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Seven Hills by celticbard

Format: Novella
Chapters: 7
Word Count: 29,232
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Contains profanity, Strong violence, Scenes of a sexual nature, Substance abuse, Sensitive topic/issue/theme

Genres: Drama, Romance, AU
Characters: Dumbledore, Moody, Voldemort, Grindelwald , OC
Pairings: Other Pairing

First Published: 12/12/2010
Last Chapter: 09/12/2016
Last Updated: 09/17/2016

Summary:





Fabulous banner by Elements @ TDA.
After World War II, the wizards and witches of Europe struggle to restore a ruined continent. From the desperate thousands three emerge to take power and claim the right to rule. Gellert Grindelwald, a lauded hero and politician who dreams of being an emperor. Portia Thurin, a military genius and unrivaled tactician. And Tom Riddle, who may very well destroy them all. Out of a world of dust rises an empire of marble.


Chapter 1: Prologue
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Author’s Note: This story is based on Plutarch’s Lives (more specifically, the lives of Mark Antony and Julius Caesar) and, consequently, is vastly AU. In this fic, neither Gellert Grindelwald nor Tom Riddle are your traditional dark wizards, but rather, exist in that indefinable grey region of morality. Therefore, if something doesn’t strike you as canon, it probably isn’t. ;)

This story is especially dedicated to gubby, Susan, Kali and Ellerina, who gave me the swift kick I needed to get this thing written. Thank you, guys!

And for those of you familiar with classical history, please do try to guess just which character is based on what Roman . I’d love to hear what you think. Enjoy!


Disclaimer: I claim no ownership of J.K. Rowling’s work.

                              
                                     Fabulous chapter image by Little Plebe @ TDA


Cast List:
Portia Thurin--Milla Jovovich
Tom Riddle--James Purefoy


Prologue



“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.”
--Mark Antony in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar


1965
Tom Riddle’s Villa
Greece



“He will see you now.”

Portia lifted an eyebrow. How very fitting. The commander becoming the commanded, the prized hound forced to sniff at the door for scraps like a mutt. How utterly appropriate.

“You may inform your master that I am ready for him,” she told the house elf who’d been sent to fetch her.

He was a sprightly little creature, wrapped in scarlet rag that fell about his narrow shoulders like a toga. He looked once at Portia, sniffed haughtily and then led her out of the tight vestibule in which she had been made to wait, made to linger as the night grew uneasy and the flames from the braziers guttered to cinders.

The air was hot and she had stood there, sweating in her leather overcoat and boots, wondering at how she used to love nights like this, on the Mediterranean, on the beaches with the wine-dark sea lapping eagerly at pearly shores. But now all the romance had gone out of life and she thought only of the oppressive heat and how it settled uncomfortably into her bones.

She was growing old.

Outside of the vestibule, the rest to the house was cloaked in the same darkness. One of the servants had forgotten to light the candles and the gracious villa had become an ungainly thing in the black.

Portia was forced to stumble through shadowy corridors, her hand skimming the marble walls as she followed the arrogant house elf tripping along before her.

How like him to make her grope through the unknown. How like him to leave her floundering and abused and humiliated. How like him…

Tom.

She wanted to weep, but checked herself. He had never seen her cry before and she’d be damned if he saw it now.

Portia had just enough time to gather herself when the house elf abruptly turned a corner and brought her face to face with a pair of guards flanking a brass studded door. The taller of the pair smiled at her, revealing a cracked eyetooth.

He glanced at the house elf. “Is this her, then?”

“Yes, sir,” the insolent creature squeaked.

Portia’s hands tightened into fists.

“Hmm, shorter than I would have imagined.” The jagged eyetooth flashed.

“Die screaming,” she told him through a clenched jaw. At one time, that would have been enough to terrify any man out of his right mind. But that was long ago, when her threats still had weight…and she still had possessed the ability to enforce them.

The guard only laughed at her now. “I can see why he likes her. Come on then. Let’s get this over with.”

He nodded to his companion and they both raised their fists to knock on the heavy door.

Portia’s heartbeat joined the pounding rhythm, her face burning as the blood rushed into her cheeks. Absentmindedly, she undid the uppermost button of her overcoat.

Six years, she thought. It had been six long years. And now, only a moment, only a breath of time rested between her seeing him again.

She wasn’t sure if she wanted to.

But Tom evidently did, for his voice rang out from within the chamber, ordering the guards to admit her.

Portia stiffened at the sound of his muffled voice. It was the same. Warm. Heavy with bravado and ill-placed mirth.

He was mocking her even now.

“In you go,” the toothy guard ordered, pushing her into the room, his meaty hand fastened on her shoulder.

Portia shook him off at once and entered of her own violation. The door closed, the guards and house elf disappeared and she was left alone. Alone with him.

There was music, this she knew, coming from a record player. Dido’s Lament by Purcell. Polished and eager, it wafted to her ears then plunged into the subterranean caverns of her gut.

“Tom, are you there?” Portia dared to ask, hating, all the while, that she was being forced to speak first.

The chamber she had been led to was a well-appointed office. Masculine. Cluttered with dark wood furniture and great chairs that looked like thrones. Oil lamps had been lighted and the shadows stayed low, clinging to the tiled floor.

A man was standing by the bookshelf on the back wall, a piece of parchment in his hand.

He looked up. “Portia, hello darling.”

“Tom Riddle,” she bowed her head slightly, not willing to offend him so early on. He outranked her now, after all, and if she was going to have a go at this, if she was going to do the Ministry any justice, then she must be politic.

But Merlin, how she despised politics.

Tom turned, put the parchment down on his desk and braced his arms on the back of his chair. “No kiss for your husband?”

Something lurched inside her. Choking, Portia undid another button on her overcoat.

He was still handsome. Tall. Broad-shouldered. Tanned from the gentle sun that lorded over the Aegean. His stomach was perhaps a bit more fleshy than it had been, when he was younger and an agile soldier. And his drinking could hardly have helped…

All at once, Portia realized that she had been staring. Tom appeared to enjoy her silence and he let her have it. It gave him the advantage.

After a moment, just when her breathing had steadied, he lifted up his head and offered her an expression of acute satisfaction.

“It seems as though I’ve won,” he said softly, letting each word fall one by one, stones breaking the surface of a frozen river.

The ice shattered.

Oh, this goaded her. Set brands of fire against her temples and made her furious.

“Not exactly,” she replied, with as much steely determination as she could muster. In the old days, it had been easier to rouse her self-confidence, to send forth barbs of her own and watch them hit their mark. But things had changed. She had changed.

And yet Tom was still the same. Always the same.

Portia inhaled, the air perfumed with some indefinable incense. The record player clicked off, enveloping them in a sticky stillness. She took a liberty and dropped into the chair opposite his desk. “You know why I’m here, I assume?”

“You do not miss your husband?”

“I hate him.” The sentiment was unnecessary, as was the emotion, but it forced its way passed her lips anyway.

Tom had a way of turning her into a wretch. Of transforming her into something she never wanted to be.

Never.

Portia swallowed, her mouth tasting papery. With unsteady fingers, she reached into her overcoat. “I come to you now as an official representative of the British Ministry of Magic acting in cohesion with the International Confederation of Wizards.”

She paused and let her words sink in. His hands lifted slightly off the back of his chair, urging her to drop the bluff and show him her cards.

Tainted excitement shook her limbs. She bit her lower lip, feeling the shuddering waves break over her.

“The Confederation is not pleased with you,” Portia said by way of warning.

He was undeterred.

“Oh, that’s a shame,” Tom said, his voice edged with a chuckle. “They have turned you into a lackey. A mere underling. And you used to be so insistent on your authority. That must really sting. To be so reduced, so degraded. Do you remember when they called you Alexander, Portia? Alexander the Great. But just between you and me, I always thought you were the better genius.”

She wanted to slap him. To curse him. To kill him. The mockery was worse than reality, salt rubbed into raw, bleeding wounds.

Of course she remembered what she had been, what she had aspired to be and what she had achieved. The only thing more painful than reaching the zenith of life was the fall that inevitable occurred afterwards. And Portia had never known how far she had risen until she fell.

It had started with Tom. All those years ago, when he was the brash lieutenant of Gellert Grindelwald. She had ignored him then, despised and abused him as her inferior. And it was Albus Dumbledore who had told her she was right to distrust him, that Tom Riddle.

If only she had listened…

Fumbling now, Portia found the scroll inside her overcoat and handed it to him. “Read it.”

“From Albus Dumbledore, Supreme Mugwump, I assume,” he muttered, reaching across the desk to snatch it from her. “Do you know what it says?”

She did, but she wasn’t about to tell him. Let him be surprised. She wanted to watch his face change and see the panic, the despair…the defeat.

And then she would dance over his grave.

Tom unfurled the scroll and squinted in the uncertain light to read it. After a moment, he crumpled up the parchment and tossed it over his shoulder.

“Is that all?”

Portia sighed. She should have expected this. His denial. Tom was a master of lies. He had never spoken a truthful word in his life…at least not to her.

“The Confederation is demanding you surrender yourself and your supporters, without terms, at once,” she said, delighting in how powerful each word sounded.

Tom crossed his arms over his chest. “They forget, I am the Confederation. When Grindelwald was assassinated he left me in his stead. Does Dumbledore not remember? As I recall, he was rather happy when Gellert died.”

Of course she remembered. She had been at Grindelwald’s side when he fell, struck down by his closest friends. At the time, Portia had been foolish enough to consider Gellert her ally. Certainly, he had some dangerous ideas, but he was a hero of the second World War and had worked tirelessly for years to suppress the pockets of dark magic that had taken a foothold along the Rhine after the fall of Nazism.

Gellert Grindelwald was a good man, the commander of the Confederation’s army, beloved by his soldiers and admired throughout all of wizarding Europe. Portia herself had fought with him on several campaigns, when she was still head of the British Ministry’s War Department.

And it had been on one of those campaigns that the press started calling her Alexander the Great. And it had been on that same campaign that she’d met Tom Riddle.

Tom Riddle, the man she had married.

Now, she just wanted to make him suffer.

Portia rose to the occasion, at once envisioning the flush of her own triumph as she defeated him with pure logic. “Gellert was declared an outlaw by the Confederation at the time of his death. He tried to start a wizarding empire and he failed. You are the mere death rattle of that failure, Tom.”

She had him. Yes. Yes. This was it. Something out of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, the hand of death pounding on one’s door. Tom’s door. How many years she had spent in devotion, only to be spoiled by his betrayal, his wickedness. She had always deserved better than him and now she would have it. Watch him squirm. Watch him die. Watch the life-blood pump out of his heart.

Tom Riddle was nothing and she was, she was…

“Broken,” he said, his arms falling at his sides as he rounded the desk.

They were close now and Portia found it necessary to rise to her feet, if only to avoid touching him.

She would never touch him again. After what he had done. After what he had made her…

“Weak.” Tom smiled. “I think, perhaps, that was my greatest victory of all. What I did to you.”

Portia’s stomach dropped.

She could not look up at him. The smell was there, his dark, ugly scent. Her eyes trailed up from the floor to his chest and for single, fantastical moment, she thought she heard the beating of his heart beneath the rich fabric of his robes.

It sounded like a drum, no, drums. Relentless and lusty.

She had only one chance now.

“Do you accept our terms?”

Laughter. His laughter. In an instant, he had drawn closer to her ear and his mere presence, so near to her, made her skin ache.

“I destroyed you,” he whispered and his voice was a serpent’s. “I destroyed the best witch of them all. Alexander the Great.”

And so this was Portia’s weakness. The chink in her armor. Her Achilles’ Heel.

She had loved Tom Riddle, and would love him until the day she died. 
 
 




Author’s Note: Any guesses? All right, I’ll tell you. Tom Riddle is our Mark Antony and Portia Thurin is a rather strange mix of Gaius Octavian Caesar and Cleopatra Philopator.

Thanks so much for reading! If you have a free moment, please leave a review. I’d love to hear from you.

This fic should have roughly five chapters. The next chapter has already been written and will be posted in roughly two weeks. Happy holidays!
 


Chapter 2: Fortune Favors the Brave
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Author’s Note: Please note, this chapter takes place ten years prior to the prologue.


Disclaimer: I claim no ownership of J.K. Rowling’s work.

                               
                                         Stunning chapter image by Broomsticks @TDA
 

Cast List:
Portia Thurin--Milla Jovovich
Alastor Moody--Paul Bettany
Henry Elrod--Hugo Weaving


Chapter One Fortune: Favors the Brave*

A woman’s heart
Burns deadlier than the sleeping beast.
---From “Boudiccea” by Faith and the Muse

Ten Years Earlier
November 1955
England


This was it. Utter alienation. Standing ankle-deep in mud. The waiting. The taste of what was to come in the air.

These were the things she lived for. Again. And again. And again.

Utter alienation. The self was broken, the soul denied.

All for this.

Portia steadied herself by tightening her fingers around the handle of her wand. She was standing atop the crest of a hill, the unhurried dawn lighting the valley below. Heavy rains had left the slope slippery, giving the grass a sheen like a snake’s skin. The pungent scent of rotting wood and fallen leaves lent the morning breeze a deep musk. In the distance, a lonely lark sounded.

Moody was by her side, his breath streaking out like a dragon’s, all steam and heat and great, fiery vengeance. “Too many. There are too many of them.”

“It’s fine,” she muttered, shifting her jaw to show that she was annoyed.

“I’d like to return home safe and sound.”

“And you will.”

Moody snorted. “Promise?”

But Portia knew better than that. “No.”

In the valley below, a long line of dusky shapes unfolded and formed into an awkward cohort at the base of the hill. Portia felt satisfaction worm into her gut. She held the higher ground.

It was almost too easy.

She had the wretches cornered. In the pit of her heart, she did feel a twinge of pity for them. But then again, her orders from the Minister were clear. She would apprehend as many of the fugitives as she could and those who resisted would be killed. It was as plain and simple as that and Portia had no room in her mind for the superfluous. She appreciated the direct, the decisive and Merlin, this was as decisive as things got.

Her eyes skimmed the crowd below, counting, estimating, plucking figures and fancies out of the air to fill her with unneeded confidence.

“Would you say they number about fifty?” she asked Moody.

He hesitated. “Maybe. Could be forty-five. And we only have twenty Aurors with us.”

Her mind made a tremendous leap. Planning. Plotting. She’d divide her own forces, let her rearguard do most of the dirty work. Block off all routes of escape and rain hellfire down upon the hapless heads of her enemies. They would not get far, they never did.

“Twenty Aurors. That is sufficient.”

Moody seemed faintly amused. “Outnumbered two to one.”

She jerked her head to the side to look at him, his tall, angular frame casting a shadow over her petite body. “Tell Hemsley to take half our force, bring them through the valley and come up by the rear.”

“Are you certain?”

“You want to get home safe, don’t you?”

Moody obeyed her. He always did, although Portia could not deny the personal satisfaction she felt whenever he displayed an edge of boldness. At twenty-five, he showed potential and was now cutting his teeth in open combat. His defiance, while not openly encouraged, was at least tolerated.

She appreciated his promise and his hardened mannerisms. Already, there was something of the veteran in him, the solid rock that could withstand floods and fires and the end of the world.

And say what he might, he certainly knew how to receive orders and make them work. A moment later he was back by her side.

“It’s done. Hemsley wasn’t pleased.”

“I don’t care how he feels.”

Silence. Terrible, terrible silence. Portia’s nerves were strained and she felt her blood quicken, as if the sluice gates had been opened and her body was now being flooded…drowned.

Only a few more minutes. A few more…

“They look tired,” Moody said, his voice a cutting undertone that sheared the edges of her excitement. He pointed at the figures at the bottom of the hill. “They won’t put up much of a fight, considering they’ve been on the run since Grindelwald chased them from France.”

Portia tugged at her wand, sliding it out of her pocket so that an inch or so caught the morning sun. “Don’t underestimate them. They’re still dangerous dark wizards, no matter how many times they’ve been beaten.”

The pressure was building in her gut. Her muscles were as stiff as the wintering branches of the frozen trees. Her rationality was ceding to this, this…

This tension. This waiting.

“Another five minutes,” she said. “Never fire first. It looks…impulsive.”

Moody was already readying himself for battle, slipping one heavy glove over his calloused hand. “I don’t understand why these German fellows carry on like this, coming over to Britain just to bother us.”

“They’re looking for support in England.”

“Bugger them if they get it.”

“Alastor.” She was not in the mood for scolding him now. He was her fellow solider. Between them there existed that fanatical loyalty, encouraged and fostered by a communion of the spirit. Portia loved him as warrior, loved him because they had spilled blood together and stood shivering in ditches and moved as one through the field of battle.

His agitation this morning disturbed her and she felt his frustration just as keenly as if it had been her own.

“Alastor,” she repeated his name once more, hoping that her steady tone would soothe him.

“The war has been over for ten years,” Moody replied, his face looking gaunt in the sharp morning light.

“Apparently not for them.”

The cloaked figures in the valley had spotted them now, had spied the line of crack Aurors mounted on high like the gods of Olympus. From this distance, Portia could sense their fear.

Her appetite was whetted.

“It looks as though they’re going to make a go of it,” she told him. The figures were advancing now, marching directly into the light of the rising sun. The Aurors standing behind her began to stir.

She turned to Moody and they clasped hands. “Death and glory,” she told him.

“Death and glory,” he rasped.

Relinquishing her grip on him, Portia felt a tell-tale ache creep into her fingers. She held her wand and waited. Merlin, waited. “Listen for my signal,” she said, her words uneven and halting.

Moody cursed. The figures, no longer in the shadows, showed their faces. Unshaven men. Haggard women. All dangerous, all deadly.

“Is it never enough?” he asked as the first hex went sailing over his head.

Their enemies had missed their mark once. They would not make the same mistake again.

Portia had all she needed.

“No,” she said. “Never.” And she drew her wand.

 

 

 






There were two Orders of Merlin First Class on her desk, though Portia avoided looking at them when she could. Instead, she trained her gaze out the window, where the autumn twilight was falling swiftly on a great swath of English countryside. Branches of trees, long dyed black as the life of the summer left them, pressed themselves eagerly against an aging sky. The sun was almost beneath the horizon and the birds were gathering in the hedges.

Peace, she thought. How pleasant it can be. Pleasant, but not profitable.

She was trying to finish up the last of her paperwork and that meant ink stains on the thumbs, pains in the wrists and a perfect attention to detail that earned her those two Orders of Merlin.

With practiced discipline, Portia ignored the charming sunset and went through the list of names before her mechanically. She knew them all, the person behind each signature. Without looking at their files, she could rattle off their birthdays and the towns they came from. They were the Aurors in her department, the men and women who fought beside her, willingly, devotedly… sometimes to the death.

If only people knew how easy it was to control others, Portia mused, then the world would be nothing but dictators.

She paused for a breath, reflected and then signed off on the last list with a flourish. The task completed, Portia allowed herself a stretch of the legs and paced around her office. It was a small space, intentionally close to the home she had grown up in, although she rarely visited the place anymore.

On the walls, she kept her trophies, secretly disdaining the presence of pride and betting against her own hubris. There was the framed issue of the Daily Prophet, its loud headline reading “Auror Thurin to Become Head of Ministry’s War Department.” On the shelf next to it sat a copy of the book she had written on dueling while laid up in St. Mungo’s, recovering, ironically enough, from the effects of several ill-placed stunning spells. Over the doorway was an old world map. Her own pen had desecrated the faded surface, had marked each place she had visited…and all the sites upon which she had spilled blood, had seen good triumph over evil. And she, of course, was always the driving force behind what was called good, or more precisely, the correct order of things.

Standing in the middle of the office, her boots on the carpeted floor, Portia felt the depth of it all swamp her. She allowed herself to drown, as she did in battle, as she had last week, standing ankle-deep in mud, waiting for the moment, waiting to do what she was born to do.

She was at the zenith of her career now…and not even her beloved mentor Henry Elrod knew what it was like to brush so close to the heavens. And Portia was determined, (unlike those who had come before her, who had risen and then declined) that she would never, ever fall…

After all, there was something distinctly distasteful in the whole business of surrendering one’s glory, be it to old age or a better foe.

In the end, she found she rather not think about the matter. Portia was nothing if not superstitious. She had her rituals. She had learned not to tempt fate. And she knew that one’s gut reaction was often more reliable than bare fact.

Tonight, her instincts told her to be wary.

The air of this particular evening was tremulous, setting her nerves on edge and warning her of the dangers of the indefinable. And the indefinable came, fluttering through her open window on the wings of a Ministry owl. Portia let the bird settle near her feet before she bent and untied the scroll attached to its leg. When she broke the seal of the parchment, however, only a line of writing presented itself. Predictably, it came from the Minister.

Tea at four-thirty? He had written.

Portia raised a brow. How like him to vague…

Presently, she was disturbed by both the chime of the carriage clock on the mantle, and the shambling form of a man who climbed out of the fireplace beneath it.

“You could have given me more warning,” Portia said as she pulled one of a pair of rosewood chairs away from the hearth rug, giving her guest room to settle himself.

“You’re a soldier, Portia,” the Minister of Magic, Henry Elrod, said calmly. He dusted off his fedora before resting it on the corner of the mantle. “I thought it was in your nature to expect the unexpected.”

She did not have a ready answer for him and had to be contented with holding her tongue. “If this is about the report on the combatants of last week’s to-do, I just finished it up. You’d of had it on your desk by morning if you had any patience.”

Henry Elrod shrugged out of his tweed traveling cloak, his thin-lipped mouth giving him a smile that would have looked ghoulish were his personality not so congenial. “I’ve come to recognize your patterns.”

“Patterns?” Portia asked vaguely. She hadn’t prepared any tea for herself and was wondering just what she could give him.

“Every time I send you out on an errand you come back sour. Cranky.”

Portia finally gave up on the tea, fetching a nearly untouched decanter of sherry from inside a glass-doored cabinet and pouring a small amount for the abstemious Minister. “You make it sound as though I were running to the grocer’s for you.”

“Oh, but it is very like, no?”

“Be quiet and drink your sherry.”

Henry took the glass from her, dropped into one of the rosewood chairs and promptly crossed one boney knee over the other. “Congratulations are in order, I believe.”

After a moment of restless pacing, Portia finally settled herself opposite the man. There were still ink stains on her hands and she looked at them dismally. Hopefully the rest of her appearance wasn’t quite so slovenly. Portia liked things neat and ordered. She kept her brown hair trimmed to her shoulders, wore her uniform because it was leather and didn’t wrinkle easily and scrubbed her face daily to keep the color in her cheeks. Tonight, however, she was feeling pale and listless.

Henry laughed. “That was quite a route you pulled off last week.”

“Oh, that.” She was inclined to be modest. “It was no contest.”

“I heard Auror Moody acquitted himself nicely.”

“He always does.”

Henry tilted his head to the left slightly, looking thoughtful. “He’s your favorite, isn’t he, that Moody.”

Portia raised her eyebrows. “It’s not wise for a commander to have favorites…at least not openly.”

“But you are close to him, closer than you are with the rest of your Aurors--”

She sat forward in her chair, her hands knotted together. “He is a fellow solider,” she said firmly.

Henry bit down on his lip. “Whatever that might mean.”

“It means that I would die for him if necessary.”

Her friend laughed. “So there is a certain intensity to the relationship, then?”

“You could say that,” Portia replied with a sigh. She didn’t expect him to understand the exact nature of her bond with Moody, or any of her other Aurors, for that matter. Henry, for all his politically savvy, had a civilian’s mind. She decided to steer the conversation in a more neutral direction.

“Those wretches I fought last week were half-dead by the time I got to them,” she said. “I don’t know why Grindelwald can’t keep them on the Continent. After all he did during the war, what’s a few outlying rebels?”

“Grindelwald,” Henry mused. He was worrying over his sherry, running a sallow hand through his thinning hair. “It’s quite a coincidence that you should mention him.”

Portia decided that she did not like his tone. The usual joviality was still there, but something else, something that made her bones feel heavier and her body older than thirty. Rising, she fetched herself a glass of sherry and sipped it half-heartedly.

Henry twisted around in his chair, offering her the same appraising look he had given to her the day she had first stepped into his office at the War Department nearly thirteen years ago.

“Shall we have some music? I find it makes the conversation flow easier.”

Portia pretended to be annoyed. “You come into my office, making demands…I should be insulted.”

“But it would be good of you to take it only as the request of an old friend.”

“If you say so.” In truth, Portia was happy to have something to do. Unlike Henry, she couldn’t sit still for long periods of time, couldn’t contain her energy to one specific place when there was so much that needed doing.

Briskly, she took her wand out of her pocket and pointed it at the old record player in the corner. The music started off tepid and then grew, rupturing the gentle stillness of the evening.

Henry frowned thoughtfully. “Berlioz’s March to the Scaffold. It suits you somehow.”

“Somehow.” Portia laughed into her sherry. “I love the horns. They make me feel as though--”

“You were some conquering hero.” His frown shifted into a sly smile.

Portia shrugged. “Close enough.”

She hated this sort of chit-chat. It made her nervous, skirting around the obvious. Henry knew this, as he knew almost everything about her and quickly sought to relieve her tension.

“I wouldn’t have made you Head of the Ministry’s War Department if I didn’t think you were every bit as able as--”

“I don’t like comparisons, let’s just drop it.”

“Self-praise stinks, does it?” Henry quirked a grey brow. “Sometimes I don’t trust your modesty.”

Portia felt her face flush. If there was anything she hated more than blatant avoidance, it was doubt. Doubt in her.

Once more, Henry realized his mistake. He glanced at his sherry sheepishly. “You have the morals of a cloistered nun, my dear.”

That mollified her slightly. She began to pace, hoping to shake off the awkwardness of the moment. Casually, she folded one arm behind her back, adopting the position of a solider at ease.

“You said you wanted to talk about Grindelwald.”

“Such astuteness!” Henry looked delighted. “I only mentioned him, but there you go, putting two and two together.”

“It’s not so hard. You should try it sometime.”

Henry uncrossed his legs. “Vicious. You were not half so brutal when you first came out of Hogwarts. I remember, I had certain reservations about hiring you…you seemed so timid.”

“And then I successfully repelled an attack on Diagon Alley by those wizards come over from the Continent. I was still training to be an Auror then. That’s when they started calling me a prodigy.”

“I remember something of the sort.” Henry leaned heavily on the arm of his chair. “I think my reservations were sufficiently demolished by then. You were--”

“About Grindelwald.” Portia was desperate to get the conversation over with, even if it went in a direction she didn’t particular like. The name of Gellert Grindelwald was enough to stir up some manner of apprehension within her. Thirteen years ago she wouldn’t have cared less if people talked about Grindelwald around her. And although she would never admit to now, she had at one time found him to be a fascinating figure.

In the late 1930s, the rise of Adolf Hilter had been complimented by severe unrest in the wizarding world. There was an eruption of dark magic in Germany as some wizards began to adopt Nazism for their own purpose. The movement, which was by no means organized, spread like wild fire just as Hitler poisoned Europe with his venom. Wizarding governments across the Continent were forced to contend with sudden uprisings and brutal violence. For the first time in history, those with magic began to involve themselves in a Muggle conflict.

It was Gellert Grindelwald who finally managed to take control of the fast deteriorating situation. In 1940, the International Confederation of Wizards named him the commander of their army and he immediately began to stem the flow of dark magic, putting down revolts and giving besieged governments the military power they needed to restore peace.

In those days, Portia had admired Grindelwald, and she had come to the Ministry’s War Department with high hopes of doing some good in the world, of esteeming to the heights of his greatness and helping to put Britain to rights again. Henry had been Head of the Department then, and the first one to recognize what Portia really was…

And to this day, she felt she owed her life to the man who gave her the wings to fly.

But tonight, thirteen years later, he was beginning to annoy her.

“Out with it,” she demanded, pacing behind his chair.

Henry drummed his fingers on his knee in time to the click of her heels on the floor. “Europe is still a ruin.”

“I have some limited understanding of the fact,” Portia said, allowing an ounce of mirth to penetrate her voice. They both knew she was no politician.

“There are still dark wizards aplenty left over from the war. You saw that last week, I daresay.”

“Indeed.” Here Portia paused. She minded what Moody had said to her on that hill. About how the War would never be over for some wizards. It was true at least for some of Europe, France, bits of Germany and Belgium, mostly the lands around the Rhine. For nearly a decade now dark wizards had been stirring up minor rebellions and the International Confederation of Wizards had been foremost in quashing them.

By all accounts, the resistance was quieting down, although that was not necessarily a good thing for Britain, considering the sudden influx of fugitives that she had been forced to contend with of late.

“It’s a lot of trouble,” Portia said, voicing her thoughts out loud.

Henry hummed in agreement. “But you’ve done a lovely job keeping things in order. It’s no wonder I let you succeed me as Head of the War Department.”

Portia put her glass down on the mantle, bracing her arms on the back of her old friend’s chair. “You need me, sir. It’s entirely obvious.”

“Something like that.” Henry waved her away. “Though I am willing to part with you for a while.”

She stiffened, her jaw locking. “What?”

The sun had gone quite beyond the horizon now, leaving her office dark and dismal. Slowly, Henry rose and lit a fire in the hearth.

“I received an Owl from the Confederation this afternoon,” he said, groaning slightly as he knelt on the cold stones, flicking flames from the tip of his wand onto the logs. “Gellert Grindelwald has personally requested your aid in his latest campaign. You’re to join him at his headquarters in Italy by the end of the week.”

Portia’s jaw now slackened and she was glad she had put her sherry on the mantle. Her hands were shaking. “Why…” She wasn’t unable to finish.

Gellert Grindelwald, for all his glory and renown, was her competition. And she was rightfully wary of any rival. To go to him, to act as an subordinate…

She turned away from Henry.

“If you would let me finish,” he said sharply. “I can tell what you’re thinking already, Portia, but let me assure you, I’m not sending you to act as an underling, I’m sending you as a consultant. Grindelwald wants your advice. He is asking for help. And for such an accomplished man, such a brilliant commander and tactician to openly request aid from you--”

“Is that what he honestly wants? He really wants my help? Or does he want me to come trotting up to him so he can pat me on the head and say ‘Well done, little woman, very well done. You remind me of myself when I was your age. Keep up the good work.’ Is that what he wants, Henry?”

“Portia, really, you can be so paranoid at times.”

“You know I could never be his subordinate,” she bit back, feeling, for a moment, wild panic overtake her. “Grindelwald may be a brilliant soldier, but I would consider it a dishonor to serve on his staff with the likes his lieutenants. Look at that…what’s his name? Tom Riddle…look at him. The most debased wretch. A womanizing drunk. You would have me on the same level as him?”

“Of course not!” For the first time, Henry looked insulted. “And I told you already. You would not go to Grindelwald as subordinate. I would never do that to you.”

Portia raised her eyebrows, still unwilling to listen to excuses and flimsy explanations. “Then Grindelwald only wants one thing from me.”

“What are you insinuating?” Henry stood, groaning again, and cleaned his hands on his pants.

“Well, it’s rather obvious, isn’t it,” Portia muttered. “He wants to see if the rumors are true.”

“What rumors?”

Merlin, he was being thick, Portia thought, realizing, at the same time, that he was baiting her on purpose. Henry had always liked to see her angry, to see her riled. She was effective when enraged and could win smashing victories in the heat of the most extreme temper. But anger was an indulgence, something she viewed as messy and imprecise. Employing her natural discipline, she tried to avoid it all costs.

She schooled her experience to one of indifference. “Grindelwald wants to see if I am what they say I am.”

Another ghoulish smile from Henry. “Which is?”

“His better.”

The Minister laughed and clapped his hands. “And then what? You think Grindelwald is going to attempt to steal my talent?”

An attempt at levity. Portia tried, but only managed a half-smile. “I’m not a mercenary. I don’t parcel myself out. I fight for--”

“Britain alone?”

Portia stood and hovered close to him, this tired, aging man who had given her everything. And she owed him her life for it. Of course, she would never admit the fact to Henry himself. It was tactically inappropriate. Best to keep her motives somewhere in the grey. “It doesn’t matter who I fight for. It only--”

“But you fight for me, yes?” Henry’s eyes glittered. He knew he had her.

“If you’re going to press me,” she replied, uncomfortable with the admission.

“I guess that means you trust me then, eh?” he said, graying eyebrows falling over weary eyes.

Portia sighed. Dear Henry Elrod, he was the only one who knew that despite her accolades and endless string of triumphs, she was still a weak woman.

“Something like that.” She bristled, feeling the inevitability of the hour. The evening was indeed a tremulous one and Portia struggled to find some promise in it, something that would put her at ease and assure her that Henry, as always, was right.

She found nothing.

And yet, there was the inevitable.

Portia sighed and looked at the Minister. She was still unable to concede her pride entirely, so she added, “So help me, if he tries to make me his subordinate,” she stopped abruptly, realizing that the argument was pedantic. Instead, she said, “I cannot imagine what Grindelwald thinks he might do with my advice.”

But Henry knew her too well. “We can stop being modest now, Portia,” he said with all sincerity, his eyes flickering to the Orders of Merlin on her desk, the framed newspaper, her book, “you know what you are.”


 

 

 






Author’s Note: Yes, Gellert Grindelwald is our Julius Caesar and his campaigns against dark magic in France are my take on the Gallic Wars. Also, as you may have noticed, Grindelwald is not a bad guy in this fic…at least not yet, haha.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read! If you have a free moment, please leave a review. I cherish all feedback. The next chapter is nearly complete and should be posted soon. Until then, take care and be well!

*The chapter title comes from a quote by the Roman poet, Virgil.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Chapter 3: The Die is Cast
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

                              
                           Stunning chapter image by Anna_Black @ TDA



Disclaimer: I claim no ownership of J.K. Rowling’s work.

Cast List:
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:

Dear Madam,
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.

G. Grindelwald

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.”

“Indeed.”

“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.”

“Your first?”

“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.

“What’s that?”

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).
 
 


Chapter 4: A Second Self
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

                                 
                                           Awesome chapter image by Anna_Black @  TDA

Disclaimer: I claim no ownership of Rowling’s work.


Cast List:
Portia Thurin: Milla Jovovich
Gellert Grindelwald: Anthony Hopkins
Albus Dumbledore: Michael Gambon

Tom Riddle: James Purefoy


Chapter Three A Second Self*

Must be strangely exciting,
To watch the stoic squirm
Must be somewhat heartening,
To watch shepherd meet shepherd
--Taken from “Uninvited” by Alanis Morissette


It was a standard tactical maneuver. All smoke and mirrors. Distraction and evasion. At first, Portia wondered if she was indeed being paranoid. Grindelwald could not possibly know that she hated society…or could he?

Certainly, he had seemed rather on the mark about her character when it had just been the two of them. And what he knew of her already was not from hearsay, but rather, pure instinct. It wasn’t really an accomplishment on his part, though. Drawing someone into an uncomfortable situation, a neutral situation was the best way to discover just who should be feared, or who, on the other hand, could be dismissed as insignificant.

Being surrounded by people she did not know, being trapped and outnumbered, would keep her safely occupied for a while, although Portia was determined to give Grindelwald a good show.

Employing her usual stiff upper lip, she allowed herself to be introduced to the company, which happened to contain a rather creative mix of Confederation officials and soldiers. The officials bored her, the soldiers kept her on her toes. Without Moody by her side, she would have to tread carefully. Having a second pair of eyes and ears always came in handy in such situations, but Portia was not to be deterred.

She could handle this. And she would come out on top.

Standing on the edge of the atrium in her plain Auror’s clothes, she watched the guests mingle. Watched the potbellied, balding politicians spill wine on their robes. Watched their women, who were only attractive in a stoic, matronly sort of way, attempt to gossip as they stood by the luxurious inlaid pond. Watched as the soldiers laughed and caroused and acted coarse, as though they were at a liberty to embrace their own stereotype.

“It is a spectacle,” Grindelwald said, positioning himself by her elbow where he could conveniently read her most private expressions.

Portia kept her features aloof. “Do you do this all the time?”

“Oh, one has to,” he admitted, having the decency to look a little abashed. “My position, my standing with the Confederation requires more than blood and guts. One has to learn to put on a good show.”

“You could have given me fair warning,” she said sardonically, showing that she was all too aware of his tactics.

Grindelwald appeared appreciative of her astuteness. Swooping one arm gracefully to the side, he snatched a goblet of wine from atop a tray carried by a passing house elf and handed it to her. “I won’t apologize.”

Portia accepted it, but did not drink right away. “Do you know how much I hate parties?” she asked, her curiosity getting the better for her.

Grindelwald raised his eyebrows. “No, but I will take it as a bonus.”

Portia raised her glass to him, half in salute, half in challenge. “Go on then, try to make me uncomfortable.”

“Try? I wasn’t aware that I was trying.”

“Humph,” Portia grumbled. She decided she had given him enough ground for one day and quickly closed ranks.

They stood side by side for a while in silence. Two titans, both eager to straddle the world and make war and prove, just prove, who was indeed better.

But all that would have to wait. Portia knew there was no reason to get anxious just yet. She had time and youth on her side. And as much as she admired Grindelwald, as much as she might find his company pleasing, and, at the same time, mentally stimulating, she still wanted to rise above him, to best him.

And she would. Quickly, quietly and easily.

Not today, though.

She sipped her wine, enjoying it even though the vintage was a bit full-bodied for her delicate palate.

The party was indeed a sumptuous affair, and she distracted herself from the wanton extravagance by watching the musicians who had congregated in a courtyard just beyond the atrium. The pianist had left off playing Liszt, and inexplicably, picked up an accordion. What followed was a rather exotic treatment of what Portia felt must be a tarantella.

Being a bit Spartan herself, she did not possess the faculties to fully appreciate the splendor of Grindelwald’s villa, although she did gawk at the perfect regularity of the large atrium and the brightly painted walls and the colorful ferns that sat in huge, marble urns.

Directly across the room, she happened to notice an elderly man with a long white beard inspecting a rather ornate vase. His eyes, slightly hidden by half-moon spectacles, were narrowed in an outward expression of intense thought.

“That man,” Portia said, waving her goblet at the elderly gentleman. “Who is he?”

“Ah.” Grindelwald knotted his hands behind his back. “How wonderfully astute you are. Let me introduce you at once. Albus, dear Albus, a moment, please!”

Portia watched as the man called Albus made his way over to them, the crowds seeming to naturally part to admit his passage. He was a tall old fellow, dressed in periwinkle robes that seemed out of place amongst the jeweled tones Grindelwald’s guests seemed to favor.

“I have a friend for you here, Albus,” Grindelwald said. “Do you know this youngling by my side? She’s your countrywoman, head of the British War Department. The one all the papers are crowing about.”

The man glanced briefly at his host, his expression calm, before he turned to smile at Portia. “Albus Dumbledore, my dear,” he said, taking her hand and kissing it. “Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards.”

The title, Portia thought, did not suit him. It was a lofty, awkward thing, not meant for a man of such fluid grace and obvious esteem.

“Portia Thurin,” she said. “Grindelwald has already told you what I am.”

“But I could have guessed!” Dumbledore said, his eyes twinkling. “You have that look about you.”

“A poor look?” she asked, the question born out of pure instinct.

Dumbledore smiled. “No. I only meant that you have an aura of raw promise about you. A rare thing indeed.”

And for an instant, Portia found herself flush at his compliment.

Grindelwald was quick to put a damper on things, though. He cleared his throat, casting an arm around Portia’s shoulder. “Do not listen to him, Thurin. He dislikes all soldiers immensely, even honest ones such ourselves.”

Portia was surprised by Grindelwald’s rudeness, although Dumbledore himself was apparently accustomed to such flippancy.

“I only dislike those soldiers who are grasping--”

Grindelwald snorted. “He makes excuses!”

“I only dislike those soldiers who have political ambitions, who have notions to trample on democracy.”

The conversation had turned hostile in an instant. And Portia, who knew something of the unexpected, was shocked. Neither Grindelwald nor Dumbledore appeared to be bitter men, but their words were thick with venom.

For once, Portia felt like a spectator to a battle and not an actual participant. Much to her disappointment, however, the joust was over before ever the knights touched lances.

“As do we all,” Grindelwald said with a great sigh, his tight features twisted into a mask of congeniality. “Albus, you are a repetitive fellow. Mark my words, Thurin, you’ll hear this same song from him again. And again. And again.”

The atmosphere was still uncomfortable and try as she might, Portia couldn’t make sport of Dumbledore as Grindelwald did. The Supreme Mugwump was much too noble to mock.

She felt the need to clear the air and wracked her brains for something suitable to say. At last, she remembered a tidbit she had heard about Dumbledore from Henry Elrod.

“You were a professor at Hogwarts,” she said, hoping that her memory was sufficient and she hadn’t mistaken the Supreme Mugwump for another politician.

But then Dumbledore bowed his head in acknowledgement. “I taught your mother Transfiguration when she was at Hogwarts…before the war called me away. She was a very clever student. Always so polite.”

“Oh,” Portia said absently, “how nice.”

Grindelwald let out a burst of laughter. “So retiring you are, Thurin! So retiring! Isn’t she, Albus?”

Dumbledore glanced at her, his eyes piercing for a moment and then fading as he raised them to the ceiling. “Forgive me, both of you, but I must be off. This is a soldier’s party and I am no soldier. Good afternoon.” Another bow.

Portia was sad to see the old fellow go. His company had provided a happy distraction from her otherwise unappealing situation. She made a mental note to ask one of Grindelwald’s secretaries for Dumbledore’s address. Their conversation, she felt, was not finished.

Grindelwald, on the other hand, did not even bother to call after his departing guest, but instead turned his full attention on Portia.

“We’re alone now,” he said. “And I think I’ve earned a bit of honesty from you, have I not?”

“That depends,” Portia replied, employing what she believed to be feminine coyness. But her womanly wiles were very rusty, only used in rare emergencies, and her attitude came across as stilted. Unnatural.

Grindelwald apparently, did not notice her defect, or at least, he pretended not to. “Now tell me,” he said, plowing ahead with perfect self-assurance, “is what they say true, Thurin. Are you my equal?”

The answer was on her lips before it even registered in her thoughts.

“No, I shouldn’t think so. I am your better.” Portia squared her hips, trying to look casual, if not a little confrontational. She knew it would come to this, had foreseen what Henry, for all his wisdom and experience, could not.

Grindelwald drew closer then, his features softened by familiarity. “Let us talk plainly.”

In her mind, Portia circled him. They were two lions, two creatures of blood and bone, each taking the measure of the other.

Yes, she thought, her limbs locking, her fingers twitching as she imagined her wand grasped firmly between them, this is the moment.

“I hear,” he said, putting his lips to her ear, mimicking so deftly the serpent that brought Eve to sin, “I hear that you are one of the greatest military geniuses the wizarding world has ever seen. A strange claim to make of a woman who is only thirty…only thirty! Could you really do it, I wonder? Could you possibly defeat me?”

The blood was flowing thickly through her veins now. Portia did not have to think. Once more, the answer was on her lips.

She turned and looked Grindelwald straight in the eye. “Try.”

A breath, a pause and then the moment passed. Grindelwald looked satisfied. He nodded once, raised his glass to her and flashed his teeth in a restrained sort of smile. “Enjoy the party.”

She wouldn’t, but that did not matter. Portia did not accept the comfort of relief as she watched Grindelwald turn his back on her and move off to engage a few of his other guests. Her work, after all, was just beginning.

The afternoon itself was one of raised hackles and appraising glances. Portia spent the next hour trying to mingle. She met members of the Confederation, most of them dusty old politicians who knew nothing of warfare.

“It’s all very elementary,” a particularly long-winded wizard from Belgium told her. “We simply tell Grindelwald where to go and he goes. Point him in the direction. It’s like a game of chess, you know, except soldiers are much more colorful than playing pieces.”

Portia didn’t bother to tell the man that soldiers had minds of their own. And often, quite often, they found themselves inclined to disobey orders.

She herself was not to be mastered. Henry Elrod, her dear friend, could order her about as he pleased. Portia didn’t care. When it came to battle, she did just what she liked.

And won.

After many successive rounds of dry conversation and two glasses of wine later, Portia decided she had done her duty and would retire with her usual martial stiffness. She was about to leave the villa when Grindelwald caught her in the corridor. He had another man with him. A young man.

“A moment, Thurin,” her host said. Portia was relieved to find his manner softened somewhat. Grindelwald was clearly no longer interested in sizing up his competition.

For this reason only, Portia allowed herself to be momentarily detained. “Yes, what is it?” she barked.

“Thurin, please, let me introduce you.” There was an awkward shuffling as Grindelwald tried to simultaneously sweep her forward and make room for the new arrival.

She did not have to look up at the man to get a sense of him. The smell was there, some dark, ugly scent employed to make women go weak at the knees. Her eyes trailed up from the floor to his chest and for single, fantastical moment, she thought she heard the beating of his heart beneath the rich fabric of his tunic.

It sounded like a drum, no, drums. Relentless and lusty.

Her lip curled.

“Portia Thurin, I should like you to meet my lieutenant, Tom Riddle.” There was a certain insinuation in Grindelwald’s voice as he spoke. He already knew how much Portia disliked the man.

A hand was extended, thrust into her line of view. Portia fairly snarled, something of recognition making her feral. She had heard of this creature, had heard of his wretched dissipation, his womanizing, his drunkenness, his complete and utter ugliness.

She took his hand quickly, shook it and rolled her lips into a smile. “Sir.”

“Actually, it’s Riddle.” He had somehow sidled his way in front of her and she found herself forced to look up at him.

Yes, Portia thought, here it is. Everything that is wrong with wizarding Europe, standing right before you. Corruption and anarchy and debauchery packaged neatly into one flesh.

He was a beguiling fellow, of course. Men of his sort usually were. His gods had made him handsome, had given him a well-set jaw and an inviting complexion and something of roguishness meant to charm the stupid.

Portia raised her guard once more.

“Riddle,” she spoke his name easily, as if she meant to be his greatest friend. “I have heard much of you.”

A smooth smile. “Nothing bad, I hope.”

And there was the tired old joke. Portia felt her cheeks begin to ache as she worked her mouth into a polite grin.

“I hear everything and nothing,” she said, hoping she sounded appropriately philosophical. Perhaps, if she was abstract enough, she might confuse him.

Suddenly, Grindelwald returned, rising from the dust of an inopportune moment to shoulder his way into a poor conversation. “I should think you two have something in common, do you not?” he said. When they didn’t respond, he supplied his own answer. “You both like to fight.”

Riddle leaned forward to close the gap in their triumvirate. He had a goblet of wine in his hand and Portia could see the foggy imprint from his lips on the rim. “But I am surely not up to the standard of Thurin. She is obviously my better, a hundred times over.”

Portia let him finish his flattery, then saw her opportunity and seized it. “Is it hubris to say that I agree?”

Clever, clever. Be clever and back them against the wall.

She was pleased enough with herself, felt that she had had the last word and was now safe to leave. Bowing her head slightly, she was about to mumble an excuse and depart when Riddle touched her.

His hand brushed her wrist. Quite by accident.

And her outrage was so great, that for a moment, she lost her footing entirely.

 




Shortly after Grindelwald’s gala, Portia managed to begin a correspondence with Dumbledore. As it turned out, the man hated and distrusted Riddle nearly as much as she did.

Do not mind his vulgar manner, he wrote in one casually honest letter, I should be glad to let him destroy himself if he would not annihilate us as well.

And for some strange reason, Portia found that she hated being right.

 




A week later, Portia was strolling with Moody through the streets of Capri, allowing herself a rare descent into thoughtful nostalgia. She wasn’t much for sentiment itself, but something about her beloved lieutenant’s presence eased her mind and emotions into a state of decadent stupor.

Moody, for his part, was suitably curious about his new surroundings. Since arriving on the island three days ago, he had experienced some difficulty in adjusting his stoic sensibilities to the luxurious lifestyle Grindelwald seemed fond of fostering. But where he floundered, so did Portia.

They both disliked their new quarters at an opulent villa. They both were suspicious of Grindelwald’s soldiers, who were tanned and boisterous and acted like little boys. And they were both anxious, so very anxious about the upcoming campaign. Each day, the prospect of war, of violence, crested the horizon, looming ever closer but still remaining shapeless, indefinable.

And Portia leaned on Moody and Moody leaned on her and as a pair, they walked through the narrow streets, their shoulders pressed together, as if their physical closeness would save them from the onslaught of a new world.

A new era.

“I prefer our thatched cottages,” Portia told her companion as they passed by a series of low-roofed, white houses.

Moody said nothing, his angular features cast into shadow, his chin lowered.

Portia enjoyed his silence for what it was. Steady. Reassuring. Definite. And yet his eyes, his keen, sharp eyes, were worried.

The pensive look on her friend’s face was enough to make Portia’s heart melt a little. She lifted her hand and grasped his wrist tightly, in the manner of soldiers.

Moody seemed to accept the gesture for what it was, although he still appeared awkward. Uncomfortable, really. A dry laugh rattled in the back of his throat.

“I grew up in a thatched cottage and I hated it.”

Portia raised her chin, establishing her dominance even though her lanky friend towered over her. “You’re not much for conversation this evening, are you? Is Capri that distasteful?”

Moody shrugged. His shoulders were sharp beneath his brown Auror overcoat. He didn’t have much of the military look about him, although his face had been etched with the nearly imperceptible marks of hard fighting. His jaw was stiff, his forehead always tensed. The mouth fell into a strict line.

Portia knew him for what he was and rejoiced in it. “I missed you,” she told him. “It was terrible meeting Grindelwald, suffering through his gala without you by my side.”

Some color darkened Moody’s cheeks, but he quickly regained himself. He always did. Turning from her, his voice husky and low, he said, “You haven’t told me what the party was like.”

Was there something questioning in his tone? Something of confusion? For the first time in a long while, Portia ignored her instincts and plowed ahead.

“Decadent,” she replied. “The music was loud and inappropriate and the house elves carried about bundles of incense. I don’t think I will ever be able to get the stench out of my clothes.”

“Seriously.”

Portia took a deep breath, trying her best to put her estimations and scattered first impressions into sensible words. “Grindelwald was appropriately arrogant, although I think we will get along fine if he does not take it into his head to tread on my toes. Oh and I do have some liking for the Supreme Mugwump, that Dumbledore.”

“Dumbledore?” Moody’s eyebrows twitched. “Didn’t he used to teach at Hogwarts?”

“Before the war. Transfiguration or something like that. He mentioned my mother as one of his pupils.”

“Was he arrogant too?”

She shook her head, feeling the full heaviness of her stupor, her endless and aimless ruminations. “No. Very moderate.”

“But brilliant?”

“You have the idea now.” They moved away from the row of white houses, walking down the lane until it emptied into a square. Portia felt boxed in and immediately fixed her eyes on the church belfry across the way. The bells within were still, and yet she imagined them reverberating, sending out peals of throaty chimes. For a moment, she felt that the stillness of the night was deceptive.

A thought occurred to Portia then. Something uncomfortable. It slithered under her skin and stuck to her bones and infected her marrow until she felt very uncertain of herself. The feeling was brash and intemperate, a combination of loud laughter and a roguish smile and all that was handsome, but still defiled.

Her mind was drawn back to Grindelwald’s party, the wild music, the grating voices, and the young man she’d been introduced to, the young man whom she already hated….

“Do you think I’m being impulsive?” she asked the universe at large and was surprised when Moody answered.

“Because you’ve joined up with Grindelwald so quickly?” His heavy brows jutted out over sunken eyes. “No way to tell, really.” Another shrug. “Let us see how this campaign in France goes.”

When Portia did not respond, Moody stepped closer. He was touching her now, his fingers trailing up her arm to the crook in her elbow, playing upon the soft suede of her sleeve.

Too much, she thought and reluctantly, she turned away from him.

Moody’s laugh was sardonic. It rose over the gentle lapping of the Tyrrhenian, as unwelcome and unwanted as the growl of the Grim. “What do you think you would do if you failed?” he asked.

“What?” Portia’s mouth was dry. For an instant, she wished for another sip of that full-bodied wine Grindelwald had served.

“If you were ever defeated, I mean,” Moody continued. “If your perfection came up short. If you lost a battle.”

“I…I haven’t thought about it.”

“Because you don’t think it will ever happen?”

“Because it shouldn’t.” Portia’s tone held just enough anger to silence her friend.

He retreated then, backed away with bowed head and stooped shoulders.

Portia felt her head begin to ache. As always, Moody had a point. Perhaps, she mused, her uncertainty had stemmed from her own particular fear of failure. Perhaps she knew what this upcoming campaign meant and wasn’t brave enough to face it.

I am going to war, a small voice told her, vile in its excitement, fiendish and bloodthirsty. I will make a name for myself in violence. In blood.

And Portia remembered how cavalier she had been with Grindelwald, showing him her hands and declaring them stained with the lives of her enemies.

Glancing at Moody, she recognized the same hesitance in his eyes, the dreary acceptance of what he was and what he would do.

Because it has been asked of us, Portia thought. And we cannot refuse.

In two paces, she closed the gap between them, crossed the dry cobblestones and rested her forehead against Moody’s.

They stood together for a moment, listening to the air gather in their lungs, hearing the subtle waves of the slumbering sea, feeling the pulse of each heartbeat.

Maybe, Portia mused, this why Henry Elrod called our relationship uncommonly intense.

But it didn’t matter what Henry Elrod thought now. He wasn’t there, but away somewhere in England and Portia was standing alone with Moody. Alone in a deserted square on the Isle of Capri.

And she could be a hypocrite now if she wanted to. Could forget that she had the morals of a cloistered nun. Of a single-minded Spartan.

It had happened before and it could happen again…

But Portia had couldn’t allow herself to be intemperate. Stepping away from Moody, she felt her limbs stiffen, felt her control snap back into place and so regained her standing.

And Moody, because he was Moody, said nothing.

Portia fidgeted, never content to stay still. At last, she made a great show of unbuttoning the cuffs of her jacket. The gesture, simple though it was, reminded her of old ills.

“One more thing,” she told Moody, recalling that touch on the wrist, the musky scent, the heartbeat. “That Riddle.”

“Tom--”

“Riddle, yes. I met him. He is Grindelwald’s right hand man.”

“He’s an English boy, right?” Moody turned his back on her. “I think I went to Hogwarts with him, but they took him out in his third year. Aye, I remember it now…he was an orphan, that was it. Some old Pureblood couple adopted him and brought him over to the Continent. A pretty fairy-tale, isn’t it? But what’s he like now?”

“He is the most vulgar creature I have ever met.”

“Smart?”

“I did not notice.”

“I remember him being clever.”

“He will run the Confederation into the ground given the chance.”

“But talented?”

“Yes.” Portia turned away from her friend and observed the square at large. “Grindelwald would have nothing to do with him if he was a moron. He must be gifted.”

What she had meant to say, however, was dangerous. But she knew well enough not to call him dangerous.

For if he was, then she would have to fear him.

Forgetting Tom Riddle, Portia once more pressed her shoulder against Moody’s and they finished their walk around Capri. And in the weeks to come, when war came and tore at them and turned them into beasts, not humans, Portia would remember that Moody alone had stood with her that night.

And she had stood with him.

 




Author’s Note: Whew! Another chapter finished. Honestly, I think these installments keep getting longer and longer. So much for me trying to keep this story short, hehe.

I was very happy to finally introduce Dumbledore in this chapter. In case you haven’t picked up on it, Albus will be our Cicero, the conservative politician and master orator. I always thought Dumbledore would make a good Cicero, even though he was somewhat interested in world domination during his youth. ;)

Once more, I would like to thank everyone who has read this story so far, along with everyone who has taken the time to review/add this story to their favorites. I am eternally grateful for your thoughtful support and encouragement.

The next chapter has already been written and should be posted in roughly three weeks. Until then, take care and be well, folks!

 

*The chapter title comes from the quote “A friend is, as it were, a second self” by Marcus Tullius Cicero.
 


Chapter 5: To the Strongest
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Fantastic chapter image by magicmuggle @ TDA/


Disclaimer: I claim no ownership of J.K. Rowling’s work.


Chapter Four To the Strongest*

I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.
--Alexander the Great



A week before Christmas, Portia and Grindelwald transported their combined force of one thousand soldiers to a makeshift camp on the border between Northern Italy and France. The campaign they had planned was not a secret one, requiring none of the cloak and dagger tactics often employed to surprise an enemy. They had every intention of meeting the contingent of dark wizards in open battle, overwhelming the ragtag brigands and winning an easy victory that would have them home by New Year’s Eve.

As Portia was particularly concerned with the threat of guerilla warfare, she had advised Grindelwald to set up his camp in an open, easily accessed space. Together, they had chosen a lightly forested high plain, hemmed in only by a narrow river. The countryside around them was visible and already heavily scouted. Reconnaissance, they both knew, wouldn’t be a problem.

Still, Portia was cautious. Cautious and nervous. She had never shared a command in any of her previous military operations and like a mother hen, she felt overly protective of her soldiers. Henry Elrod had allotted her two hundred English Aurors to serve as Grindelwald’s rearguard. It was a small, but sufficient number, and Portia prided herself in knowing that she had handpicked each and every one of her men. They were crack troops, to say the least. A mixture of able veterans and promising young talent. As her second-in-command, she had appointed Moody.

Grindelwald himself had eight hundred men and a good three quarters of his force had served with him in the last war. But as his second, he chose someone young and raw. Someone who had still been in school when Europe had descended into chaos over a decade ago. Someone who had spent the weeks before the campaign carousing about Capri, drinking and whoring and holding lavish parties that had emptied his bank vaults of what gold he had.

Tom Riddle.

As it was, the man had done little to earn Portia’s esteem, and although she rarely let first impressions sour her particular perceptions of a person, she decided to make an exception in Riddle’s case. Unfortunately for her, she had absolutely no say as to who Grindelwald picked for his staff, and although Riddle certainly wouldn’t have been her first choice, she could only hope that the old man knew what he was doing.

On the evening of December 23rd, she stood in Grindelwald’s campaign tent on that plain in Italy, finishing off the last, almost bureaucratic details that inevitably preceded the calculated spilling of blood. It was the first time Portia was alone with Riddle since their introduction at the gala back on Capri. Grindelwald had been called away to consult with a returning party of scouts he had sent out the previous morning. Portia, on the other hand, had purposefully dispatched Moody to the camp to inspect the newly arrived goblin-made vests she had ordered for her troops.

It had shamed her when she first realized that all of Grindelwald’s men were outfitted with proper uniforms while her own Aurors were dressed as, well, Aurors. Her momentary pang of self-consciousness had driven her to request some manner of suitable armor for her men from the British Ministry of Magic. Henry Elrod had reluctantly responded, loaning her two hundred goblin-made vests that had been used by English soldiers during the last war and later packed away in crates by the War Department.

Portia had a strange fear that her soldiers would march into battle looking dusty and unkempt in old-fashioned, outdated armor and so she sent Moody from her side to satisfy her vanity. As it was, the poor man would probably spend the next hour polishing tarnished metal.

And yet, a part of her wished she hadn’t tasked him with such menial labor. While standing alone with Riddle in such close quarters, she wanted Moody with her, her beloved lieutenant, her mainstay, her companion….

“This is cozy, isn’t it?” Tom Riddle spoke up, jolting her out of her ruminations into the dark, pressing present.

He stood opposite her, on the other side of a mahogany table that could have seated twenty but hosted only two. Grindelwald’s campaign tent, like his Capri villa, was undeniably grandiose.

Portia squinted under the light of the chandelier that hung overhead. Up until then, she had been able to ignore Riddle, to avoid him and lose him in the chaos that occurred whenever commanders tried to move large bodies of men. But he was standing there now, quite alone and wretchedly handsome in his black uniform. As a commanding officer he wore a black breastplate, matching dragon scale pauldrons and a dark cloak. His plumed helmet was tucked under his arm.

Portia frowned. All of Grindelwald’s soldiers wore black, no matter what their rank. Whenever she saw them marching or milling about camp or even reeling drunkenly through the streets of Capri, she thought of them as mourners in a funeral procession.

Tonight, however, Tom Riddle did not look so much like death as he did debasement.

Portia removed her gaze from him.

“I said,” Riddle repeated, apparently unhappy to be put off, “this is cozy, isn’t it? Like a camping trip or something.”

“I don’t know,” Portia replied noncommittally. Her nerves were jangled and she felt as though her head might come unscrewed at any moment. There was a heaviness about her brows, something thick and sleepy that made her blink her eyes repeatedly.

Riddle, on the other hand, was loose and calm, his long limbs relaxed. And he smiled at her with a wry sort of grace that made her very aware that he was male and she was female. There was little room for gender neutrality while in his presence and Portia wondered if it was because he himself was such a licentious lout.

Whatever the reason, she had begun to think of him as dangerous in the way that men of his sort often were, gaining favor where they deserved reproach, infecting society with their vile and dissolute habits.

And as Portia stared at him, she thought how very disgusting he was and how she herself was better than him. Superior. Chaste. Moral.

But perhaps it was a mistake to look at him, to show her revulsion so openly, for Riddle emitted a ringing laugh.

“You know, ever since I met you, I’ve been entirely fascinated by your character,” he said, resting the edge of his hip on the table. “There’s something of virginal ferocity about you. Like the goddess Diana. You’re a funny little thing, all buttoned up in your brown coat and high collar. Very English. Very, very English.”

Common sense told Portia not to mind his ramblings, but instinct rose to the occasion, sending off clear warning bells.

Stay away from this one. Stay away. Stay away.

“I thought you were an Englishman yourself,” she said, deflecting his verbal thrust with an indifferent parry of her own. “In fact, you still have the accent. Do you come from London, maybe?”

Riddle dropped his helmet on the table, his expression darkening. A closed look fell over his features, a film covering his eyes. His smile twisted. “I don’t know where I come from.”

“Oh?”

“I’m an orphan. My parents never came to claim me. I lived in an orphanage until I was eleven. It was all very…Dickensian.”

Normally, even Portia would feel some amount of sympathy for such an unfortunate story, but she guessed Riddle would use her pity to his advantage, and instead, she hardened her sensibilities.

“You’ve done well for an orphan then,” she said. “I thought people like you turned into Oliver Twists or Jane Eyres.”**

Had she struck a nerve? Portia grew hopeful when she saw him flinch. But it was just a reflex. A primitive, animal reaction. Somehow, Riddle maintained his cheer and winked at her.

“Well, I’m young yet. There’s still time. But in your case, I’d say you’re hitting your peak. People like you invariably end up in the same place. Have you ever read The Illiad by Homer? There’s this wonderful chap named Achilles in it. He has some foot trouble, though. If I were you I’d make certain your shoes have very hard soles. You never know when Paris is going to fire off one of his arrows.”

Portia wondered if he was threatening her. She was going to be frank and ask him, just to get a better measure of how she might go about destroying him later, when Grindelwald swept inside the tent.

“Now Tom,” he said, fingering the final report from his scouts in his gloved hands, “do not nip at Commander Thurin’s heels. It is Christmas, after all.”

“As you say.” Riddle was even saucy with his superior. His smile, perpetually lopsided, had an infuriating quality about it.

But Portia couldn’t be prone to emotion tonight or let Tom Riddle get under her skin. Her focus would be needed tomorrow, after all, when she sought to make that river yonder run red with the blood of dark wizards who, by all rights, shouldn’t be alive even now.

It was a necessary evil, Portia decided, to kill or be killed. Society was much too unbalanced to allow for the success of anything as intemperate as peace. And for the meantime, she was able to justify her violent tendencies with morality. As it was, the world needed butchers just as much as it needed saints.

“I’m uncomfortable with this gorge here,” she said, pointing at the map before her which she had already heavily scorched and marked with her wand. “This is a bloodbath waiting to happen. No one goes near this gorge. If someone is going to bottleneck, let it be our enemies.”

“Hmm.” Grindelwald handed her the scouts’ report to peruse. “Are you so claustrophobic, my dear? You have been rather insistent on the matter of wide-open spaces. That paper you hold mentions only four hundred hostiles. The odds are in our favor.”

“I don’t care about the odds,” Portia said grumpily. She looked once at the report and then thrust it at Riddle.

He had to stretch his torso across the table to reach it.

“Well, I thought it might be interesting if we took a hundred of your men and put them on the ridge directly above the gorge,” Grindelwald continued. He was looking spry and youthful, his white hair pulled back into a dashing queue at the nape of his neck. “A position on the ridge affords us the high ground.”

Portia said nothing at first, instead feeling some fresh sickness stir in her gut.

This was what she had feared. This was what she had lived in terror of.

Grindelwald was trampling on her toes, overreaching his authority and concerning himself with her soldiers.

Portia’s skin prickled, but then she remembered herself. Raising her hackles, she showed him her teeth.

“No. I don’t want anything to do with the gorge.”

“But it may be tactically prudent,” Grindelwald insisted.

Portia, however, was deaf to his arguments. She knew her soldiers and she knew herself. Having her back to a gorge would provide an unnecessary psychological barrier. If she found her forces pressed, then she would have to resort to Apparation in order to retreat. There would be no secondary marshaling, no regaining of ground and position. No, she wanted, she needed a clear, open space, a place that would afford her the opportunity to maneuver. To divide and conquer.

Portia didn’t bother explaining her theory to Grindelwald. He most assuredly knew it already, just as he knew that there was some advantage to holding the high ground. Their argument would be a stalemate. Portia could debate and cajole and reason all she liked. Grindelwald was capable of doing the same.

Dissent bothered her. Made her uneasy and insecure. She stared at the map, trying to regroup.

Tonight was a night of deceptive peace. With Christmas only two days away, Portia thought of the people back at home. Civilians. Families. Children who were excited for presents and Santa Claus and the long holiday from school. And she remembered, vaguely, when she had been that young. Before the dark came. Before the armor fell about her shoulders and encased her body. Before she learned how to treat her wand as a weapon and end a life.

Fragile. She had been so fragile then. And perhaps now….

Now, while she was standing on a high plain on the border of Northern Italy, arguing about a gorge.

A damned gorge.

Despite her attempts at stoicism, Portia felt her lips twitch as a grin took shape, which she offered to Grindelwald. “You can do as you like,” she told him evenly.

For a moment, his face lightened, as if he believed that she might actually agree with him.

But then Portia dropped the pretense, her features hardening with unflagging determination. She was, and always would be, intractable. “I will most certainly not take the high ground and if you order me to do so--”

“Sir?” Tom Riddle had interrupted her.

Portia almost wheeled on him, but then remembered her doctrine of detachment.

Stay away. Stay away.

Grindelwald folded his arms across his middle and shifted his feet on the rich, jade-toned carpet beneath. “Speak,” he said with a jerk of his chin.

Portia noticed that Riddle inclined his head when he addressed his commander. It was something of natural deference, she assumed, although she was surprised to see that Riddle had an ounce of humility about him.

“I would not mind taking the high ground,” he said, “if you will give me the honor.”

Honor? Portia felt her neck snap as she threw back her head in shock and disgust. Honor? She didn’t think Riddle had the right to use the word, as it was certainly a foreign concept to him. And yet, his sudden, sycophantic turn might be useful to her….

“I have no objections,” she told Grindelwald. “If Riddle wants the high ground, he may have it.”

Grindelwald appeared amused and he lifted an eyebrow. For a moment, Portia thought he was going to goad her as well. But Grindelwald, after all, was a professional and he knew that this night was not one for childish games and unnecessary undercutting.

“It’s settled then,” he said, pulling out his wand to make another mark on the map. On the area just above the ridge, Riddle’s name appeared.

Portia accepted the relief that flooded her. She’d have nothing to do with the gorge after all. And she had conquered Grindelwald on his own terms, proved to him that she was not be dictated to or mastered.

But her relief was short-lived when Riddle leaned across the table when Grindelwald’s back was turned and offered her his most degrading grin.

“Think of it as an early Christmas gift,” he said with another wink.

And once more, Portia felt her teeth set on edge.


 




It was near midnight by the time the meeting ended. Tom Riddle lingered inside the opulent tent with Grindelwald, too energetic to return to camp and resign himself to his own sleeping quarters. In almost all cases, he was a man of action. Of vibrancy. And when he was on leave and not at war, he almost never retired with the sun, preferring to spend his evenings basking in the full light of the moon. There was much too much to do at night, too many useful hours that he could never waste with sleep.

Usually, there was some manner of occupation to be found about the camp. Tom knew of a few senior officers who liked to gamble, although he himself was currently short on money after he had financed an impromptu symposium back on Capri that had left him uncomfortably in debt. Having already been bankrupt once when he came of age, he didn’t feel the need to revisit that particular social embarrassment.

With card playing out of the question, he considered seeking out some companionship of the fair sex. His mistress, a vicious, vibrant woman whom he had met in Rome, had remained behind at his villa in Italy. And Tom had had enough experience with the women of questionable virtue who congregated about the camp to be tired of them.

Finding his options so regrettably limited, he settled instead on his old stand-by, which was, as always, of the Dionysian persuasion.

He had half a mind to ask Commander Thurin to share a bottle of wine with him, only because he thought some spirits might loosen up the English bitch and provide some amusement for him. But when the woman bid him good night, her eyes flashing steel, he found the notion of having a drink with her distasteful.

“You’d better hold the gorge,” she told him, refusing to shake his hand even when he offered it to her. “I want no mistakes tomorrow. None. Do you understand?”

“Entirely,” Tom replied as he watched her roll up a copy of their battle plans and stick them inside her brown coat. Standing so close to her, he fought the urge to reach over and grasp her fingers in a handshake, if only to see her turn wild with outrage.

But the woman wheeled away from him, her movements smooth with military precision. “Good,” she said. “I expect nothing less from you.” Without any ceremony, she turned on her heel and marched out of the tent. Yes, marched.

How amusing! Tom found himself laughing as he watched her walk down the sloping dirt path and into the heart of the camp, where she would most likely be after that gangly, sharp-featured youth who was her appointed lieutenant. What was his name again? Mooley? Moody?

Turning from the open doorway, Tom found Commander Grindelwald still pouring over a list of the infantrymen in his second legion, the light from the chandelier above casting irregular shadows over the table.

“I’ll bet you anything,” he said, folding his arms over his chest, “that Portia Thurin is fucking her second-in-command. You know, he’s that skinny fellow with the death-warmed-over look. I forget his name.”

Grindelwald did not look up, his forefinger brushing back and forth over the parchment, his usually straight shoulders hunched. “Your language,” he said, “is not becoming. Clean your mouth.”

“Apologies.” Tom was only slightly irked at being lectured by his senior commander. After all, Grindelwald was one of the rare men he respected, a sort of father-figure who deserved to be admired in his own right.

But that didn’t mean that Tom always listened to him. Despite being a soldier, he never took kindly to authority. Grindelwald himself was never tyrannical, although he could sometimes be heavy-handed. For the most part, Tom tolerated and even appreciated his guidance…although on this one occasion, he thought the man was wrong about Portia Thurin.

“I do not see it,” he said, throwing one of his hands in the air as he paced around the grand table, his dragon-scale boots thudding on the carpet.

Grindelwald raised his eyes, wrinkles criss-crossing his brow. “See what, boy?”

“Her worth,” Tom told him, although he thought the matter was obvious. “That Portia Thurin…she is only a woman.”

“Only a woman?” Grindelwald splayed his hands on the table. “You find her not so unlike that mistress of yours, I suppose,” he said. “Like the actresses you invite to your parties and the street women who follow you whenever you and your comrades parade drunkenly through Capri.”

Tom had fully circled the tent now, had woven his way past several traveling trunks and the rack that held Grindelwald’s armor until he was standing next to his commander, leaning casually on the lip of the table. The heavy sarcasm in the old man’s tone had alerted him and left him wary. Perhaps he had crossed the final line and violated his mentor’s patience. Perhaps he had been too frank.

“I only meant,” he said, hoping to clarify his comments and avoid for further offense, but Grindelwald stopped him.

Dropping his hand on Tom’s shoulder, the old man dug his surprisingly strong fingers into the soft space between his neck and collarbone.

“Only a woman,” Grindelwald said, showing each and everyone of his glittering teeth as he spoke, “who might very well rule the world one day if we’re not careful. I don’t expect you to understand the intricacies of all this, Tom, but I do demand your obedience. And I tell you now, in your plebian, vulgar language, do not treat Portia Thurin like one of your fucking whores. Do you understand when I speak to you so plainly? Good. Good boy.”

And without another word, Grindelwald released his shoulder and turned back to his lists of infantrymen as if nothing had happened. Nothing at all.

For a perilous moment, Tom was thrown and he felt abashed, as if his intelligence had been questioned and he, yes he, was wrong.

But then he remembered himself and found another ready smile for Grindelwald.

“Anything else, sir?” he asked, quirking a brow.

Grindelwald did not look at him. “Yes,” he said, his jaw working tensely. “Hold that damned gorge.”

 





They were pine needles under her feet. A thick layer of soft, decaying undergrowth. Portia felt them snap under her boots heels like matchsticks. Like tiny, brittle bones. The air was heavy with the scent of fired spells and hexes. And blood. There was blood.

At approximately one o’clock on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, Grindelwald and his forces had engaged the hostiles. The battle itself was textbook and therefore, not entirely exhilarating. Portia herself had not entered the fray yet, and as she stood waiting in a stand of pine trees behind Grindelwald’s center, she allowed herself to be bored.

It was now four o’clock and very little progress had been made towards finishing the great matter. Although both Grindelwald and Portia had been diligent in their tactics and had carefully divided and arranged their forces, the fighting itself was stubborn. Slow. In a matter of hours, nothing had changed.

The battle had erupted exactly where they’d hoped it would, on another high, raised plain that was hemmed by thick fir trees. To the left the terrain sloped off into a marshy riverbed and above the water, slightly to the North sat the dreaded gorge. Tom Riddle had his own cohort of one hundred and fifty men planted atop that same ridge and he was waiting, like Portia, for Grindelwald to finish chewing out the hostiles before he had a crack at them.

Grindelwald, of course, had arranged his legions in the center of the plain. He was the brute force of the attack. The driving spear point. And while his men labored and tired and battled on, Portia kept her Aurors in reserve. She was situated directly behind Grindelwald, hidden in the stand of trees and when the moment was right, when the hostiles had been put to flight, she would emerge.

And then no one would be left alive.

The air amongst the trees was awash with the smell of pine. Portia looked at her boots and saw that they were sticky with sap. Needles stuck to her toes. She frowned and tried to wipe them off on a nearby rock.

The hour was growing late and she was anxious. Her Aurors, likewise, had already burned off their excess energy and were now looking positively lethargic. The cold had gotten to them all and she watched them standing in formation, shivering in their antique goblin-made vests and leather overcoats.

Moody himself had given up long ago and was now seated on a tree stump, his wand resting on his knee, looking, for all the world, like a sleepy schoolboy.

Portia’s eyes were heavy, her mind infected with the smell of pine and the drowsy swish of the trees as the breeze shook them. In the distance, she heard spells whizzing through the air, some hitting their marks, some falling into oblivion. It was a wonder, she thought, that any of the hostiles were left alive.

Well, she’d certainly see to that.

“Do you remember what I told you?” she asked Moody, touching him on the shoulder.

He started, straightening his back. “Wait till Grindelwald moves to outflank,” he said dutifully. “That’s the signal. That’s when we attack.”

“No.” Portia set her jaw. “That is not what I meant. I meant….” She trailed off, feeling useless and weak. She had never given such an order before and it frightened her. It was one thing, of course, to kill, to enter the fray of battle and spill someone’s blood only because they were trying to spill yours. But this…this was different.

“No quarter,” Portia said and the words were ugly on her lips. “Leave no one alive, even if they offer to surrender.”

Moody didn’t look at her and for that she was grateful. The man was forever impartial, had never judged her, had never doubted that what she said was wrong.

Portia squeezed his shoulder. Her eyes were burning. The scent of pine was too strong….

“Wait!”

The voice startled them both.

Portia whirled around and saw one of her men step forward. His hand was raised and he pointed beyond the trees to the field of battle.

“Wait, is that the signal?” he asked, one eyebrow cocked.

Portia and Moody looked past the trees. It was nearly impossible to see beyond the sweeping branches…which was why she had set a scout on the edge of the field to watch for her.

And in a moment, he had returned, breathless, but smiling in a wicked, sinful sort of way.

“Grindelwald’s moving off to the right,” the scout panted as he reported, “Merlin, did he leave a lot of bodies behind!”

“Ours or theirs?” Moody prompted. He was standing now, his passivity dismissed in favor of his usual tension.

“Theirs, I think,” the scout replied. He was looking at Portia. “He’s set things up nicely for us, Commander Thurin. Better get a move on before the hostiles run off.”

Yes, she thought. Of course Grindelwald would set things up nicely. Deliver the dark wizards to her all wrapped up like a Christmas present with a pretty ribbon on top. Perhaps Grindelwald did not think she was capable of pursuing a retreating army. Or perhaps he simply wanted to be done with the business and had helped Portia finish off what should have already been finished.

She didn’t have the time to feel slighted or offended. Later, when the flush of victory was upon her, she could hem and haw and protest Grindelwald’s kid glove tactics. For now, she’d have to go to war.

“All right, lads,” she told her soldiers, although not all of them were lads and more than a few weren’t even male. “Let’s be quick and light. It shouldn’t be too difficult now that Grindelwald has cut them to bits. No time for fancy maneuvering. Just keep our lines tight and drive them back to--”

But fate had other plans. Unwelcome, unforeseen plans. Portia was cut-off mid-sentence by a great crashing sound that rushed through the trees and set the heavy boughs shaking. A green jet of light--the Killing Curse--flew directly at her. For a fraction of a second, she was struck dumb with surprise, but then she remembered that she liked being alive very much and ducked.

The bolt of green struck a tree behind her, withering and shriveling the bark like acid.

An instant later, nearly a hundred dark wizards poured into the stand of firs.

Instinct and training told Portia to react. Deftly, she pulled her wand out of its holster, pointed the tip at the nearest hostile and cast the first non-verbal spell that came to mind.

The spell happened to be Confringo and the dark wizard--a man near fifty who had no hair upon his head save for a silver pointed beard--caught the full blast of it. Shrieking, he crashed into a tree and set the fir ablaze. The stench of burning pine rose into the air.

Portia’s eyes widened as she watched the smoke curl up to the grey sky above.

Grindelwald had been outflanked.

 
 





Author’s Note: Yes, it’s an update! I apologize for the obscenely long delay. My spring semester was torture and fanfiction had to take a backseat for a while. However, I now finally have a free moment to post my rather substantial backlog. Thanks for your patience and continued support! The next chapter has already been written, and with any luck, should be posted in a couple of weeks. Until then, take care and be well!


*The chapter title comes from the quote “To the strongest”, reputed to be the last words of Alexander the Great.


**The references to Oliver Twist and Jane Eyre are taken from the books of the same name by Charles Dickens and Charlotte Bronte. 
 
 


Chapter 6: I Came, I Saw, I Conquered
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Awesome chapter image by magicmuggle @ TDA

Disclaimer: I claim no ownership of J.K. Rowling’s work.


Chapter Five I Came, I Saw, I Conquered*

“Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.”
--William Shakespeare



Grindelwald had been outflanked.

In different, less pressing circumstances, Portia might have been amused, or at very the least, pleased to know that the great hero of the Second World War was not an infallible military commander. But now, with her own forces overwhelmed by hostiles and trapped in a stand of trees, she failed to find any mirth in the situation.

For a moment, when the first of the dark wizards poured into her front lines she felt the steely, metallic taste of panic pool in her mouth and corrupt her calm. Her wand hand shook and her knees locked and in an instant, she thought they would be overrun entirely. Decimated. There would be pictures in the paper of a slaughter and Moody wouldn’t get home safe and Portia would be lucky if she got a state funeral.

But then she remembered where she was and who she was and just what she was about standing around in the countryside between the borders of Italy and France.

This was war, and she, in every definition of the word, was a warrior.

Wheeling around, she saw that her legion of Aurors had yet to descend into total chaos. Those who stood on the front lines with her were doing battle with the hostiles and the rest were struggling to regroup.

Portia came to her senses. “Fan out!” she ordered, her voice somehow ringing through the heightened din and the crackling of burning branches. “Semi-circle formation. Anchor the flanks against the trees, against the trees!”

Those that heard her obeyed. The rest shot spells and ducked to avoid the hexes cast at them by the hostiles.

Portia herself quickly turned her wand on a nearby hostile, muttered the Killing Curse and shot the man in the back. He fell, his body landing oddly between a decaying log and a stone. His head grazed the rock and blood gushed from his skull.

In an instant, another dark wizard had replaced the fallen man and Portia found herself energetically fighting off two attackers at once. Although she managed to repel them using a Hurling Hex, her front line was soon pushed back into the second line of Aurors and in the middle, in the very center of a her force, a crack appeared. Three Aurors fell at once and the front line split open to admit hostiles.

It was a horrible thing to see and for the second time that day, Portia felt cold fear race up her spine as she watched the dark wizards break through her formation and kill everyone in their path.

She had thought she had the situation under control. She had thought….

And then the burning branches overhead began to fall, set ablaze by her own defensive Confringo charm. First one, then two, then three flaming boughs crashed to the earth, setting alight the dry undergrowth of pine needles. The forest floor was on fire and the blaze spread quickly. Portia’s left flank was closest to the fire and the men tried to withdraw, but found themselves trapped by a boulder behind them.

And the hostiles pressed forward.

“Commander!” Moody had fought his way to her side. “Commander, we must retreat or we’ll be crushed by the press of men.”

Portia didn’t want to listen to him, didn’t want to believe him. She was about to tell Moody that they could reform and push onto the plain ahead by wheeling right when a wild-haired witch fell on them both.

The woman was without a wand and she shrieked, her ragged voice inflected with terror and some amount of madness as she thrust a dagger at them.

Moody fell back and crashed into Portia and as they both tumbled to the earth, her head struck against the bole of a tree. Blood wet her brow, bright and fierce. Portia quickly wiped it from her eyes and blinking, she looked up to see the witch with her dagger posed above them, ready to disembowel them both if she could.

Crucio!” Portia screamed, pointing her wand at the madwoman.

The witch shrieked louder now and Moody finished her with a Killing Curse as he dragged himself to his feet.

Portia stood and when she managed to clear the blood from her face she saw that order had broken down completely, that her carefully constructed lines were gone and in their place hand-to-hand combat had erupted.

Moody was right. They could not win this.

But there were reinforcements near at hand. Yes, Grindelwald may have been outflanked, but Tom Riddle, sitting like a king atop his hill, still had one hundred and fifty men under his command. And there was strength in numbers.

Portia felt the truth sink in like a jagged stone, ripping away at her dignity and assurance and unflagging determination. She had no choice. She had no choice.

Raising her wand in the air, she shot forth a ray of bright blue sparks, the signal for her men to reform and rally to her position.

“Retreat!” she cried, hating the word and its bitter taste and what it would bring her if she ever got out of this alive. “Retreat!”


 




It was nearing five o’clock when Tom Riddle first began to get worried. From the ridge above the gorge, he had watched Commander Grindelwald’s men engage the full force of the hostiles. There were roughly four hundred dark wizards opposing the Confederation’s army that Christmas Eve and Tom felt his respect for Grindelwald double as he watched how patiently the man dealt with the wretches.

The fighting was slow and stubborn. Grindelwald lost ground but then regained it in a series of quick, clean maneuvers. By four in the afternoon, the plain below was littered with fresh bodies and even the birds of prey had begun to circle overhead.

Tom was using a spyglass to view the action and as the hour grew late, he estimated that only about half of the enemy’s forces remained. Two hundred men were a pittance, but more than he currently had under his command and just about equal to the rearguard led by Commander Portia Thurin.

But the dark wizards that were left were ragged creatures. All bloodied and beaten. Some had even lost their wands.

Tom himself thought this made for great sport. He turned to his second-in-command, a burly man named Castor, and said, “Poor bastards will be using stones and bramble to fight us off soon.”

Castor, who was too much of the strong silent type to earn Riddle’s full appreciation, only nodded.

A gust of wind raced by the ridge, sounding hoarse as it screamed through the gorge. Tom glanced briefly at his men, one hundred and fifty expert marksmen, and noted their sleepy expressions. It had been a long day and he himself was beginning to feel anxious. Deprived. He was a starving man with an empty, angry belly, yearning for one last chance to prove himself before the campaign came to close and they all went home to celebrate Christmas.

After all, what was the use of commanding the left flank if he didn’t fire off one spell?

Leave it to Portia Thurin to see to that. The Englishwoman had been granted the choice field position in the rear and for some reason, Grindelwald had given her the honor of finishing off the hostiles. It was because she was a military genius or something like that. Grindelwald undoubtedly wanted to stay on her good side lest they be pitted against each other in the future.

Vaguely, Tom wondered if the old man was losing his touch. Why else, then, would he be afraid of such a woman?

Disgusted, he turned back to his spyglass just in time to see Grindelwald shift his legions from the center of the plain to the right. The jaws of the trap had opened and were set. At any moment, Thurin would emerge from the stand of firs and demolish the remaining dark wizards, who were even now trying to regroup themselves on the plain.

But then it happened. The unexpected. And oh, Tom thought, it was dreadfully amusing.

Although he hated to see Grindelwald outmaneuvered, the secondary attack launched by the hostiles was quite impressive.

The dark wizards had reinforcements, that much was clear, and a fresh wave of hostiles came sweeping down the plain, smashing into Grindelwald’s left flank, his weakest spot. And as Grindelwald instinctively wheeled to the right, his columns becoming entangled, his men staggering drunkenly as they tried to retain formation, the bulk of the enemy’s force swept into the stand of firs beyond.

Tom’s gloved fingers tightened over the spyglass and his breath poured from his lungs in sharp spurts. Where malaise had existed in him there now throbbed adrenalin. He felt his muscles coil and his spine straighten and his being pull together from separate threads to form a whole.

The tide had turned. The battle was no longer theirs.

And Tom Riddle might very well have to step in and save the day.

“Grindelwald’s regrouping,” Castor said in a tense, tremulous voice. And indeed, their commander was already mastering his forces, marshalling them together and creating new columns in place of the old, shattered ones.

Tom watched as the men on the plain moved and marched. From a distance, their motions were fluid, agile, something out of slow, sweet dance. In a moment, Grindelwald had his legions under control.

If there was surer example of the man’s genius, Tom himself couldn’t think of one.

Portia Thurin, on the other hand, might still have to prove herself.

The stand of firs she had been positioned in was now overrun by hostiles and in an instant, the wood crackled with flames. Tom watched the smoke curl up to the iron gray sky and then disappear. The sounds of spells, fired and misfired, punctured the air in an unsteady, staccato rhythm. Jets of light showed briefly between the heavy boughs and then faded.

And during the long, tense interval, during the clash and clamor of battle, it began to snow.

“Sir.” Castor was at his elbow, a question in his voice and in his stark expression.

“Hmm,” Tom exhaled through his nose. His eyes were intent upon the action unfolding in the stand of trees and something in his gut told him that this moment, this space in time, was the crisis of the battle.

“Sir, should we--?” Castor began, but never finished.

The trees were suddenly parted as men started to retreat. They came pouring out of the stand to the near right and soon choked the winding path up to the ridge in a chaotic jumble of bodies.

Tom snorted. The fleeing soldiers were all wearing brown coats. Aurors’ uniforms.

“Hold on, Castor,” he told his lieutenant. “It looks like the Englishwoman’s bitched it.”

He immediately gave orders for his own men to reform and make room for the new arrivals. The English Aurors were already stampeding up to the ridge and Tom thought it best to avoid a tangle should their forces collide.

In a matter of moments, he had the extreme satisfaction of seeing Commander Thurin herself come tripping up before him, blood leaking from a jagged gash across her temple.

And Tom offered the bedraggled woman his best smile.

“My dear Commander Thurin,” he said, clapping one hand on her shoulder in greeting, “I see you’ve decided to take the high ground after all.”


 





Portia thought she might kill Tom Riddle for all his gloating. It would be an act of rashness, of pure rage and impulsion and disgust. The man did not deserve to live, he did not….

She doubled over, losing her dignity entirely as she clutched at her heaving sides. Her breath was coming hard and fast, rattling her ribcage until she thought she might choke on the air itself. There was blood on her forehead. Leaking. Dripping. She hated the feel of it on her face. Messy.

“Commander?” Moody was by her side then and his voice, though ragged and shaking, brought some sense of calm back to Portia.

“Reform, three columns,” she ordered, casting a look at Tom Riddle to see if he would supply his usual wry remark.

The man said nothing, only smiled.

Portia tried to steady herself and she suddenly realized that she was dangerously close to the edge of the ridge. The retreat from the stand of pine trees had caught her in a vicious whirlwind and she didn’t have a clear idea of just where she was and how she had gotten there.

For the first time in her life, instinct betrayed her.

“Here, come away from the cliff,” Riddle advised. Like a gentleman, he pulled her by the elbow away from the edge and onto surer ground.

Portia looked back over her shoulder. Off to the right, she could see the trees still ablaze, could see the boughs shiver and smolder and cast cinders into the air to mingle with the snow. The hostiles were only now emerging from the stand, close on the heels of Portia’s own men who were still scurrying up to the ridge. Her heart dropped as she saw one of her Aurors--an old veteran who had three grandchildren at home--fall face first onto the frozen ground, the victim of a very well placed Killing Curse.

“Damn,” she muttered, the blood on her lips now. “Damn, damn.”

She had retreated. Yes, she had retreated. Been driven back, forced to run for her life. Retreated. Retreated. Retreated.

It had never happened before. Not once. This display of her own infallibility. And it had all unfolded right before the likes of Grindelwald and Riddle and half the soldiers in the Confederation’s Army.

Portia Thurin, the child prodigy, the military genius, had been defeated.

“No!” She turned around wildly and found herself face to face with Riddle once more. They were both pressed together on the lip of the ridge, his men now mingling with her own, the sky above them shedding snow and sleet.

Snowflakes, she noted faintly, there were white snowflakes in his hair.

“I had to fall back,” she insisted. “We were overwhelmed. I couldn’t fight a pitched battle amongst all those pines…we…we had our backs pressed against the trees. How the hell did Grindelwald allow them to outflank him?”

Riddle chewed on the corner of his mouth. “Easily. The hostiles had reinforcements. I saw it all from up here. They came pouring onto the field just as Grindelwald wheeled away to let you have your crack at them. He didn’t have a chance to stem the flow. I see most of your men made it out of the trees, though. Good for you.”

Portia’s head was spinning. Quickly, she looked over her body of troops and saw that her numbers had decreased, but not drastically so. They would be casualties, yes, but her order for retreat had avoided a massacre.

There was that at least, she decided. Yes, there was that.

Riddle brought her back to reality with a jerk of his chin. “Grindelwald’s reformed his legions,” he said, gesturing at the plain below. “We would only have to hold the hostiles off for a little while before he reaches us. And remember, we do have the high ground. Let’s try to keep this clean, yes? Have your boys join with mine and will rain spells down on the enemy’s head until they’re so bewildered they won’t know if their fighting in the snow or the sunshine.”

But something in his voice repulsed Portia and she realized at once what it was.

“You’re taking the easy way out,” she spat at him. “You’re a coward.”

Riddle looked at her sharply, his gaze hot and keen. “Beg your pardon,” he said through a clenched jaw, “but I have yet to order a retreat today.”

Portia looked away from him and back to the pines. The enemy was emerging now, drawing closer to the ridge. They could very well be overwhelmed again, but this time, their backs were to a cliff and not a wall of trees.

She closed her eyes.

Defeat. Defeat. Defeat.

The word echoed inside her skull and Portia remembered the church bells she had seen in that square on Capri. Death knell. This was her death knell.

Drawing a deep breath, she composed herself and looked to Moody. Her second-in-command was clearly shaken but resolute. He had expertly formed their men into three columns and helped pull the wounded off to the side.

Portia glanced at the approaching enemy once more. Yes, she could still do this. It was within her grasp.

Practiced determination overcame doubt. Confidence returned, replaced uncertainty and grew into arrogance. Portia felt her lips twitch as she beheld her men, her Aurors, standing disheveled and winded in their old goblin vests.

“Take them off,” she said, reaching to undo the straps that held her own vest against her torso. “There’s a better use from them yet.”

“Commander?” Moody’s tone was curious as he struggled out of his vest.

“Shields,” Portia told him and her Aurors at large. She attached the vest’s straps to her forearm and held the tarnished metal aloft. “We now have spell-proof shields.”

Riddle chuckled. “Where’s your sword, then?”

Portia ignored him.

“Moody, you and I will lead the charge,” she said, gesturing for her troops to fall in behind her and face the long trail leading off the ridge. “We’ll stall them and drive them back. See if we can’t trap the hostiles in the pines like they tried to trap us. Just keep pushing them back, back. I don’t care if you have to step over bodies. Don’t break ranks, don’t run. Forward. Forward.”

Her men didn’t hesitate, but Riddle did.

His hand lashed out and again, he grabbed Portia by the elbow. “Are you mad? They’ll crush you.”

She shrugged. “You can do as you like. Take the coward’s way out and fire spells down from on high. We’re not finished here yet. And I haven’t been defeated.”

Riddle released her elbow, whistling lowly to himself. “Hubris,” he muttered, but there was an appreciative glint in his eye.

Portia pulled her wand from out of its holster, wiped the blood from her eyes and stepped to the front of the first column with Moody.

“Death and glory,” she said to him.

He nodded. “Death and glory.”

They marched.

 




Halfway down the ridge, Portia felt the first spell hit her new shield and ricochet harmlessly off to the side. The hostiles, although not well organized, had concentrated the bulk of their force at the foot of the ridge and were now trying to take it by sheer force. As she watched them muster and fall into clumsy columns, Portia knew she had made the right choice.

Desperation. It was in the air. Poisoning the snow. Vile and traitorous. Her enemies knew they faced extinction and were desperate to live.

How ironic that their will to survive would see them dead.

Portia slowed her step some feet away from the hostile’s front lines. The muscles in her thighs tensed as she ducked below her shield once more and deflected another curse.

“Kill as many as you can and push forward,” she told Moody, her voice raised and cracking over the din of battle.

Moody said nothing, but set his jaw and narrowed his eyes and raised his wand.

Together, they took down five men using the Killing Curse alone.

Portia stepped over the bodies and motioned for the Aurors behind her to do the same. The dark wizards directly in front of her were suddenly seized by a fresh wildness and seeing their comrades felled and then trampled over, they threw themselves head first into Portia’s line.

She staggered and felt her own slight weight pushed back by the superior force of two bulky men before her. Slipping on the now slick slope, she lost her balance, only to be supported from behind by the full strength of her right column. Stubbornly staying atop her feet, Portia pointed her wand over the tip of her shield at the nearest dark wizard and aimed for his neck. She used a non-verbal slashing charm to sever his windpipe.

The man reeled backward and disappeared beneath her feet.

By her left, Moody cast the Excelsiosempra charm to throw another dark wizard off the side of the ridge.

A gap appeared on the path before them as the hostiles fell back. For one brief, wild moment, Portia thought they might actually be retreating. In a matter of seconds, however, the attack was renewed and with such gusto that she was once more knocked off her feet.

This time, her attacker was dangerously aggressive, with bared teeth and a foaming mouth and eyes so wide that the whites seemed to consume his pupils. Portia felt his body bearing down upon her and her hip contacted with the ground below. Pain erupted by her lower back as she fell on a jagged rock. For a moment, the agony knocked her senseless and when she came to, she saw the man above her, his hand bending her wrist as he struggled to get at her wand.

“No!” Portia screamed and her attacker replied in guttural German.

Still having her shield on her arm, she drove it upward and caught him on the chin. The man’s jaw snapped, knocking loose some of his teeth.

Portia was on him before he could recover. She made quick work of him with the Killing Curse and left him lying in a wretched pile.

Sucking some much needed oxygen into her lungs, Portia thrust forward and into the fray once more. Moody was doing battle with four dark wizards at once and she came to aid him, felling two before he finished off the rest.

Behind her, her Aurors had not broken rank, but continued to push down the ridge using brute force. They fired spells over her head and blasted bodies off the ridge and into the dust below.

Portia blinked, her eyes blinded by stinging sleet and blood. Positioned as she was on the front lines, she had made a dangerous error by losing track of the battle itself. She quickly stepped back from the fore behind the shields of her Aurors and took stock.

They were nearing the end of the trail now where the greatest numbers of the hostiles had congregated. Indeed, the dark wizards had stemmed their attack and were now awaiting her arrival at the foot of the ridge where they could launch a more balanced assault.

Portia knew her own men were tired and more than a few were wounded. She was hemmed in and oppressed and found herself lacking the necessary energy to continue. At this rate, she would not be able to hold off the hostiles for long, but would have to--

“Hubris, Thurin!” Tom Riddle cried as he and his men came hurrying join the path to join her. “It’ll be the death of you.”

The warmth rose in her gut, driving blood into her heart and her brain and making her dizzy. Tom Riddle was there, watching her with his rogue’s eyes, entering the fray with an eager smile and a pleased expression on his handsome face.

For a moment, Portia was distracted. And in that moment, in that brief, meaningless moment, Moody fell.

At first, she did not realize what had happened and when she saw her lieutenant sprawled on the ground next to her, his face awash in crimson, her life seemed to fade away.

Fade away…

Portia did not know what she was doing when she broke rank and cast herself head long into the sea of waiting hostiles. Even Tom Riddle’s warning cries could not recall her. She only knew enough to slice through sinew and spill blood on the snowy plains. She only knew to kill and as a soldier, she killed, she killed.

And so she would have continued on, had the great brute with the cudgel not fallen upon her, swinging his weapon at her legs, and then there was a crack and the ever familiar taste of pain.

Portia felt her legs go out from underneath and she was soon facedown in the mud, unable to move. It was Riddle who got to her first and lifted her up, throwing her over his shoulder like she was a dead deer and dragging her back to the relative safety behind their lines.

“Do you know what you’ve done?” he told her once they were away from the hostiles and back behind a thick column of the Confederation’s soldiers. “Do you know what you’ve done, you mad bitch?”

“No,” Portia said faintly. In the distance, she heard a great commotion, a sudden wave of screams and pleas for mercy. And then there was silence. Nothing but silence.

Riddle turned her face to his and leered at her. “You’ve won the battle,” he said and then he pointed to the bottom of the ridge, where Grindelwald had arrived with the rest of his troops and slaughtered the very last of the hostiles.
 
 




Portia had to be carried from the field with a broken leg and Riddle, sick pup that he was, trailed after her litter with his helmet in his hands. He had a very abashed look about him, although she did not fail to detect a hint of amusement about his darkly handsome features.

Her thoughts blurred by pain, her mind weak and fragile, Portia wondered if he was pleased with himself. But then they loaded her onto the healer’s table and she screamed and forgot all about Riddle.

Her leg had been fractured just below the knee and Portia was afraid to look down and see it twisted grotesquely. Instead, she looked up at the tent’s ceiling and tried to picture the stars just beyond the thin layer of beige canvas. They would be Christmas stars, she realized, because it was Christmas Eve, wasn’t it?

Christmas. Good will to all men. And angels. Angels blowing on their trumpets. Angels singing.

Silent night, holy night…

Riddle’s face swam into view overhead, the sharp edges of his features now soft and indistinct.

“Maybe you’ll get another Order of Merlin for this,” he crowed.

All is calm, all is bright…

Nausea rose up within Portia. She drew back her lips in a grimace and looked away from Riddle, saw the table beside her, saw Moody…Moody…

His face was still covered in blood.

“This one’s lost his eye,” a healer grumbled as he mopped at the gore on Moody’s brow.

Sleep in heavenly peace…

Portia choked and thrust her head back. Someone was tugging on her leg, straightening out her knee so that they could place her in a splint.

And she screamed.

Riddle smiled down at her. “You’re being very brave about all this,” he said.

The last thing Portia remembered was the touch of his fingers on her wrist, just near the vein, where her blood pulsed. And once more, she fancied she heard his heartbeat, steady, like a drum.

Sleep in heavenly peace.** 

 
 




Author’s Note: Thanks so much for reading! If you have some free time, please leave a review. I’d love to hear from you. The next chapter is in the works and should be posted soon. Until then, take care and be well!

*The chapter title comes from a quote attributed to Gaius Julius Caesar

**The song lyrics in this chapter are from the German Christmas carol “Silent Night” written by Father Joseph Mohr. 
 
 
 


Chapter 7: Chapter Seven The Root of His Downfall
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Fantastic chapter image by the very talented mockingjay @ TDA

 Disclaimer: I claim no ownership of Rowling's work. All OCs mentioned herein, however, do belong to me.

 Cast
Portia Thurin—Milla Jovovich
Tom Riddle—James Purefoy

 Chapter Seven The Root of His Downfall*

Men freely believe that which they desire.
--Gaius Julius Caesar

 
Pain. She was pain. A sliver of agony floating in the black, the black tinged with red, the red on fire and the fire bringing pain. Pain that spread to her leg, to her other limbs, to her chest and forehead. Pain that was her knowledge and her language. Pain that was primal. Pain. She was pain...so so so much pain. She must be dying. She was dying.

 Must must must be dying, Portia thought when they brought her back from the battlefield muddied with sleet and she was delirious with a broken leg and an unexpected infection caused by a cursed hex. The only light she could make out came from lit wand tips and the empty, aged stars that seemed to flicker and then fade in the rust-colored night-sky. Snow fell, faintly kissing her burning brow. The indistinct faces above her seemed lost in the shadow, passing only on the very rim of her vision so that she guessed that they were ghosts and she was swimming in the Lethe's waters. Must must must be dying. Must must must be dead, except for the...

 “Pain,” she grated to one of the healers helping to carry her from the field triage to be Floo'd to a hospital in Italy. Grabbing, grasping, groping, she managed to tug at his sleeve. “I'm dying,” she told him.

But the man laughed,his face bobbing grotesquely over hers as he held his end of the litter. “Not likely,” he said, “But I'll give you something to take the edge off.” And when they arrived at the Floo Station, after they had placed her down on the uneven, snowy ground to wait her turn, the healer took a moment to inject her with a potion. It was something with opium, Portia knew and she fought it, holding up her head at an odd angle, refusing to rest it on the litter and let the medicine swirl drunkenly in her overheated veins.

 “Pain,” she said, all semblance of coherence gone. “Sick. Sick sick sick.” With the last of her strength, Portia leaned over the side and vomited. The healer cursed under his breath.

“Take this one now,” he told the sentry in charge of the Floo Station. “Let those bastards on the ward deal with her. Can't stomach her medicine. Literally.” He said this in a state of high agitation, picking up his end of the litter and handing it over to the sentry.

Portia was jostled. She yelped as her broken leg shifted on the canvas bed of the litter.

“But that's...” the sentry mumbled, gaping at his senior officer, this prone woman who sweated and shivered in the cold without a blanket.

“Just get her out of here,” the healer insisted.

Portia was vaguely aware of what they were saying and much to her shame, a small moan escaped her dry lips as the litter was finally carried through the Floo Station by two young soldiers. When they had reached the other side, her consciousness began to wane at an alarming rate, the pain potion bringing her to the very brink of oblivion, although she fought it, fought it viciously, waving her head back and forth as if she could escape her own helplessness.

The Floo Station had taken her from the chaos of the snowy battlefield to a quiet, nondescript ward in a small Italian hospital. Portia had no idea where she was and did not think to question the healers that scooped her up and deposited her gently on a stretcher.

“You should not hold your head like that,” one small woman, with a heavily accented voice, told her. “Your neck will be so sore tomorrow!”

Portia was about to explain that she had to, that it was necessary for her to stay awake because sleep meant vulnerability. It meant loss of control. It meant that she could be trapped and hunted by the pain, left alone with the agony that the potion had not yet dulled. They were wheeling her down the hall, taking her somewhere and Portia kept trying to tell the woman to wait as she babbled on about setting her leg.

Wait. Wait. Wait.

But she could only say “pain” and “sick” and dry heave over the side of the stretcher as it turned into a large room that was too brightly lit. More healers stood waiting in varying shades of their tell-tale green robes. The air was sharp with the scent of herbs and the faint juniper smell certain medicinal charms left behind.

Wait. Wait. Wait.

The small woman with the heavy accent made a discreet noise with her tongue as she filled another syringe with a dark colored potion. “Poor thing,” she cooed. “So young.”

Later, Portia would be embarrassed by the memory of what had happened to her in the operating room. For some reason, at the time, she had felt gravely insulted by the nurse and tried to sit up on the stretcher, only to be thrust back down by two pairs of hands. Someone else yanked her leather coat from her shoulders.

The woman approached with the syringe. “Poor thing. Young thing. You rest now.”

Portia tried to focus on the objects around her, the tray of surgical tools, the healers who were already scrubbing up, the too bright lights, her clothes that were being pulled off, each piece one by one by...

 Wait. Wait. No...

“Stop!” Portia said and it came out as a scream.

The woman found a vein in the soft flesh by the crease of her elbow and sunk the tip of the syringe in. Portia saw her depress the plunger and then she felt a wave of heat rise from her feet to her head and go back down to her feet again. Her body was aching, but oh, it was a delicious ache, and she soon forgot to fight and the room faded and she slept, peacefully, deeply, through the rest of Christmas Eve.








 
Sometime after the surgery she half-awoke in a quiet room. She was lying on a bed in the cool darkness and for a moment, she thought herself resting in the middle of a gray lake, with the mist gently falling on her heated flesh and the soft sound of water splashing on stone in the distance. For many long minutes she lay still and soothed in a state of subdued consciousness. The pain had ebbed, the tide pulling away from the shore. Portia could hear the gentle noise of the wind as it drew its fingers through the leaves outside her window and the slow, staccato rhythm of her own heart. For a long time, she counted the beats, hoping to fall back to sleep in the cool reaches of dawn. Her fever had broken and with the pain potion still coursing through her veins, she felt still and comfortable and snug against the pillows propped behind her head. The cotton sheets breathed against her slightly chilled skin. On the very rim of the eastern horizon, the sky turned a pastel blue.

One two three. Exhale. Four five six. Inhale.

It was a rare moment of peace, one that Portia could gather to herself in the tiny hospital on the Mediterranean so very far away from the battlefield. The medicine that the healers had given her made it hard, in fact, to even remember that she had been in the Gallic regions that morning and she couldn't quite recall what had actually happened or what she had done or who had even won. She had only vague flashes of memory. Snow and mud. Screaming. Up the hill, then down again. Her broken leg being dragged limply across the ground as she was pulled to safety by...

One two three. Exhale. Four five six. Inhale.

Her eyelids were heavy. Portia turned her head, her cheek pressed to the pillow, as she dozed in the reverent stillness of Christmas morning. The world around her had a soothingly muffled quality, like footsteps in snow and through her open window came the mildest scent of seawater. In the back of her mind, her subconscious warned her that this peace was false and that soon, very soon, she would yearn for it as she did for the forgotten dreams of childhood. The selfsame pieces of life that only came alive when the world was quiet and she was still and existed only in her breath and in her heartbeat and in the dawn light, that was now pooling over her body.

One two three. Exhale. Four five six. Inhale.

Of course, it was only in this moment that she was meant to hear what she heard, what her sedated thoughts sensed. It was nearly imperceptible at first. A small ticking. A dull throb. A faint shifting.

The world turning on its axis, then pausing, then starting again, but she had noticed it, she had felt what others couldn't.

Because now was the moment. Because now, with the moon gone, the tide slackened under the gaze of dawn and then turned. Because now, she had become a victim of herself and the wheels of fate. Turning. Moving like the seismic plates underground, leaving her trapped somewhere. Within herself.

And Portia, who was about to reach her zenith, would never know how far she had risen until she began to fall.

 








  Over the next several days, Portia rested in the Italian hospital that had once been a private villa with white stone walls, red-tiled roofs and a courtyard that even had a small fountain that bubbled and gurgled over the sound of the waves in the distance. The wing she stayed in was cool and quiet with the same sort of silence she usually associated with country churches. No one came to visit her (under her exact orders). And from her window, if Portia craned her neck enough, she could just about catch sight of the Mediterranean itself, the warm, richly colored waters so at odds with her idea of what the Christmas season should be, though she welcomed the change of scenery nonetheless.
 
For her first few days in residence, Portia heard almost no news of the battle she had fought with Grindelwald against the army of dark wizards and witches. Her healers evidently thought it best that she stay sedated and calm as they worked to mend her broken leg and undo the damage the hex had caused her body. While she was brought pain-killing potions and treated with charms, Portia drifted in and out of sleep, her body exhausted by a fever that occasionally spiked and the complicated break that had shattered her femur. However, as time passed and the hex was lifted, Portia began to feel increasingly energetic and anxious for word from her underlings.

On the third day after the Battle of Gaul (as the newspapers were beginning to call it), the healers finally agreed to allow her to accept her correspondence again, which turned out to be a sincere mistake as the orderlies on the ward brought a fat stack of letters to her every morning, afternoon and evening. After seeing the first bundle, Portia resigned to only skim the most important missives and respond to not one of them until she could have one of her secretaries Floo'd in from England after the holidays were over. She did, however, get a thrill of satisfaction browsing through the laudatory articles in the Daily Prophet along with the congratulatory messages, most of which came from members of the Minister of Magic's cabinet, including her old friend Henry Elrod who seemed most pleased with himself for securing her alliance with Grindlewald.

And although it would be a year before she admitted it publicly, Portia was beginning to understand the benefits of having Gellert as an ally, the fact of which was evident when she noticed how many members of the International Confederation of Wizards were now clamoring for her attention. Supreme Mugwump Albus Dumbledore himself was endless in his praise of her virtues and he extolled the glory of their alliance for an hour at the Confederation's post-Christmas meeting. Afterwards, he even sent her a copy of his speech on a scroll that was secured by the loveliest periwinkle blue ribbon.


Too kind, Portia wrote on a scrap of paper and then sent it back to him with the unread and untouched speech.

Dumbledore, relying on his usual good humor, was not offended.

Portia, however, decidedly was, when Riddle took it upon himself to visit her despite her desire to be alone as she recovered. It was four days after Christmas and Portia was lounging in the warm sunlight like a lioness after a successful hunt, her wounded leg resting on a folded pillow, when one of the young apprentice healers came into her room with a blushing smile.

“Flowers for you,” she said. “Can I to be sending in the flowers?”

Portia lifted her head and raised an eyebrow. Her only complaint about the hospital was the very real language barrier between herself and the staff, most of whom spoke only a few words of English. And she was an even worse student of Italian.

“Si,” she replied with a nod, and then, feeling like an insecure fool, added, “Grazie.” Her accent was nothing short of guttural, not anything like the sprightly musical voices of the healers, their helpers and the orderlies.

The apprentice disappeared with another happy grin and returned with Riddle, who entered the room smelling slightly of wine and pomegranates, staring with an inviting ease that raised her ire at once.

And of course, in his hands, he held a bouquet of freshly cut wildflowers.

Portia instantly wished she knew how to curse in Italian. Still, she was determined to have the first word and so sat up in bed, ignoring the bolts of pain that traveled along her leg and presented him with as clear a gaze as she could manage.

“What business have you?”

Riddle bowed, handing the flowers to the apprentice. “Grazie, bella ragazza.” He said and then dismissed her with a single gesture, his chin jutting out in a manner that Portia found provocative. The “bella”, she felt, had been unnecessary, a sure sign of his easy way with women. Watching the young apprentice smile and laugh, Portia pitied for the girl, who so quickly, it seemed,had lost her head over a single comment. Suddenly, she imagined how simple it must have been for Riddle to get onto the ward, sweet-talking the female healers until they let him go anywhere he pleased.

And now, because a mistake of translation, a little trick of the tongue, he was in her room.

Her stomach tightened.

“Why did you lie about receiving visitors?” he asked, hooking his fingers over his belt in a position that was awfully informal.

Yes, that was the perfect word for him, informal. And it grated on Portia. The lack of standards, of self-awareness. Of scruples. “I didn't,” she replied, folding her hands primly on her lap. “This is a mistake.”

“Well, obviously.” Without asking, Riddle poured himself a glass of water from the white ceramic pitcher on her nightstand. “If you were taking visitors I suppose you'd have that lanky fellow in here. What is his name? Mundy? Moody? You know, the one that lost the eye.”

Portia didn't respond, bile rushing into her throat as she suddenly remembered Moody. She hadn't seen him since that night on the battlefield and the memory of it alone was enough to rattle her resolve.

...For a moment, Portia was distracted. And in that moment, in that brief, meaningless moment, Moody fell.

At first, she did not realize what had happened and when she saw her lieutenant sprawled on the ground next to her, his face awash in crimson, her life seemed to fade away...


The blood was draining from her head, leaving her dizzy and pale and panicked. Portia leaned back slightly on her pillow, not willing to show Riddle how deeply his comments had cut. With her hands clasped together, she could feel the cold sweat gathering on her palms despite the warm Mediterranean air. She had forgotten about Moody. He had entirely slipped from her mind as she sat there on her laurels, enjoying her congratulatory letters. God knew if he was all right. If he was even in the same hospital as her. And Riddle himself had warned her about hubris...

 Dammit.

She watched Riddle take a big gulp of water, his Adams Apple bobbing up and down like a rock caught somewhere in his esophagus, before he returned the cup to the nightstand. Her fear turned into very real anger, something she could deflect and redirect at him. Vaguely, she wondered how he must feel to know that so many people thought poorly of him. But when Riddle smiled, she saw that he couldn’t possibly think poorly of himself.

Dragging her teeth along her lower lip, Portia bit down on a piece of torn flesh and pulled it away from the skin. Blood tainted her tongue for an instant. “Tell me what it is you want.”

 Riddle cocked his head, looking down at her, “I heard that you were laid-up in here all alone. No visitors. Not even family.

“I like to be alone.”

“Well, I don't,” Riddle said.

 “Your desires are not universal,” Portia replied, doing her best to hold her tongue and not add 'thankfully'.

Riddle made a soft, chuckling sound. The sunlight was coming in through the window, shining on his tanned face. He had to squint to look at her. “Ever the stoic, eh?” he asked. “But if you were to ask me, self-deprivation is such a bore.”

“Naturally,” Portia said.

 Riddle raised both of his brows, his smile stretching a little wider. She was amusing him. Portia's heart clenched. Whatever she said seemed to have quite the opposite effect on him, but then she reminded herself that he was a creature who thrived on irritation. He enjoyed his little mockeries and the way he could bend words (and people) to suit his will. If he wasn't such a fool, he could be dangerous, she reasoned, with such manipulative talents. Fortunately, the man seemed only to care for petty vices that would count for nothing when all was said and done. Portia allowed herself to be soothed by that thought. The man was annoying, yes, but he couldn't harm her. Not if she let him. And Portia would never let him get so close to her as to get under her skin. She knew better. Of course, she knew better.

“So you came here because you pitied me?” she said at length, hoping to leave him in a bind.

 But Riddle was cunning. Like a serpent, he slithered around her dangerous words. “Truthfully,” he replied in a more somber tone. “I was impressed.”

“That seems to be the tendency,” she began, then silently cursed herself for indulging in the same sort of narcissism Riddle obviously trafficked in.

And what was worse, he seemed to notice this. His eyes were half-shut due to the sun, so Portia couldn't be certain, although she thought he might have winked at her as he said, “It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, you know, being on campaign with you.”

To this, she had no quick response. She would not give him what he obviously wanted. Silence seemed to be the safest answer, so she inclined her head slightly, signaling that Riddle would have to bear the weight of the conversation on his own. Portia herself had never been particularly social and when she could not outright dismiss people, she felt her nerves begin to fray, each individual thread pulling apart until she was worn and frayed like an old tapestry. Thankfully, Riddle seemed clever enough to catch her hint.

“You did some truly magical things on that battlefield, Commander Thurin,” he said, laughing at his own ridiculous pun. “I would say those bloody Gauls hadn't a chance, even when they outnumbered you. Such talent. Such raw talent.”

 This bothered Portia and she shifted slightly, although it was difficult to move at all with the heavy cast around her leg. With their applied charms and potions, the healers had promised her that her bones would be fully healed by the end of the week and she would probably walk without a limp if she didn't hurry things, but she was anxious to be up and moving again. Since he had entered her room, Riddle had demonstrated an ease of movement, a certain prowling gait that annoyed her. Portia was eager to match pace with him, step for step, but found herself instead confined to the large, iron-railed bed. It was, in a word, vexing.

“If you are implying that I am not a polished soldier, than you are wrong,” she said, letting her mask slip a little so that anger was infused into her tone.

Riddle raised both his hands, an attempt to pacify her. “I swear on Merlin's bones, my dear lady, I did not come here to critique your martial expertise. Quite the opposite, in fact. I believe congratulations are in order. If you will accept them, that is.”

Portia thought about it for a moment, then nodded. Very well, she could accept that. But was this really all about back-slapping camaraderie? She doubted it. This man must want something more from her. Yet what did she have to give?

“We can all rest on our laurels for a while,” she said evenly, wondering just when he would make his move and if she would be keen enough to detect it.

As she spoke, Riddle turned from her and began pacing by the doorway. He wore his robes girded high, his feet and ankles exposed. There was a swath of red cloth thrown carelessly about his shoulder. Portia noticed his ring, a gaudy bauble and wondered just how much it had cost him.

She had heard, of course, that Riddle had been nearly 2500 galleons in debt before coming of age.

Was that why he was here? Did he need help out of some bind, the type of help only a senior officer could provide? Then why not go to Grindelwald, she reasoned, the most senior officer of them all, the man who, militarily, held much of Western Europe's wizarding community in his grasp? Of course, there was the very real possibility that Grindelwald had turned Riddle down and now he was looking to her for something, something that he needed, wanted, something important. Portia wracked her mind. She didn't know enough of this man's personal life beyond what rumor had told her.

Rumor. Rumor. It was the only thing she could rely on now. Portia decided to prod Riddle a little, poke at him gently to see if he would role over and expose his weak belly to her like the submissive dog he was.

“Restless after all the action, are you?” she asked at length, hoping that she would properly irk the man..”Not content to stay with your mistress on Capri for the holidays?”

He gazed at her, moving his head slightly to the side as if he were listening intently. “I keep many homes and not all of them are on Capri. I came to see you because I did not want to see you brushed aside in favor of Grindelwald. That can happen with Gellert, you know. He is the type of man that tends to outshine others. But you...well, you shine brightly enough on your own, I'm beginning to see.”

Sycophant, Portia thought viciously. She forced herself to give him a little smile. “How very kind of you. But we hardly know each other.”

Riddle continued his pacing.

Perhaps this wasn't a personal matter at all, Portia mused. Maybe it was professional? After all, why else would he come to her, a foreign commander with less influence over the Confederation than anyone? It was a fact that surprisingly irked her, though if she was being entirely truthful with herself (so much that it hurt to think about it), she didn't have any real power at all, except when it came to the British Ministry of Magic, of course.

And Riddle was a native of England.

As if on cue, he replied. “But we share so many things, Commander Thurin,” he said. “We're both soldiers. We're both friends of Grindelwald. We both come from the same country.”

Ah, so that was it. Portia suddenly felt flushed, as if she had peered into a world she wasn't meant to see. Was Grindelwald looking for a foothold in Britain? If so, he might send Riddle. Or was it more distinct than that? Was Riddle searching for his own place in the chain of command? Had he been promised something after his years of helpful service to the Confederation? Did he want his own foothold in his own country?

“I believe England is much changed since you last saw it,” Portia said. She had her hands folded on her lap and opened them slightly as she was speaking in a gesture of neutrality. Disinterest, even.

Riddle shot her a quick look that surprised her. “I spent a good deal of my childhood in Britain.”

“Not as a soldier, though,” she added, hoping to press him against the wall with her reasoning.

“No,” Riddle admitted. “I'm not an English soldier. Like you, Commander Thurin. But perhaps someday I might return home.”

“Surely as a friend?” Portia said lightly.

Riddle paused in his pacing and lifted his chin again in a most provocative manner. “Never as a foe, in any case.”

Portia watched him, retreating inside herself to think and plot as she usually did on the battlefield. It was frighteningly easy for her to detach herself from situations, like sinking deep into water with only a glimmer of sun on the surface above. As she floated in the dark, Portia caught only a glimpse of Riddle, as if he were standing far away from her, at a safe distance, leaving her peaceful and alone with her thoughts.

It would be easy enough for him to secure a position in the British Ministry first. Or no. That was too small. Riddle had ambition. If there was one thing she sensed about the man, it was that. Political rumor stated that the Confederation was looking to expand its post-War power and the isles of England were decidedly independent, a place of strong, wizarding power, especially when one factored in the likes of Hogwarts. And if the Confederation absorbed the Ministry of Magic, Riddle, an ex-patriot, would likely be included in any plans for a new power-structure. It all made perfect sense, when Portia mulled it over, except...except for Dumbledore. He was Supreme Mugwump, was he not? Hmm, she didn't think he necessarily had the stomach to order the restructuring of all of wizard Britain's government. Because England wouldn't dare to submit willingly and there would be another war she would have to fight.

 On England's side, of course. For Queen and country and all that.

 Portia swallowed, daring to drop her gaze from Riddle's face. She wondered if her thoughts were apparent, or perhaps she just seemed paranoid. Everyone had a right to feel threatened when it came to these cloak and dagger politics, though. That she had learned that early on, along with the fact that she had no head for politics at all. Which meant she could only put her worries down as wool-gathering now. In the end, she had much better impulse control than Riddle. In that game, at least, she could win.

Her expression blank, she looked back up at him and was surprised to see him pacing languidly again by the door, as if he had been waiting, all this time, for her to catch up with the game afoot. With her eyes on him now, he stopped and looked at her, saying, “You have no great liking for me, do you, Commander Thurin?”

 Merlin. This was something that could not be supported. A chink in the armor. A real weakness exposed. Portia felt a draft run up her spine, but suppressed the obligatory shudder. Quickly, she opened her mouth, but Riddle did not give her a chance to respond.

 “Everyone misjudges me, it seems,” he sighed.

 Don't you dare! She thought fiercely. Don't you dare make me feel guilty. She had every right to be wary about this man, this abject creature who had come sauntering in with his flowers (that she was beginning to believe had been for the apprentice healer as a gift for letting him onto the ward) and the faint scent of wine on his breath and the small pulse that beat in the vein on his neck. Like drums, the beat. God, she could almost hear it. Like drums.

 “Surely, I’ve made mistakes,” he continued in a subdued voice, “but I like to think of myself as a good soldier.”

 Riddle turned. He was standing at the foot of her bed and he leaned forward, putting his hands on the metal railing, just inches from where her foot sat propped up in its cast on the pillows. Lowering his eyelids, he thrust his chin once at her wounded leg. “After all, I tried to get you safely off that battlefield.”

  Something popped into her mind then, something else she had forgotten in the wretched tumble of the bloody hand-to-hand combat that had nearly cost her her life.

The great brute with the cudgel swinging his weapon at her legs...the ever familiar taste of pain.

Portia face-down in the mud, unable to move. Riddle getting to her first and lifting her up...dragging her back to safety.

She stared at him, understanding his insinuations and implications, knowing what she owed him and hating him for it.

Hating him.

Riddle chuckled. His shoulders shook. The swath of red cloth slipped down his torso. “For my services, you are welcome, Commander.”

 He left her then, his words hanging in the air, mingling with his distinctive scent that kept her on edge for hours to come. And Portia, who was about to reach her zenith, would never know how far she had risen until she began to fall.

 








Author's Note: Yes, this story is alive and kicking! Despite not posting a new chapter update since 2012, I was surprisingly visited by my muse a few weeks ago and have gotten back into writing again.

 As always, I would like to thank everyone who took the time to read this chapter. If you have a free moment, please leave a review. I cherish all feedback. Until next time, be well!

*Title taken from the quote “A man cannot become a hero until he can see the root of his own downfall” attributed to Aristotle.

 


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