeling far too satisfied to either be startled or embarrassed, I continued to wipe at my mouth before finally turning to see Vanessa Zhenya, looking just as amused as she sounded. “Can you blame me?”
“I suppose not; you’ve certainly had to deal with quite a bit in the tournament.” Vanessa said, her eyes slowly going over everyone around me before she set her gaze back onto me. “Up for a small talk?”
I blinked and set my napkin down before getting up. “I need to walk this meal off anyway.”
“Perfect.” She said and gestured at a spot away from the feasting. “Shall we?”
I nodded and followed the woman out of the celebration proper, hearing the whispers of the others.
“What’re they doing?” “Think he got in?” “There’s no way.” “Clarke? For sure.” “He lost, though.” “So? He got second place.” “Second place is just the first loser.” “With an attitude like that…”
“They do love to gossip. Do they not?” Vanessa said as we got out of everyone’s earshot. “And yet I cannot begrudge them this; I am very much the same. A good story is always great to hear.”
“Humans are social creatures.” I said with a shrug. “Gossip’s in our blood; it’s part of how we form community connections, and even friendships sometimes.”
“Wisely said.” Vanessa replied, eyeing me for a moment before looking to the starry sky above. It had grown even darker over the course of the feast. “Did you read that in a book, Adam?”
“Sure, but I knew the concept for a long time before I put words to it.” I said, gesturing at her. “Living in an orphanage kind of teaches you that quick; everyone’s got their little in-group, and they all talk about each other.”
“And you were in one of these groups?”
“No.” I said, frowning as I remembered both my formative years here and back in my previous life. “Can’t say that I was. I played nice with everyone, but…”
Off-key clock. The dark strand’s words returned to me, trying to latch onto my consciousness, but I swatted them away like the pests they were. A never-ending fight, isn’t it?
“You felt apart from others, though you wanted to belong.” Vanessa said, still not looking at me.
I opened my mouth to say no, before shrugging and nodding. “Yeah. I’d be lying if I said any different; but, who doesn’t want to be part of something greater than themselves?”
The feeling of camaraderie, of loyalty and solidarity; to know that the people around you would stick with you until the end— who would rightly say no to that?
Most people aren’t amenable to making new friends, though. I thought. Not unless these new friends conform to sets of ridiculous standards that more or less eliminate 95% of the population around them.
That was the conclusion I’d come to after my years of life, though I was always open to the idea that I was wrong. Living like this wasn’t really living, was it? Expecting people to just disappear because you don’t agree with them… Silly.
I frowned; maybe I needed to put some more effort into making things up with Hermione. I really was a jerk to her, last time we talked.
“Yes.” Vanessa’s voice brought me back to reality, and I pushed away all thoughts of Hermione to the back of my mind. “I will dispense with the formalities— do you wish to join my Clan?”
I blinked and stopped. “What?”
Vanessa stopped as well; she didn’t say anything in return, instead pinning me with her gaze.
So the gossipers were right.
“You want me to join your Clan?” I said, scratching the back of my head. “But, I didn’t win the Symphony.”
“Winning the Symphony of Blood was just an incentive for people to do their best.” Vanessa said. “And the battles themselves were a great test for the order’s finest. Winning is always preferable to losing, but I don’t simply discard potential members simply because of their matchups. I have already approached several people with my proposition, and all have joined.”
“That sort of information is only revealed to those who swear fealty to the Clan Zhenya.” Vanessa said, smiling a little. “I’m sure you understand, consider my family’s history.”
“The purging.” I said, and regretted it immediately when I saw the woman’s face twist into an expression of pain and sorrow. She schooled it quickly enough, but I had seen it all the same.
“Yes.” She said, her tone a bit clipped.
“Don’t worry about it.” Vanessa waved the apology off. ”You are right. Because of the purge, I’ve decided that I require any prospective members to agree to a magical binding oath to not raise a hand or betray one another— for life.”
“That…” I said, trailing off. “That is a pretty hefty thing to ask for.”
“And yet, the Clan Zhenya is full of secrets many would kill to get.” Vanessa said, shrugging. “Many have already tried to beat or torture the secrets out of me. I desecrated them and left their mangled, brutalized corpses at their respective ministries.”
I swallowed, the previous mood of good cheer completely gone, replaced by one of solemnity.
“There are exceptions to the oath, of course.” She said, getting my attention again. “I don’t expect our members to see eye-to-eye, ideologically speaking. It would be preferable if everyone did, but I don’t care if you end up on the enemy’s side— so long as you make no overt action against the Clan itself.”
“But you’re the leader and heavily involved with—”
“Yes, I am.” Vanessa said, cutting me off. “And I’ve already answered this question twice already: I don’t care what ‘side’ you choose. You can attack allies of Clanmates, but don’t attack your Clanmate.”
“That sounds really counterproductive.” I said. “What if someone decides they want to kill everyone in Grindelwald’s order except the ones who are in the Clan with them?”
Vanessa shrugged. “Provided they have the ability to do that, I don’t see any reason they shouldn’t.”
I rubbed my forehead in confusion. “I don’t get it.”
“Then let me make it simple.” Vanessa said, and she got very close to me then. I saw her thread twist and turn as it shifted color slightly before stabilizing again.
What was that about?
“If it’s one thing I learned from our past.” Vanessa said as I leaned back against a tree. “It’s that having us all in the same place, fighting on the same side has led to our destruction. No; it’s best to have people in every corner of the world. If one side is killed, the other remains safe, among allies. That is what I care about— the continuation of the Clan. Our secrets cannot be allowed to disappear.”
“I…” I said, still feeling lost. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Say you’ll think about it.” Vanessa said, giving me a look of amusement. “I don’t expect an answer from you immediately. Asking someone to take magical oaths is not something I do lightly, Clarke. But I think you might be worth adding to our Clan. You have the potential to do great things in this world.”
I didn’t answer with anything.
“That is all I wished to say. Whether you accept or decline this offer is up to you— there will be no bad blood between us from this.” She said, waving my tension away and taking a few steps back, gesturing for me to follow her back to the feast. “Now, come. I’m sure Mr. Grindelwald wishes to give a few more toasts on this night.”
I followed her without a word, my mind buzzing with a thousand more questions.
Always more questions, indeed…