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World Stage

August 19, 1992, 2:30 PM, Dining Hall, Dragon’s Gate, England

Adam Clarke

“So, Mr. Clarke… Or should I be calling you Mr. Black, hm?” Yan said, a glint of mischievousness in her eyes.

“Just Adam will do, Ma’am.” I said, still feeling a little nervous around her. Su’s mom had this air of mystery around her, and though I could see her soul thread as clear as day, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something not quite right about her.

“And I’ve already told you, call me Yan.” She said, looking amused, if a little annoyed. “Or have you forgotten?”

“I haven’t forgotten, Ma’am.” I said, nodding as her eye twitched at my insistence on not using her first name.

Maybe I should acquiesce to her request? I thought, feeling like I was pushing my luck. She’s more than a little scary.

“Your friend has grown rather impertinent since the last time we met, Darling.” Yan said, glancing towards her lost looking daughter. “Perhaps I should not have invited him to this event…”

Ah, shit.

“Mother!” Su said, looking hurt, but Yan laughed in response, giving her daughter a smile.

“I’m only joking, sweetie.” Yan said before looking me over. “But you could certainly benefit from an attitude adjustment, young man. If I were any other person, they would have taken your comment to heart. It would ruin any further engagement you have with that person.”

“Is it truly that bad?” I said, eyes widening slightly.

Of course, Sirius had mentioned it earlier as a possibility, but to see it confirmed by another person really drove it home.

“Worse.” Yan said, glancing around the room until she found what she was looking for. She nodded in their direction and I followed.

I saw two groups glaring at each other, each on a different table. Their eyes were locked in a silent battle, each glance piercing the air like sharp daggers. The air between them was heavy with animosity, thickening with every passing moment.

A tall man with a stern countenance stood when the sound of laughter came from the other table, taking his place at the forefront of one family, his eyes narrowed. His wife, elegant yet rigid, followed him beside him, her lips tightly pressed together, radiating a sense of controlled anger.

The second family responded in kind. A burly man with a squared jaw moved up to the tall man. His gaze seemed to bore into the first man, silently challenging him.

Attendants of the Li family quickly came to put a stop to any fights that may break out, but the damage was already done. Conversations around the tables stalled, whispers were hushed, and an uneasy silence settled upon the room. The distant hum of conversation became a memory as the two families were asked not to interrupt the ongoing festivities.

A long moment passed before the two leaders of each family finally— thankfully— decided to stand down.

“The Lawdon and Creakley families.” Yan said in a low tone as the music and chatter resumed, everyone doing their best to put that little episode behind them. “As I understand it, a simple offhand comment from the Lawdons about the Creakleys’ wealth has sparked a feud that has lasted for… A little more than a century, by now. I doubt the two families even know why they hate each other, anymore. They just do.”

“Right…” I said. “I guess I never looked at it that way.”

“Oh?” Yan said, mildly interested in what I had to say. “And in what way do you look at it, Adam?”

“Well…” I hesitated for a second, wondering if I should respond with the truth or not. Seeing Su’s encouraging smile, I decided to do it. “I don’t fully judge people from a single instance or encounter. Everyone’s got their own story, and I’m just seeing them during a single moment of it, a few scarce minutes out of decades; how it plays out is anyone’s guess. But I’ll give anyone a chance if they can prove they can coexist with me. I certainly won’t get upset from an offhand comment that probably is just someone venting in private— everyone does that in one form or the other.”

I finished what I was saying, though I felt breathless and dissatisfied. There was far more that I’d wanted to say, but I just couldn’t express my thoughts well enough, it seemed.

Damn it.

Luckily, it seemed that I got my point across.

“Too true.” Yan said, regarding me with a thoughtful gaze. “If everyone behaved like that, there would be far less conflict in the world, be it Wizarding or Muggle.”

Everyone around us nodded at that, agreeing with Yan’s comment. I opened my mouth before closing it and letting the group continue their conversation, deciding that I shouldn’t say anything, for the time being. I didn’t want to ruin the moment with my own dim views.

I had always believed that, through willpower, intelligence and determination, a person was able to overcome even the most challenging of obstacles. However, at the same time, I was deeply cynical about human nature more generally, assuming that that same person was, on average, too lax and lazy to affect real, meaningful change in his or her life.

The two modes of thought often warred within me, neither side gaining any ground; an eternal stalemate.

Humans were able to reconcile their differences if they simply let go of their egos; but doing something like that in a society where reputation is considered most important? I turned my gaze to the two families still throwing surreptitious dirty looks at each other.

Good luck with that. I thought with a sardonic look, turning my gaze to nothing in particular. You’d have a better shot at winning the lottery.

Huh. I wondered if the Aurors ever bothered to stop Wizards from winning Muggle lotteries.

They had to, right? I was sure I wasn’t the first person to think about doing it.

You ‘win’ the lottery, become a millionaire, and then proceed to exchange British Pounds for Galleons. I thought before shaking the thought away. There’s gotta be some kind of sub-department for this.

Then again, most Wizards didn’t know a thing about modern Muggle society, so having them infiltrate the Football Pool or Lotto and rig the system to benefit them was a pretty tall order.

Purebloods didn’t even know how to work a telephone. It would take way too much effort to do something like that.

Of course, It was possible that I was completely wrong, and that this was a regular occurrence. I’d have to ask Tonks about it in the future.

Everything seems to have calmed down some. I thought as my eyes swept over the room. The tension which had been slowly spreading over the Dining Hall had faded in the wake of the soothing, upbeat music being played by the Li Family’s attendants. A few people even headed off to the dance floor, and thus awakened the rest of the room, like the first flower bud emerging tentatively and signaling the others that it was safe to follow.

Su’s hand snaked its way to my shoulder, giving it a light squeeze. I turned to see the girl’s smile. I’d thought it before, but Su definitely looked far more relieved than she had not even five minutes prior.

“I really am glad you two made it.” She said, her tone turning a little more quiet. “I don’t think I could have dealt with any more of this alone.”

“Of course, Su.” Tony said. “We wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

“Yeah.” I said, nodding in agreement. “Happy birthday.”

Su looked at the both of us, tearing up.

“Oh, c’mon. Don’t cry…” I said, trying to keep her happy. “It’s okay.”

She shook her head and instead glanced over to the dancefloor, getting a look in her eyes. Before either of us could react, she dragged us there. “Oh shut up and follow me.”

“B-But I can’t dance!” Tony said, now panicked. He looked at me, pleading for me to save him with wide, innocent eyes.

I nodded, already dreading the next few minutes, but comforted by the fact that I’d at least have someone to suffer alongside with. “Just follow my lead, Tony. We don’t have to do anything complicated. I don’t think Su is that evil.”

“You know I can hear you, right?” She said, not even stopping as we passed by Sirius, who sent us a grin.

“Yes, I do.” I said and got Su to roll her eyes. “Does that, perchance, change your mind on dragging us over?”

“Not a bit.”

“Pity.” I said as we got there, my heart pounding with a mix of trepidation and resignation as the partygoers focused on the appearance of the birthday girl and, as a result, Tony and I.

“Consider this your gift to me!” She said. “Now come on! Let’s dance!”

Tony and I shared a look before shrugging helplessly; it was too late to back out, I imagined. And so, we danced; every step felt like a test, each movement scrutinized and judged by the audience that surrounded us, both visible and imaginary.

The music intensified as it enveloped me, coaxing my body to sway in sync with the beat. Su surprised me as she twirled and spun effortlessly, her movements fluid and full of grace. Meanwhile, Tony and I stumbled awkwardly in an attempt to mimic her moves, my body met with a barrage of uncertain jolts and clumsy footwork.

Still, I felt myself get more and more used to the patterns of the song, making fewer and fewer mistakes as I continued to acclimate.

Despite my internal resistance to this whole thing, I couldn’t help but steal a glance at Su. Her eyes sparkled with delight, her smile radiating pure joy. Unbidden, I mirrored her expression, happy that her previously miserable countenance was all but gone.

I turned my glance at Tony, who was struggling far less than he had before. Honestly, he was doing much better than I was.

“You—” I took a breath. “You good?”

“I think.” He said breathlessly. “I think— oof— I think I’m getting the hang of it. Heh…”

“What is it?” I asked, seeing the smug look on his face.

“Finally, something you’re really bad at.” Tony said, and this time he let out a loud gale of laughter. Su joined him, her eyes glittering in amusement.

“I’m not that bad at this, am I?” I said, feeling very self-conscious as I felt like everyone was staring at me.

“Terrible!” Tony said.

“Well, no; you don’t have two left feet, at least.” Su said, disagreeing with Tony, who only laughed again. “But I can tell you’re not really, um… My mum calls it ‘moving with the rhythm’.”

I suppressed a wince. That sounded all too familiar. I suppose some things stay the same, even if I’m a new person?

Though, just how much of myself was Adam Clarke, and how much was my previous incarnation? Was there even a point to differentiating the two?

Su placed a hand on my shoulder, likely misinterpreting my silence as her having hurt my feelings.

She gave an encouraging smile and nod.

“Come on, give it another try.” Su said as the music started to intensify again. “Treat it like… Like something to learn!”

Hm. I considered her words and closed my eyes, standing still as a statue as I tried to get a feel for the music. Its beat quickened, the notes striking my body like a never ending stream of subtle power, reminding me of the show I’d seen in the circus at the Village Du Phantasime.

It was then that I realized that it wasn’t just music that I was experiencing; it was the expression of life.

I opened my eyes again, though I focused on nothing but the invisible notes swirling about in the space around me, vibrating the air in all the right ways.

I moved along with it, as if riding its waves, attuning to its frequency— a small smile came to my face at the ridiculousness of my own metaphors.

“Music, a magic beyond all.” I murmured so low that I could barely hear the words myself.

This realization didn’t suddenly make me good at dancing, but, though I still stumbled and faltered, my reservations slowly faded.

I began to embrace the music, allowing it to guide me on its journey. With each passing moment, my movements became less rigid and, dare I even say, smoother.

“Good!” Su’s voice came to me, but I was honestly unsure where she was, so absorbed I was with my own dancing. “Still pretty clumsy, but you’re doing much better, Adam!”

“Thanks for—” I said breathlessly, putting all of my effort into my current task. “Thank you.”

Suddenly, a flash of bright light pierced through me, momentarily blinding the three of us. I blinked rapidly, trying to regain my vision, and turned to see Sirius standing just a few feet away with Harry, mischievous grins spread across their faces. In Harry’s hands, there was an Wizarding camera.

“I—” I said, flustered. “Wha—where did you even get that!?”

“Hah!” Sirius laughed before pointing somewhere off to the right as he started to explain. “There are reporters here, apparently— that one said you would recognize her.”

I followed his direction and realized that he was right: I did recognize the person slowly approaching us and gulped. “…Amy?”

Her flowing robes were a shimmering midnight blue, adorned with delicate silver embroidery that sparkled in the golden light from above. It accentuated her slender figure, gracefully hugging her curves as she glided across the polished floors.

Her curls cascaded down her shoulders, framing a face adorned with a radiant smile and sparkling eyes that danced with ample intelligence.

“Oh!” Su said. “That’s the person who wrote your stories for the Prophet!”

“Yeah.” I said and took a few steps forward to greet the woman. “Miss Broduk.”

Her eyes met my own, and without saying a word or exchanging any nods or hand signals, we agreed not to mention what happened earlier in the summer.

“Mr. Clarke… or I suppose that’s what you went by the last time we spoke.” Amy Broduk greeted, eyes glittering. “It’s Mr. Black now, isn’t it?”

“It’s been a while.” I said as I shook her hand. “You look well. And Adam is fine, Miss Broduk.”

“Thank you, Adam. I’ve been quite busy over the past few months.” Amy said.

“You sound like you’re doing well.” I said, nodding. “I was told, back in June, that you were let go from the Prophet.”

“Mm.” Amy said, and I could tell  from the smile on her face that she was enjoying this little play-acting of ours. “Indeed I was, but it’s quite alright. I’ve already found a posting at a different publication.”

“Oh?” Sirius said, entering the conversation as well. “Who?”

“Yes. The Daily Herald; have you heard of it?” Amy said, turning her attention to Sirius. “It has only recently opened, but I thought it would be a perfect establishment for my needs.”

“I’ve seen the papers here and there.” Sirius said, nodding to himself. “Haven’t gotten the chance to read any of them. Why would it be perfect for your needs?”

Huh, Sirius was a little too curious, wasn’t he? I looked up at his soul thread, unable to tell if he was genuinely interested in Amy or if he was being overly protective of us.

Could be both, I suppose.

“Well, far be it from me to say negative things about my former employer—”

“Perish the thought.”

An amused smirk came on the woman’s face as she regarded Sirius with a look I knew all too well; challenge. Still, she continued her explanation. “But the conditions there were not… Ideal for me. At the Herald, we do not shy away from the truth. No embellishments or any sensationalism are allowed. We report on the facts, and the facts alone. Everything is left up to reader interpretation.”

That certainly is a bold statement, considering that there are other publishing companies attending here, most likely. I thought and did a quick search of the room, seeing a face I certainly wanted to avoid. Yep. Skeeter’s here, too.

The woman wasn’t currently looking at us, as she was busy speaking to what looked to be an old, Eastern European couple. Higher ups in government?

“Speaking of the news, Mr. Black, I’ve been meaning to ask…” Amy said, hesitating slightly. “Forgive me if I’m being presumptuous, but would you and your family be willing to do an interview with me, over what happened in France?”

Harry inhaled sharply, tensing up at the thought of those events, but didn’t say anything.  Sirius’ expression lost a bit of its good cheer, though he forced a pleasant smile.

“I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I’ve already declined any and all letters concerning that particular topic.” Sirius said, stepping in front of us protectively as we exited the dance floor proper. He handed her the camera back. “I’m grateful for the camera, but—”

“I’ll do an interview.” I said abruptly. Harry and Sirius turned to me, surprised. “I don’t mind.”

“Adam… You sure?” Sirius said, looking between me and Harry.

“Well, not really.” I said, deciding to be honest. “But people have already come up with their own version of what happened. That doesn’t sit right with me. People have a right to know the truth.”

Lockhart might have been an insufferable peacock in public, but he was at least right about one thing: fame was a fickle thing. One day you’re everyone’s hero, and the next you’re seen as the worst scumbag on the planet.

Reputation often took wild turns— that’s why keeping it at a stable level was important to families like the Malfoys.

“Besides.” I continued before Sirius could say anything. “I trust Amy; she’s been nothing but the perfect professional with me. We’ve all read her articles. No, no. I trust her.”

Sirius opened his mouth before closing it and turning it to Amy, looking a little hesitant but acquiescing to what I wanted. “Well, you heard Adam. If you don’t mind, though, I will be accompanying him to this interview.”

“Of course; I wouldn’t have it any other way.” Amy said, agreeing at once.

“And Harry?” Sirius looked to Harry, who only shook his head twice. Sirius nodded. “Harry won’t be coming.”

“That’s perfectly all right.” Amy said before giving the young man an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry for the trouble I’ve caused you, Mr. Potter.”

“It’s fine.” Harry waved her words off, looking away uncomfortably. “Don’t worry about it.”

“All right.” Sirius said, bringing everyone’s attention back to him. “We’ll discuss scheduling in a bit.”

“How about over some drinks?” Amy suggested, making everyone’s eyes go wider.

Whether Sirius was surprised by the woman’s boldness or not, it didn’t show on his face. Instead, he gave her a smile and gestured towards the bar. “After you.”

Amy moved to leave before stopping and looking at me, Su and Tony. “I’ll be sure to send you three the photograph as soon as I get home.”

I winced at the thought of that, but Su beamed and gave the woman an excited nod. “Thank you!”

“You are welcome. And, may you have a very happy birthday, Miss Li.” And with a nod, Amy and Sirius headed towards the bar, exchanging words that were drowned out by the general noise of the gathering.

“Sorry.” Harry said as he walked over to me. The boy was looking a little uncomfortable and withdrawn.

“For what?” I said, shaking my head. “You didn’t do anything wrong. It’s fine if you don’t want to talk about what happened.”

“But you accepted.” Harry seemed to argue.

“I did.” I said. “I guess since I’ve talked to Amy before, she doesn’t feel like a stranger. Plus, she’s never written anything bad about me, so I’m not too worried about it.”

More than that, she and I knew each other’s secret concerning Grindelwald. I highly doubted she would go for mutually assured destruction— the possibility was there, but it was so beyond consideration that it wasn’t even funny.

“Besides.” Tony said, cutting into the conversation with a smirk. “Adam has always been a little weird, hasn’t he?”

Everyone laughed at that.

“Weird and proud of it!” I said, getting another series of laughs in response.

“So, what now?” Harry said, looking better already.

“Um… We still have some time before the announcement…” Su said, leading us towards her table, where a veritable feast was waiting.

Damn, just looking at that makes me feel like I’ve been starving for weeks. Guess being rich has its perks. I thought, but forced myself to focus on what Su had said. “Wait. Did you say ‘announcement’? Something for your birthday?”

Su only shook her head, a look of annoyance mixed in with excitement spreading over her face. “No. Something else. Something big, though.”

We sat down, with Miss Tang approaching us. “Do you and your friends require anything, Lady Su?”

“No, this all will be fine.” Su said, giving Tang a happy smile. “Want to join us, Rou?”

“You know I cannot, Lady Su.” Tang said, though she shook her head in fondness. “But I hope you enjoy the meal.”

“Always.” Su said as we all got settled in and began piling food on our plates.

“If you’ll excuse me.” Tang said and headed off elsewhere, leaving us to enjoy our food.

“You know.” Tony said between bites. “You never told us you were from such a big family.”

“Guess it never came up.” Su said, looking a little anxious at the question.

“Not that it matters which family you’re part of.” He made sure to add, realizing the position he’d put himself in. “You’ll still always be our friend.”

“You’re just trying to make me cry again, aren’t you?”

“Is it working?”

We all shared a laugh before we were interrupted by a commotion at the center of the room. The dancers were asked to move away by the Li family’s attendants, who then, with a quick series of wand waves, raised the floor higher than everyone else.

A stage. I thought as I saw some very familiar looking faces walking up the dais to the podium. I should’ve known.

It was Minister Fudge.

Cornelius stood at the podium, his back straight and his expression serious. Dressed in formal robes of rich burgundy, I had to admit that he appeared every inch the authoritative figure he was supposed to represent.

Gold embroidery traced intricate patterns along the edges, displaying great craftsmanship and attention to detail.

On his right, Yan and what I assumed to be the rest of Su’s family stood. To his left stood the Malfoy Family, staring at everyone with cool, reserved expressions.

No wonder they were invited. I thought, but felt excitement rise in me. What kind of announcement could this be?

The old man who I assumed to be Su’s grandfather stepped forward before Fudge could do anything. “Greetings to all. We hope you’ve enjoying yourselves during my beloved granddaughter’s birthday.”

He waited for a few moments to take everyone attending in before speaking again. “I’m afraid I have to interrupt the festivities for an announcement— but, fret not, it is one you’ll all find most pleasing.”

Judging from the state of Yan’s soul thread, I imagined that she was the farthest one could be from being pleased. Still, the woman kept her exterior cool and collected, looking as if she was a vision, meticulously carved out of marble.

“Minister Fudge.” The man ceded the floor to the slightly impatient Minister, who finally stepped forward with a smile.

“Esteemed guests, may I begin my speech with an apology to Miss Su Li, for interrupting her birthday.” He said, directing a look of false regret towards us before his face flashed back to the well-practiced smile of a politician. “But the announcement was so momentous that we simply could not wait!”

Fudge went quiet, watching the Dining Hall closely as the expected whispers of the attendees broke out, speculating as to the nature of the announcement with excitement.

I’ll give this to the guy. I said as the man waited precisely the amount one needed to wait to hype the room up before speaking again. He is exactly as dramatic as he needs to be to work the room.

“Some of you attending have already heard a similar announcement some time ago, during previous events.” Fudge said, smiling at several of the attendees he could see from his position. “But our initiative has changed, expanded; we had set our sights on Europe, at first, but then we of the Ministry thought, why not the whole Wizarding World? So, it is with great pleasure that we are formally announcing the start of the United Wizarding League!”

Whispers intensified and died slowly at the man’s raised hands.

“We will share all the details with the public, of course.” Fudge said, looking towards the various reporters who had already pulled out their notepads. “But, suffice it to say that this is an unprecedented initiative between the world’s reigning Wizarding Countries to show a united front against an old enemy who has recently resurfaced. And, to celebrate this alliance, we will be hosting the first League at Hogwarts— with full permission from its Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore!”

“What?” “Wicked!” “Who will be attending?” “Is it like the TriWizard Tournament?”

The questions continued to mount, and this time, Fudge couldn’t stop their excitement. Even Su, who had been morose about the interruption to her birthday, looked excited for the future.

As Fudge started waxing poetic about cooperation between the nations and talking about everyone’s future, I felt Tony’s hand tapping my shoulder. I turned to see him giving me a wide smile.

“Isn’t this amazing?”

I forced a smile as I quickly turned my attention back to Fudge. “Yeah. Who knows what kind of year will be ahead of us, huh?”

So the cogs of fate have completely been thrown into disarray, huh… I thought as my eyes took in the whole scene. The procession up on the stage, Sirius and Amy at the bar, looking shocked, Skeeter and a few other reporters to the side, writing furiously, as well as the many strange, unknown families in this party.

My forced smile turned genuine, if not a mite sardonic. Had to happen eventually.

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