TITLE: Empires Felled
SUMMARY: Grindelwald casts a dark shadow over Europe, a pestilence that covers countries in mud and ash. Battered and broken, the withered French Resistance seeks to topple an empire and return freedom. Seeing their struggle, Lieutenant Harry Potter is sent across the channel to unite them under a single banner with the elusive magical resistance leader, the Firebird.
A/N: My submission to the Flowerpot Collaboration Gang that I managed to crack out in a couple of days. Be sure to check out the discord that organised the idea by joining the link on my profile and check out the server's collection, including a variety of different authors and well-written stories!
Admittedly, my own is written more along the lines of a first chapter rather than a one-shot, which is because, eventually, I hope to turn it into a short story of some form. Likely nothing too long, just a bit of a palate cleanser from writing novel-length fiction.
A massive thank you to everyone who beta read the chapter and as always, stay safe and enjoy!
"Do you understand, Lieutenant Potter?" An impatient voice urged, sending him reeling from his thoughts with a lack of decorum that was clearly visible on his face.
"Do try and use simple words, Colonel." Harry snarked, "Remember, I'm not as bright as you."
Colonel Ackley isn't one for japes, Harry mused.
But that rarely stopped him from trying.
The man wore robes as he did, darkened to the point of black and adorned with a crest that stood proudly across his right breast. It was, however, not the man's attire that garnered his attention at that very moment.
His pale eyes were indecipherable, or at the very least, they usually were - like the morning mist, concealing whatever thoughts lay behind them with little fail. An agelessness to his hardened visage that made any discernible emotions seem congruent to any other.
Ackley was not a man to be easily undone.
It did not take one of the Department's investigators to discern the look that flared in the man's eyes, nor the tightening of his lips or tension in his shoulders.
He had earned the man's ire, though such an occurrence was little different from the norm, the man seemed more irate than usual.
"It could've been worse for you, Potter, after that stunt with the Navy the Ministry very nearly sent you to Azkaban." The man warned, "They even pushed for you to help repel Grindelwald on the Eastern Front, need I remind you what that entails?"
"Death, I'd imagine." Harry nodded, "Which is so very final; I think I'd prefer living if I'm honest, Colonel."
Every word Harry spoke seemed intent on injecting levity into the situation, though every attempt went amiss. Instead, Ackley bristled in thinly veiled anger rather than laughed.
"Precisely." Ackley pushed, stress becoming evident at his brow. "Death. That is what you were destined for, Lieutenant. For the love I bore your father, I pushed against such a posting, counselled a softer hand over the harsh one you were going to be dealt and persuaded them that for all your flaws, you were a good man."
It's always about the great James Potter, isn't it?
He could barely step outside his door without the praises being sung of a man he could scarcely remember. Comparisons made continuously between him and such a valiant man. Every errant glance trying to catch a glimpse of gallantry medals that were present on his father's chest, but not his. Every hushed whisper a hidden mocking - James Potter had broken through the Western Front in the last war, coordinated dragon attacks that pushed their enemies into a stalemate.
Then, there was Harry Potter - the Lieutenant that swallowed a quarter of their fleet in a tempest that was intended to target his adversaries.
He'd bloodied both ally and foe alike in his attempt to break through. The obliviators worked tirelessly to hide such a failure from the muggles, but they couldn't hide it from him.
That's the thing about remembering, I guess - you can't forget.
The taste of defeat had always been bitter on his tongue; now, it was compounded by the entire division singing tales of his father to his face.
Of a man who cared so little, he rathered death at the hands of Grindelwald than a life with us.
"But no more." Ackley's voice broke him from his thoughts once more, "As much as you detest him, it is James' memory that kept you in this division, Harry. Your assignment is not favourable - no choice in war is, but that does not absolve us of our responsibility to choose."
"Then let me choose." Harry urged.
"You made your choice, Lieutenant, when the sea swallowed three of Her Majesty's Destroyers whole." The Colonel gently reminded.
The man has steel within him, but even he knows not to push such a point any further.
The deaths of those men still stung; they both knew it. The man was rigid - unyielding. But he would not wield their losses as leverage.
Thank Merlin for small miracles. For now.
"Let me fight with Sirius then." Harry pushed again, "Surely taking Africa is more important than this."
He plucked the file from the desk between them and waved it, enunciating his final word with the gesture.
"Major Black has the Frank twins routed." The man shook his head, "The muggles will soon follow suit with Rommel. I cannot condone the division throwing more assets at a problem on the basis that you'd rather take the easier road."
"Do I have to beg?" Harry asked, "Is that what this has come to? If Command wants me on my knees, pleading to them as if they were Merlin, I'll do it. But not there."
"You're under the impression that there is any action I could take to prevent this." Ackley sighed, his hot breath fluttering the pages that Harry had just wielded, "We're both heading towards the gallows if you slip once more, Harry. Command will stand for many things; repeated failure is seldom one of them."
The man flicked his wand and the file before him opened, alabaster pages and blocky text soon became apparent, though Harry didn't glance down to look at them.
"Read." Ackley ordered.
"I've read it." Harry returned, sparing only a brief glance to the folder to ensure it was the same. "I read it the moment the owl dropped it through my window."
"Then you know the French are in dire need of our support."
"I do." Harry nodded, "I also know that I saw half of France turn on the other half; I saw crows pick at the corpse of a country."
"Then perhaps, in your cynicism, you have deduced the importance of such a location." The Colonel continued, "Dover is within casting distance of Calais."
"For a regiment of staff-wielders." Harry argued, "Which Grindelwald is in short supply of."
"You may have read, but your ability to comprehend seems lacking." Ackley shook his head, "France is a launching ground - if Grindelwald finishes in the East, could we stand against the might of three conquered empires at our shores?"
Harry neglected to answer; his silence was affirmation enough for the man.
"If we can unite a free France - both magical and muggle under a single banner, we have a chance."
"If we want a real chance, we should invade while their eyes are cast elsewhere." Harry said, "Lest we start launching untrained civilians into the line of fire because Command's knees started quaking at the thought of Grindelwald."
"Resistance is a breeding ground for many things, Lieutenant; revolution, hope - action. All of which we sorely need."
Harry's fingers drummed against the wooden desk. His resolve felt ironclad as he cast another glance towards the folder.
Could I really do it? Harry thought.
A chance for redemption maybe, a chance to prove Harry Potter is more than sunken ships and disciplinary hearings.
The Colonel leant forward against his desk, his hands clasping one another as his pale eyes did their best to perturb Harry into acquiescence.
Running off to France killed my father, would it take me too?
Fingers continued to bounce off the Colonel's desk for what felt like an age before he spoke.
"Who's my contact?" Harry relented, giving the man but an inch and hoping it didn't turn to a mile.
He neglected to answer, merely sliding open a drawer of his desk to sift through missives and files alike. Eventually, the older man procured another for him, sliding it across the table.
This was one he hadn't had a chance to read.
He peeled off the Ministry's wax seal and took the parchment from its confines, peering over it with a keen eye.
"Fleur Delacour," Harry announced aloud, letting the foreign words pass his lips - a test more than anything. "The Firebird."
"Indeed." The Colonel nodded.
"Sounds a tad melodramatic, doesn't it?" Harry japed, though as always, the man remained impassive. "A Veela too."
"A name that was not bestowed unearned." Ackley disagreed, "Her resistance group rose from the ashes of the Veela Covens, she leads the largest force operating out of Paris."
"Ashes of the Veela Covens?" Harry asked, "I take it they finally decided to burn one another to a crisp."
"No." Ackley sighed once more, "They didn't."
The tone in his voice was something akin to sorrow.
"I sense there's more to this." Harry prompted.
"There is." Ackley relented, "The Veela Covens in Europe were Grindelwald's first target. The Ministry keeps such a fact close to its chest, but there remains very few Veela left."
That had Harry's brow furrowed and his mind racing.
The Veela Covens stood for millennia; now they're in ruins.
"Why attack them first, despite their neutrality?" Harry asked, "Better yet, why are we covering it up?"
"The former? Appeasement. Hitler has wasted away trying to perfect his ideology - to propagate the perfect race, Grindelwald has a solution to his issue."
Such a statement did not beggar the imagination.
"Eugenics." Harry spat.
"Indeed." Ackley confirmed grimly, "Gifts to Hitler, a boon to allow Grindelwald free reign. Access to stock that always breeds true - blue eyes and blond hair. They have been reduced to little more than cattle, bartered and bred at Germany's behest."
"So why not shout it from the rooftops?" Harry asked, "Surely genocide and the wide-spread capture of Veela would embolden enough to fight back."
"The truth is a fickle mistress, Lieutenant." Ackley replied, "Be it candid or concealed, any action the Ministry takes has its consequences, the likes of which aren't always immediately apparent."
"Humour me." Harry drawled.
"If we announced the fact that dynasties have been toppled, despite neutrality, how many do you think would kneel? How many would simply fall on their backs to be trampled?"
"Instead, you'd have them ignorant to greater dangers." Harry shot back, "How very apt of Command to play the coward to save face."
"While magical resistance remains, we must do our best to embolden them, singing tales of wide-spread destruction of an entity as powerful as the Covens will send them cowering."
Sometimes, I truly do hate this job.
"Instead, you want to lie to their faces and move behind their backs," Harry said. "What were we fighting Grindelwald over again? The chance to be the biggest cunt in Europe?"
"Careful, Potter." Ackley warned, the infamous steel returning to his voice, "I'd no sooner sacrifice men and women to this cause, but infantile delusions of a world without hard choices will see you in a grave quicker than you may like."
Harry had half a mind to vacate his seat, staring intently at the older man. He'd been taught more than idly sacrificing bodies to a bigger scheme, despite all his failures - he had been taught better.
"If you're so desperate to make a difference - then grow up. Minutes ago you sat there arguing for anything but this assignment, now you detest the fact that it's not being done as you'd prefer. I cannot force you to listen to reason, Lieutenant, merely point out the fact that you are no longer a child."
"How very bold of you to hide behind age as if it absolves you of making immoral decisions."
"Even with those glasses of yours, you fail to see the picture at large." Ackley spat, his anger rising, "What is morality against muggle tanks that trampled entire settlements they couldn't see under foot and tread? What is morality against the death of magicals en masse?"
The man stood from his desk, reaching his full height in his rage. Harry had only a single thought.
Perhaps I pushed him too far.
"One mission, Lieutenant Potter." The man said; a single finger levelled at him to exacerbate a truth already known. "That is all you have served, one that cost the lives of many. One that could have had you thrown through the veil for your insolence. You tried that very same approach, sought to save the lives of all because you thought it right."
"Colonel." Harry baulked, though any attempts to halt the man with words of his own was futile.
"You sought to help, and yet, you did more harm with an open hand than you could ever with a fist closed. You sought to save, and instead, you sacrificed. Tell me, Potter, did it seem so very simple at that moment?"
"No." Harry admitted.
"No." The man reiterated, "Exactly. War is a simple action morphed into complexity; nothing is ever as it seems. No decision is easy; no truth be it candid or concealed is without consequence."
"I understand that." Harry tried again.
"Do you?" Ackley asked, "Do you really? Are you a boy attempting to play at war, Potter? Pretending to be apathetic as if such an act makes this war any easier. Or do you seek to truly make a difference?"
Harry remained silent.
"Your father was in this unit for over a decade; he was like kin to me." The man's voice was softer, yet still filled with steel. "And he knew the truth about such matters, as do I - one's you're yet to learn."
"We don't just need a soldier; we need an officer - a leader. A man destined to make hard decisions that shall tear him to the core, but decisions made anyways. We need you, Harry Potter, to be the man you are destined to be. Not the son of the Great James Potter nor the Lieutenant-who-failed - we need you."
A hundred thoughts were swirling in his mind, a maelstrom of morality that he couldn't ground himself within.
Despite being trapped in his thoughts, he did not miss the man's subtle flick of his wand that pushed the file between them a short distance closer.
Be the man you are destined to be.
Even as the words left the man's mouth, he knew they'd echo in his ears long after they'd parted.
Just as dark waves and warped steel did.
Harry shot a final glance down to the file he still held, to a roughly animated photo of a woman with silver hair and blue eyes. A ragged breath blew past his lips and the resolve that had felt solid only moments ago, crumbled under the weight of hard truths.
"Where do we begin?"
Ackley's pale eyes showed something else at that moment, a conspicuous glimmer within his iris.
Was it victory? Or Pride?
Two weeks later, he left his home, putting the Isles to his back.
The oppressive pressure that formed an iron band around his chest was familiar, distinct - unable to be perceived as anything else.
It pulled on the invisible tether until there was little left to give, sending him careening in an endless series of revolutions through the distance between his current position and his destination with a sharp crack, almost akin to a bullwhip's stinging strike.
Although it lasted only the briefest of instances, it was enough to entirely skew his equilibrium to a side of the scales that were too unpleasant to consider apparition his sole form of transportation. Though in a joyless turn of events, his position allowed little but proficiency in the technique, to his employers, it was an art form. A canvas he detested and a brush he had little choice but to wield.
Cross-channel apparition was seldom a pleasant experience, trading one set of national ward lines and boundaries for another that often left a persistent aching sensation in his stomach for days afterwards.
Though it was not the ache in his stomach that drew his attention but the smell that was hot in his nose.
His wand was free from the belt of his robes, held to the front of his body as he swivelled on his feet to confront any possible threat.
But it appeared the battle that had once raged here was long since fought.
Battle is the wrong word. Harry amended, Savagery is more apt, a massacre even.
He had expected such a sight, although confrontation and expectation were two polar concepts. The landscape before him spoke of such a tale.
Burnt ozone and the copper tang of blood and viscera permeated the air, a scent so foul and dense it seemed to slow his advance through the broken ground. Wind whistled through the empty field, singing a soft song of mourning as it battered softly against remnants of resistance on upturned ruins.
Magical and Muggle forces rarely ever shared a battlefield, meshing the two together on an open field often led to ruin, as opposed to victory, forcing both to compensate for the weakness of their allies.
Yet, this appeared to be one of those uncommon instances. Treads of muggle tanks crossed the mud-laden ground to form wide trenches; craters formed by artillery shells littered the ground. Those same abysses of scattered earth and steel held the bodies of the fallen, laden with robes and uniforms, rodents and empty eyes.
But this is where I need to be.
Magical Intelligence had led him here, believed to be the latest conflict between the Resistance and German Magicals.
Grindelwald had enough men to throw at any barrier until it relented, enough power to fell any opposition that might arise.
The Resistance, however, did not possess such a luxury. Each wand lost was another fighter that would go without, each snapped staff, a strength sapped and every body a disheartening blow.
They care more about their men than Grindelwald does.
They'd return to bury their dead and retrieve what they could, which was the most opportune moment to find their leader. However, such an action was not without its dangers.
Grindelwald was well aware of their squalor and was more than capable of exploiting such a weakness. The battlefield around him was no exception to that simple fact - another battle was nigh.
"Homenum Revelio." Harry spoke softly, his wand sung a soft song at his words, a radiant white light bathing dark surroundings from the tip of his holly wand.
He lowered his wand, but remained vigilant, his boots digging into soft ground as he advanced across the scarred earth. Broken barricades formed sharp impediments to his assessment, torn limbs and strewn corpses avoided in his efforts to survey.
This is war.
It was a lesson they had never explored, a glaring gap in their education. They had learned to wage it; to send men to their deaths with nary a second glance, learned to fight their foes until their last breath. They had learned hundreds of lessons, all for a single purpose.
But they never prepared us to deal with war.
That was left to them alone.
War is a hunger, they had said, and Grindelwald's hunger shall never be sated as long as there remains more to consume.
There was no display more apt to prove such a point as the one in front of him.
War makes monsters of us all. Harry thought grimly.
"You're a long way from home, friend." A foreign voice called from across the field.
Harry had been trapped in his thoughts, his vigilance dropped, and now a possible foe lay across the field. He turned but kept his wand low, trying to avoid angering a potential opponent that had his open back towards them.
"It is war." Harry returned, "We are all far from home."
He's French. That, at least, bodes well.
"Your words are true enough," The man laughed, "But to be out here after such brutality is an odd choice."
"These days seem ripe with odd choices."
"Perhaps." He agreed, "But I believe I must ask what an Englishman is doing on our soil, in such a place."
Harry caught a glimmer of light past the man's shoulder, one he'd seen countless times before.
A disillusionment charm.
It wavered and flickered as the sunlight cast it's unforgiving glare, slight, unnoticeable to the untrained eye. But his eyes were not untrained.
"I'm looking for something," Harry confessed, slowly readying his wand once more.
"Not robbing graves, I should hope?" The Frenchman asked.
Harry snorted."Do I look like I'm in need of new boots?"
Thankfully, the plaques and crests of his robes were forgotten in the name of espionage; else the interaction might have begun very differently.
"Maybe not boots." The man nodded, "Wands? Everyone is looking for something to sell."
"I'm not interested," Harry said as the phoenix feather seemed to sense it was mentioned, flaring in his hand. "I'm searching for someone."
"Amongst the dead?" The man chuckled, "Need I remind you that gallivanting amongst the fallen is against the law?"
"Who's law?" Harry asked.
"Lord Grindelwald's." The man responded and Harry's shoulders tensed for the confrontation his words heralded. "The French are to be burned; their wands made ash. Anyone who seeks to interdict in that duty transgresses against our Lord himself."
Definitely Vichy. He's far from home.
"Funny, I don't remember him appearing before the ICW or the Conseil des Sorciers."
"This is all the law we need." The man patted the wand at his lip, assuring Harry with a false smile.
The Frenchman did not have his wand in-hand as Harry did, likely relying on his disillusioned partner to strike once his guard had been lowered. The man stepped forward, and Harry's eyes glanced to his feet. Where only a single pair of footprints should have appeared, there was thrice that.
There are two men disillusioned, not one.
"That's no law." Harry shook his head, "Just a wand, so happens, I've got one too."
There it is.
The tension that came before a fight, the tensing of muscles in arms as they reached for wands, the subtle widening of stance, the shrinking of profile.
Harry, however, was quicker.
Black smoke billowed from his wand, filling the air between them with a thick cloud. He slid into the crater to his rear, one he had only just passed. A series of spells, sickly looking and motley coloured tore through the dark smoke but didn't dissipate it.
Homenum Revelio. Harry cast once more, bathing his advancing adversaries with a white glow through the darkened smog.
Three all up. Harry confirmed, Not terrible.
There was no doubt he knew spells that could fell two, possibly three at a time. Though, those same spells might very well garner undue attention from anyone prowling the area.
Fight them one-on-one. He echoed, Use your surroundings.
They were the oldest creeds of duelling - of war, and they served no better purpose than his current predicament.
He could still make out the three advancing forms, they were clearly ill-trained, approaching together as opposed to separating to his flanks.
Lumos Solem, Vermillious.
The first spell a burst of light that flew through the black smoke, blinding whoever had the misfortune of seeing it pass. The second was a burst of red sparks sent towards them, loud enough to tear their hearing away from them.
With their senses deprived, Harry envisioned the mud-ridden plateau he'd first seen the man upon, a twisting sensation and the sudden pressure tore him across the distance with a sharp crack that went unheard. His feet landing on solid ground once more, he quickly cast a second revealing charm, ensuring no other hidden foes awaited him.
Reeling from his distraction, he could see their forms struggle to regain their bearings. His first spell arced from his wand, crossing the distance to strike at one of the spell-shrouded enemies. The disillusioned attacker, to his credit, made an attempt to shield himself against the incoming spell.
Too close to shield the spell, he attempted to parry it with his own wand but mistimed such a manoeuvre in his surprise. It broke past his defence to strike his pelvis, a single spell sending him sprawling to his knees, unable to walk.
A banished steel plate removed such an ability in perpetuity.
Suddenly wise to his strategy, they abandoned their advance through the smoke and instead turned to fire spells in his direction.
Harry apparated once more to be free from the incoming barrage, landing mere metres in front of where he previously was.
The red piercing curse illuminated the mud beneath it as it flashed from the tip of his wand. They had not expected him to move such a small distance, swivelling around to protect their backs.
The spell caught the second invisible enemy, a spray of crimson freeing itself from the spell's impact alongside a brief cry of pain, another confirmation he had struck flesh. His partner had the sense to apparate as Harry had done.
The concussive charm tore earth apart as it left his wand, sending his injured foe careening down into a shell-formed cavity in the dirt. A position Harry couldn't imagine he would rise from.
A sharp crack to his rear was all he needed. Muscle memory made itself known as he shot a bludgeoner behind him. Harry, however, did not strike true where his adversary had, the bludgeoner flew harmlessly between the man's legs while the return curse arced through the air, tearing flesh from his shoulder.
Harry winced, rolling to his side as another crack promised yet another spell. Torn skin met mud with a sharp sting as a yellow spell flew overhead. Dropping to his stomach as the man apparated once more, Harry leapt into action, muscles screaming in protest at the sudden provocation.
The man appeared in front of him, another spell shot towards him but was parried with his wand.
A pair flew past his face as he sidestepped, heat singing his face as he turned to reignite his own offensive.
He's tiring. Harry thought as he parried yet another spell, He cannot sustain this pace for much longer.
True to his revelation, the man was red-faced with his next spell and subsequent apparition. The following had slowed him considerably; the third had halted him entirely.
That was all the gap that Harry needed, a vicious underhand swipe, a sudden flash and the man fell still - a thin red slash spanning his throat.
He took a moment to catch his breath, peeling back torn robes to observe the damage done.
Not amazing, he mused, probing the wound with his wand.
The wand still poked bleeding flesh when it flared a dull purple, knitting split skin together with a pain congruent to when the curse had landed.
The flesh was still raw, but the threat of bleeding out had been eliminated quickly.
And I won.
The grip around his wand remained firm, though his hand twitched slightly in anticipation, shaking the shaft softly. His heart thumped hard in his chest. His blood felt hot as did the phoenix feather in his wand - both yearning for more fire.
Yet, no more foes arrived.
The wind sang its song once more.
A clangorous percussion of sudden thunderclaps surrounded him, in danger of tearing his eardrums asunder.
There were five of them surrounding him in a hostile embrace, wands held to the fore, ready to strike.
"You have strayed far from safety, little wizard." A voice announced.
Another Frenchman, how very surprising.
He was tall - a man thin and sallow from what he could only assume was the poverty of war. His dark blue robes were ill-tailored and collected mud from the earth as he walked forward.
"You defeated them alone, an impressive feat." The man praised before nodding towards his raised wand, "But we are not quarry so easily hunted."
Harry looked towards the closest prone body; the man followed his gaze.
"They thought something similar."
"We are not foes, as they were." The thin man assured, "We serve a different purpose."
"The Firebird." Harry guessed.
"You're remarkably well informed for someone lost amidst a battlefield." The man chuckled.
"Not lost." Harry amended, "Merely waiting for my opportunity."
"Then perhaps, little wizard, you have sought out the right men."
The man extended a hand, and Harry grasped it, the same harsh pressure reignited the sense of suffocation, the twisting sensation ensured, and air rushed past his ears.
Beneath Paris, the Headquarters was chaos.
It was only days ago that bombs tore through chunks of Paris, indiscriminately tearing buildings apart in search of their bases.
And they succeeded.
Two bases in Le Marais had been reduced to rubble; wands, weapons and life snuffed out with the cracks of spellfire and the whistling descent of German explosives. Another in Le Louvre burnt to the ground, sympathisers beaten and patrons sent to walk the gallows or a firing line.
From the Ashes. They had cried, as if having your world burn around you was suddenly an achievement to be praised. They treated the Veela Covens as little more but martyrs, a name to be thrown around in a hushed whisper to get shopfronts to give them some gold in 'support'.
They were so much more than that.
Were. She echoed, then amended. Are.
But there were so few left.
The site of the Covens Majeure in Lyon had been massacred, Veela slaughtered in the name of a better race. Those who weren't killed were secreted away to camps, the magical district of Lyon razed and the population massacred.
Fleur Delacour was the last of her kind.
There was, of course, no guarantee of such. She felt herself the final bastion of hope on the matter, a stalwart castle standing against the tide.
But that tide was rising, and that same tenacity felt more akin to naivety than optimism.
No matter who or how many she sent nor how far her hands could reach, her efforts yielded nothing. There was no evidence of other survivors, no whispers in the wind of anything resembling more magical resistance, nought but the ash of a country encompassed by an iron-grip.
She was alone.
The only remaining Veela left in France were in Grindelwald's clutches, destined to be perverted into something less - something worse.
Trapped in her thoughts as she walked, the skull-lined walls seemed to peer at her intently. Between her mind and their scrutiny, she felt laid bare before them.
The catacombs beneath Paris had become their new home for the foreseeable future. Dank and dusty, filled with the corpses of their predecessors, it was likely not the most hospitable of environments she could've chosen. But here, they were protected from shot, spell and shell.
That was enough for her.
"Sulking amongst the dead won't win us a war." A feminine voice spun her on her axis, grasping her wand from its place on her hip.
"An astute observation." Fleur said, "Have you got any others, Madeleine?"
It was a homely woman, a decade older than Fleur. Hair that was perpetually restrained behind her head and a bright smile worn despite the day.
"A few." Madeleine agreed, "Marais wasn't a fault of your own."
"You can keep the platitudes; the dead can't hear them."
"Pity that." Madeleine said, "I'm sure they'd hear such interesting conversations."
"I thought you asleep?" Fleur asked.
"The walls are made of skulls, Fleur." Madeleine drawled, "It's a bit hard to close your eyes when theirs are always open."
"They're dead, Madeleine." Fleur returned.
"Oh, yes." The older woman feigned sudden acceptance, "That makes it much better."
"Enough with the japes." Fleur sighed, "You've not trekked around all this to give me good tidings."
"Who's the astute one now?"
"Just tell me."
Madeleine turned meek for a second, debating her next words carefully.
A trait she could exercise more often.
"Would you prefer the bad or the worse first?"
"Is the phrase not 'the good or the bad'?"
Madeleine shrugged in response, "You hate it when we try and dampen the impact."
"Try the bad then." Fleur decided.
"Another six sympathisers were hung this morning in the street, only a district over."
"What did they do?"
"What they could." Madeleine said, "They'd been hiding a group of Jews."
"What became of them?" Fleur dared to ask.
"Murdered." Fleur corrected, "You need not blunt that impact, Madeleine, we are well aware of the proclivities of such men. Have we recovered the bodies?"
"They made to tar them, but we beat them to it."
There were small miracles, at least.
"Dare I even ask the worse news?"
"Champoux met Grindelwald's forces thirty miles out of Calais. It didn't go well."
"How many returned?"
Fleur turned to, aghast. "I sent thirteen, and they come back near a third of that?"
"They trapped the field, or so Champoux said." Madeleine explained, "Wards were up before they could retreat."
"They're getting smarter." Fleur said, "Did they retrieve the staffs?"
"Half of them."
Three. That's all we have left.
Staffs were a commodity. Ten times the material of a regular wand and thrice as hard to make, every one they captured or lost swayed the balance that much more. They were ungodly - hard to wield and lacked any depth when it came to spells.
But they righted their deficits with ease, what they lacked in finesse, they compensated with power output. Casting spells that could arc over miles, enchantments that formed barriers nigh impenetrable.
And I've lost half of mine.
That was a price she'd be forced to pay, though she was unsure of where. Finding men capable of wielding them was hard enough, let alone sourcing them.
"Did Champoux survive?"
"He did." Madeleine said, "Took what was left of his group and went to retrieve what they could after Grindelwald's marauders fled."
At least I don't have to replace a Lieutenant.
"Tell me they at least had the good sense to leave the staffs behind?"
"Oh, they did. Though they brought back something far more interesting."
Fleur arched an elegant eyebrow. "Oh, do tell?"
"I think you'd rather see this one yourself."
Harry knew he could trust the man who had appeared. That was possibly one of the few benefits of joining the division; spotting a man whose word was his bond was easy enough. Had he misjudged him in those few vital moments, being captured was an opportunity of its own to be pursued.
His judgement, however, felt correct.
Though the rough-spun hessian bag over his head and bound hands weren't exactly what one would call friendly.
Unable to see through the coarse fabric, he was relegated to trying to figure out where exactly they were heading. They descended more steps then he cared to count, trying valiantly to avoid falling from the harsh grips around his arm.
A brief tickle fluttered past the nape of his neck, forcing the hairs to stand to sudden attention.
Wards. Harry surmised.
There was the faint smell of ozone as he passed the ward line, the taste of stagnant air on his tongue. Though, there was no gentle weight on his mind urging him to forget the location.
Anti-Apparition, He guessed, But where are the rest?
A Fidelius would have been ideal, but time-consuming. Muggle repelling charms a must, alert wards paramount.
And they're absent. They haven't been here long.
Soon, the air became stale, and he knew they were underground. Each footfall resounded as it struck hard cobbles, errant dirt shifted under his feet.
There were a series of winding turns, more steps that both ascended and descended, a brief glimpse of light and then the bag was torn from his face unceremoniously.
It took a few moments for his eyes to adjust to the sudden light, clarity returning to him with a series of rapid blinks.
He had expected a great many things to greet his returned sight. Perhaps he had been remiss in his judgement. Maybe he'd be greeted by a spell or an interrogator's blade or might have been open arms.
Instead, it was a pair of ocean-blue eyes that stared at him intently.
They found their home in a face wrought from an angelic mould; cheekbones high in aristocratic fashion, lips full and lashes long. Silver hair shimmered in the low-light of magically lit candles, two wisps framing her face, free from being tied behind her head.
And she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen; his lungs seemed without breath just by virtue of her appearance.
It was a quick realisation.
She was Veela.
The room seemed shrouded in mist, his peripheral faded from view, and she became the only object worthy of his notice.
A Veela's allure.
"Who are you?" The voice asked.
It was melodic, a soft song that whispered in his ears.
Tell me, the compulsion urged.
We can be together, the other ear heard.
Had he not been trained for such an eventuality, he would have fallen to his knees at her gaze, spilt the contents of his mind at her words.
Instead, he bit his tongue between his teeth, grasped the meat of his palm with his nails tightly and used his free leg to smash his foot into shin - grounding himself with pain.
Occlumency atrophied quickly under the gaze of a Veela, or so the lessons had taught them, but few things could shroud sudden agony.
"Who are you?" The voice tried once more.
He knew his plot had succeeded when the faces beyond the foreground regained clarity, and when features became more than a fading blur and the mist vanished.
"Lieutenant Harry James Potter, Magical Special Operations Executive, Britain." Harry said, "And somewhat proficient at resisting a Veela's allure."
"This side of the channel is rarely safe, Harry Potter." The voice said, "Perhaps you do not know where you tread."
"I know precisely where I tread. You are Fleur Delacour, The Firebird." Harry responded with a smug grin, "And I'd say we are somewhere beneath Paris."
"You're remarkably knowledgeable on our workings." Fleur frowned. "A threat?"
"Would you believe me if I told you that's the second time I've heard that in as many hours?"
"It matters little to me." She brushed it off, "My only concern is why you've arrived at my door wielding such knowledge."
"I've been tasked with helping you unit-" Harry began his explanation, the members of the room seemed intent to listen along, levelling his next words with their scrutiny.
A hand from the Veela halted him in his tracks.
"I can seldom remember a time Britain has ever offered help to us without a reason of their own." She snarked, fire alight behind her blue eyes.
It took him a moment to comprehend her words, perhaps it was the long day or maybe, it was his patriotism. Whichever it was enraged him enough to engage her.
"Of course." Harry spat, "It was the tens of thousands lost at Dunkirk, the companies of broom-mounted fighters dead in the channel and our attempts to evacuate the magical districts at our own cost that gave you such an impression I take it?"
"No." She shook her head, but the fire did not dim. "It was the battalion of wizards we were promised, the shipments of armaments our muggle countrymen were pledged, the help that was sworn that never arrived that gives me the right to form such an opinion."
Harry soon found he did not like Fleur Delacour.
"There is more than one battle in this war, need I remind you?" Harry's anger rose to a fever pitch. "We are one against many, fighting on all fronts. So my apologies if you didn't get your men, most of them are likely dead on your soil."
"Their sacrifice is of little use to me, Harry Potter. Dead men cannot beat back the tide nor feed the starving. Graves and valour are a poor substitute for wands and strong arms."
His teeth ground against one another under the force of his jaw.
"How dare you-" His tirade began.
"I dare." She challenged, "I was promised an army; instead, I am sent a boy barely free from a tit."
"Take these bindings off, and we'll see how much of a boy I am."
His eyes were still locked with hers, though they had softened slightly in their gaze. Her lips pulled upwards, and finally, she laughed.
It was infectious, the other members of the room joined in - though Harry remained silent.
He felt like he was being mocked - a joke that he could not understand before she spoke again.
"Any man with enough training can wield his willpower to beat back a Veela's allure. But very few can fake passion - can imitate the anger behind comrades fallen and battles lost. You can take solace in that - for now."
Her explanation made him feel like a child.
"A nice test you've devised," Harry remarked dryly. "How very elegant."
"It has its uses." Fleur assured, "Of which you've seen today - I, for the moment, shall listen to you, Harry Potter. Normally, legilimency would have been employed, but we shall refrain for the moment."
She won't employ it until she's sure her allure has worn down whatever barries I possess.
Fleur Delacour was intelligent, at the very least.
"I take it my Division's missive would have seen to your trust."
Fleur shook her head. "We have received no such message, we have fled our safehouses to be free from Grindelwald's bruisers. Any owl that might have landed with such a message has been lost."
Well. Harry thought, I suppose the skulls in the walls do scream 'desperate.'
"So you've fled to some… catacombs?" Harry deduced, "Such prime real estate, I'm sure."
"There is poetic justice finding ground with those who once began a revolution, is there not?" She smiled, clearly proud of such a deduction. "Here, we can tear down the foundations from below and rise amidst the ashes."
"You're oddly candid about such." Harry noted.
Fleur laughed once more. "You're bound, beneath wards, hidden amidst a labyrinth of tunnels and at our mercy."
"How very humble."
"Do I have any reason to be?" She asked.
"I fight a war; I do not entertain guests. But even I know when best to see an ally in place of an adversary. Though, if you do seem intent on hiding information from us, fire reveals all hidden truths."
The threat seemed to hang in the air for far longer than was necessary.
"I see why they call you the Firebird." Harry joked, or as much as one could joke surrounded by foreigners with his hands bound.
"They call us many things. We are revolutionaries, resistance fighters, partisans, anarchists, terrorists. They call us half a hundred names, we are all of them, yet none - for it matters not what they call us."
"What is it that matters then?"
"We are free."
Perhaps I judged her too soon.
"I've been sent to help you free more." Harry explained, "We plan to unite the resistance, both muggle and magical; rural and urban under a single banner."
"An optimistic objective." Fleur agreed. "Whether or not you possess the capability to pull such a task off is not yet seen."
"Do you doubt us?" Harry scoffed.
"Many a man and woman speak of dreams of uniting us against a common foe, of turning tides and rescuing our kin. Dreams rarely come to fruition, Harry Potter. You form a fantasy in your mind; you achieve it with blood. The latter is far more difficult."
"I take it you heard de Gaulle's speech?" Harry asked.
"We did." Fleur nodded. "Many did. A rallying cry that saw many muggles take up arms."
"That was just the beginning." Harry said, "We've designed our efforts for months, formed under the desire to see France free."
"Tell me, has your Division ever seen France in the throes of war? Have they seen the war we wage alone?"
"We have contacts-" Harry attempted.
"Contacts." Fleur repeated, "Who see with their own eyes - not yours. Do not expect us to follow plans of your creation. We fight for our own freedom, not at the design of any other."
"We mean only to help." Harry placated, "We - I have hope we can free France."
Perhaps Ackley was right. Harry mused, I might be getting a tad attached.
"Again, such ambition." She noted, "Yet, they send me a single man. I did not speak falsely; we had been promised legions of wizards to help us retake lost ground, our muggle counterparts all manner of muggle weapons. You are a poor consolation prize."
"Sometimes a single man is all you need."
"I hope this is such an instance."
"I assure you, it is."
"You've been ordered to join us, I take it?" The frown that marred her beautiful features was more than noticeable.
"In a way." Harry confirmed, "We need to know if you'll be the one to free France from the hand that chokes it or the one that replaces it."
"It is bold of you to make such a claim whilst standing amongst my men."
"War is a time of bold moves."
His words got a smile out of her. A promising sign, all things considered.
"And if we are the sort you are searching for?"
That was a question that took him a moment to muster an answer for.
"Then you have my wand." Harry said, "With the promise of more to come."
"More promises." Fleur noted, "Is there any hope they are less hollow than the ones your country has spoken before?"
"I'm here, aren't I?"
"You are." Fleur replied, "I'm unsure yet whether that is a good tiding or bad."
"I'm a fan of the former." Harry japed. "I'm only here to help, never hinder."
"I seemed to have misplaced my wand." He brought his bound hands up to enunciate his point, "I also don't take you for the sort to place stock in wily oaths given with nebulous wordings and secret purposes."
"Look at me." She demanded.
Once more, she bore her dark blue eyes into her own, searching inquisitively for something within them.
Then, she pulled away suddenly. Whatever she had seen had sent her reeling.
Her wand was retrieved from her belt, a spell flared at the tip, and instinctively he reached for his own that had been taken by the sallow-faced man.
For a moment, the light that formed at the apex of her wand seemed to spell the end of him.
Instead of the pain that his reactions assumed was bound to arrive, the rope around his wrists slackened. Rather than the following curse, it was instead an out-stretched hand - one he took within his own.
Whatever she had searched for, she had found.
"Well then, Harry Potter," Fleur said, a smile painted across her features as she shook his hand.
"Welcome to our Resistance."