“In all my time as Chairwoman,” Ya Zhou says, surveying the two men sitting across the table from her, “I have never been invited to such a deeply clandestine meeting.”
A letter arrived in the middle of the night two days ago, carried via the same kind of dream messenger that Uagadou uses to contact its prospective students. It asked her to take a Portkey from her house to a meeting somewhere in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, and was sealed with the stamps of two men she trusts as colleagues and, on some level, friends. Now here she is in a plain, Spartan conference room with blacked-out windows and Silencing Charms draped over every inch of the walls in some small house, out of the way and out of sight, in a meeting so secret that not one of them has a single Auror standing by to protect them.
It’s terrifying that this meeting is happening.
It’s even more terrifying that Ya understands its necessity.
“Secrecy is imperative in these troubled times, Madam Chairwoman,” says Agonglo. He’s the President of Dahomey, first to hold the office; perhaps ninety years old, handsome with a penchant for unusual combinations of suits and traditional clothes, forthright, and wickedly intelligent. The job he has undertaken as President is complicated and difficult. Dahomey has been in relative disarray since the French Muggles conquered it thirty years ago; it’s only in the last ten that the magical community has managed to pull itself together strongly enough to re-structure its government and form an elected body.
Agonglo is a powerful advocate for self-governance and traditional forms of magic. His very public argument with the Prime Minister of Sweden last year over an attempt to legislate requirements for wand use in magical schools worldwide is already the stuff of legend. Ya has a transcript of it in her office which she reads when she needs to take her mind off things.
Ya turns to João Ferreira, President of Brazil. “And you’re an unusual partner in this meeting, Mr. President,” she says.
Ferreira is about her age, weighed down with responsibilities that seem out of character for a man who by his own admission would prefer to flirt with women and drink and dance. In peaceful times, he might have the opportunity to do those things. But Ferreira is trapped by his own place of power and the troubled times his Muggle counterparts face. The chaos in Brazil has rendered Ferreira largely focused on domestic affairs as he struggles to keep his own people out of the eye of the Muggles. His clear desire for his country to be an international heavyweight is rendered ineffectual by the chaos. Though Ya faces a similar situation, she has the luxury of a large, organized, and well-entrenched bureaucracy managing the day to day domestic affairs that render her able to concern herself with international affairs.
“Strange times make for strange bedfellows,” Ferreira says with a smile, brushing off a speck of dust on the lapel of his pale, stylish suit.
“What is this about, gentlemen?” Ya asks. This is strange: heads of state, though they may meet one-on-one or in small groups, rarely if ever meet in secret. It’s irregular, and if Ya were easily frightened she might actually be scared.
Agonglo folds his arms, watching her keenly. “I’m sure you recall the last general meeting of the Assembly,” he says, “and the questions it raised.”
Ya feels her lips compress against her will, an inescapable expression of fury. She is not a woman given to shouting matches or outbursts of temper: last month at the general meeting of the Assembly of the International Confederation of Wizards, she had nearly been baited into an argument with that damn Grimsditch. He’d spoken out, simultaneously claiming that American isolationism was justified and that every other state was a coward for not standing up to Grindelwald, most strongly implicating China in the international failure to capture the dark wizard. But Ya hadn’t cracked first: no, that indignity went to the poor Italian minister, whose country is pitching headlong into chaos, and has no patience for being called a coward when prudent is what he is.
“Yes,” she says tersely. “I recall. And I recall you standing by, Mr. President, watching and putting it on record that you have no comment on the matter.”
“It would have done no good at all for me to make my case that day,” Agonglo says levelly. “But don’t think that I have taken no side. A goat that belongs to two homes is left unattended, and I think we have had enough of such treatment.”
Ya’s mind races. Implicitly, he’s just told her that he opposes the Americans. She doesn’t comment on that, though, merely turns to Ferreira. “And you? Why are you here?”
“I am aware of my country’s position,” Ferreira says. His scowl is raw, an expression of pure outrage. “Our counterparts have been independent nearly as long as many of their neighbors. Brazil’s history has settled our community, given us traditions of our own. Castelobruxo is in our borders and we are a center of the magical community in the Americas, as great as our northern neighbors. Grindelwald’s men make inroads in my country just as they do in any place in Europe or America. And yet somehow our colleagues in the Assembly have seen fit to ignore our plight in favor of closing their own borders and claiming that we are cowards!”
It’s incredibly refreshing to hear her own sentiments echoed by someone else, aloud. “I see that I’ve been invited into a conspiracy,” Ya says, relaxing minutely. She’s among friends here.
“Yes,” Agonglo says plainly. “You have. We are tired of being shouted down in the Assembly when our own countries are under fire from Grindelwald’s supporters. Unrest is stirring across Africa. Soon enough, we will have to deal with internal strife as Grindelwald lies his way into the hearts of people tired of being silenced because of the fears of the West.”
Now, that’s new. “Internal conflict?”
Agonglo looks exhausted as he rubs his jaw with one hand. “I may stand for our traditional magic, but some believe that I have not taken my position far enough,” he says. “I’m sure that you understand how those arguments go, Madam Chairwoman…”
“Yes, I do,” Ya says. In China, though, such arguments have remained largely academic. The country is largely united in terms of is actual opposition to Grindelwald and support of the Statute of Secrecy. A community kept quiet is one which can still retain its traditions, perhaps even more effectively than a community which steps out with pride. Once, there might have been a chance for the dismantling of the Statute as a whole; in this modern world, it would only cause chaos and violence.
Clearly, not everyone agrees.
Ferreira sighs. “That’s why we called you here, in the end,” he says. “This is a complicated situation, and I fear the potential for real violence. Even for war.”
The idea of civil war is…unthinkable. A war between states? Impossible. It would tear the magical community to shreds, destroy everything that the ICW is supposed to preserve and protect. And it would most certainly lead to exposure. “I won’t say that can’t happen, but we should be stronger than that.”
“Idealism does us no good,” Agonglo says. “Our people are frightened and divided already. We are not particularly strong.”
“You know that’s why he’s targeting you,” Ya says quietly. Grindelwald has not come for China because he knows fomenting internal dissent on this particular point or forcing leadership to belligerent action wouldn’t work without decades of groundwork. Policy and public opinion are a bulwark against the kind of thing he espouses.
“And that’s why we’ve come to you,” Ferreira confirms. He leans forward, elbows on the table, meeting her eyes brashly. “We know you’re opposed to Grindelwald and a staunch supporter of the Statute, but you’ve never given ground to the nations of the West.”
Ya grants him a small smile, feigning ignorance for the show of the thing. “So we’re to be your figurehead, then? A flashpoint of rebellion?”
“The head of a voting bloc,” Agonglo corrects.
As expected, really. “How many more of you are there?”
He shakes his head. “Not enough.”
“I want a number.”
“If we are the two who have approached you,” Ferreira says, with obvious anger and shame in his voice, “then do you think anyone more powerful is by our side?”
Ya closes her eyes for a moment, sympathy closing her throat. The Confederation is supposed to promote equality, protecting all wizards and giving every state an equal say. In theory, it’s beautiful. In practice…it’s nothing of the kind. She nods slowly. “You know you won’t get a public declaration.”
Ferreira looks elated. “With your help we can bring in those who’ve been on the fence, prove that what we have to offer is as great as the others.”
Agonglo raises a cautionary hand. “Don’t raise your hopes too high,” he says sharply. “Many we consider friends will very soon consider us enemies for taking this stance, and the chicken is never proven innocent in the court of the hawks.”
“Then what’s the purpose of all this?” Ya asks. She sharpens her focus, engaging in the Legilimency she’s practiced for years. There are people better, of course, but it’s a good tool in her arsenal, even if distasteful. Ferreira is unguarded, though she knows he’s a former Auror; his elation is leaving him open, which allows her to see that he’s genuine in why he’s here. Agonglo, though he’s certainly on guard, is also quite plainly earnest.
“The purpose is to set ourselves as the vanguard for something later,” Ferreira says.
She narrows her eyes. At some later date, she might not be opposed to this, but…“A break from the Confederation?”
“We are not here for any such thing,” Agonglo says. He leans forward and something in his tone changes, his voice resounding in the room with power and barely-restrained anger. “We want to set ourselves in a position of strength, a position from which we can begin to wear away the resolve of those who stand so firmly in support of a perpetual appeasement and placation. Grindelwald’s attacks in New York and Brussels and all the other cities of the world, the wedges he systematically drives between friends and allies, all of it—fear has given him the power to escape unscathed. He is only one man and by all rights we should hunt him down and destroy him in a day as we have destroyed such men before.”
“Yes, we should,” Ya says. She maintains her unaffected face, though she’d like to leap to her feet and fling her arms around Agonglo. He’s saying things that need to be said, that she so desperately wants to hear, and there’s hope flaring up like a spark in her heart. “Why haven’t we? Pretend I don’t know.”
He stares her down. “Because he is saying what the world is thinking. To the disenfranchised he promises equality, to the powerful he promises domination, to wizardkind he promises freedom, and to his followers he promises supremacy over all. I have read his arguments. He offers the end of fear, the end of harm, a chance for things to change.”
“And if he’s so compelling, why aren’t you listening to him?” Ya demands. She knows where this is leading, she can practically taste it…but she has to know. To hear it from Agonglo, directly.
“I will not hear him because I know what power does to the men who take it,” Agonglo says. “I watched my Muggle countrymen lose it all at the hands of men who called themselves civilized as they destroyed Dahomey in all the ways they could manage. I see it in the eyes of the Assembly when they try to demand that we give up our methods and traditions so that we can better suit the needs of the powerful. A wise man does not fall down the same hill twice, Madam Chairwoman.”
Ya nods, just a little. “And you are nothing if not wise, Mr. President,” she says.
He scoffs. “Far from it. If I were wise, I would send my own Aurors to chase down Grindelwald and end him before anything more happens. They are, after all, among the best in the world.” Oh, that is true, really. Though all their Aurors are good, the most legendary are the women called Amazons by foreign wizards, witches of tremendous power and intelligence. If anyone could take on Grindelwald, they could.
“You called me rash when I said the same thing,” Ferreira objects with a laugh. The tension breaks and Ya smiles as Agonglo, too, laughs.
“In time experience will teach you that rashness can be wise, young man,” Agonglo says. He pats Ferreira on the hand with a smile. There’s a certain bond there, Ya sees: they’re fellow conspirators, but Agonglo is already well on the way to becoming Ferreira’s mentor. She wishes them luck in that.
“Gaining wisdom through experience is the bitterest method,” Ya says softly, as the laughter dies away. Both men look at her. “I understand your positions well. I’ve been dealt a similar hand, but I have certain advantages. I’m willing to be the anchor for this voting bloc…and for more, should such courses become necessary.”
Ferreira’s smile is still there, but with a sad and brittle edge. “We will count on you at the next general meeting to make your position known,” he says. “It is, of course, at your discretion to determine how that happens.”
Ya folds her hands on the table. “Rest assured that I will make that happen,” she says. “It will take time to make any real headway. There are other countries already on the fence—I’m sure you know of some and I have an idea for a few more. But I will leave building the coalition to you. I will do my part to advance the idea of moving against Grindelwald, to bring resolutions to the floor for debate, so that there are things on which we might vote, when we have the power.”
Watching a voting bloc grow in strength can only be good for their cause. What begins as three countries may end as a majority. It might, given time, be able to sway the policy of the Confederation as a whole and take true action.
Unfortunately, Ya knows very well that they might not have that kind of time.
She shakes her fellow conspirators’ hands before Ferreira hands over a Portkey to take her home. She lands in her house at a reasonable hour, no one the wiser. Ya is really glad that she cleared her schedule by claiming a headache: she needs time to think.
For a while she paces, considering. There’s a resolution coming before the Assembly at the next general meeting in Austria: she can certainly take action there. It’s not a particularly important resolution, only something related to the regulation of mail traveling across international borders, but it’s expected that Iceland—who proposed the resolution to begin with—will bring up the increased security provided by the resolution’s mail inspection policies. Security is a subject which Ya can discourse on for hours, if necessary, but even a few words from her will go a long way toward proving her support.
And the thing is, it will seem spontaneous to anyone who was not there when the conspiracy began. No one else was in the room where it happened. No one needs to know except Ya, Agonglo, and Ferreira. Even so…
She’s wearing her pajamas and is in the process of taking down and combing out her hair when the thought strikes her. Instant excitement bursts into flame inside her and she’s moving before she even thinks, heart in her throat. Ya snatches up pen and paper, scrawls a frantic note, and runs across the house to the room where her owl Peng has his perch.
He’s just waking up, little nocturnal bird, when Ya bolts into the room. The tiny Scops owl looks at her quizzically as Ya ties the small note onto his leg and coaxes him onto her hand. “Peng, I am trusting you with an important message,” she says, carrying him to the window and gently petting his head. “Get this to Seraphina Picquery. I don’t know where she is in the world, but get it to her.”
Ya lets Peng fly and watches him go, standing in the open window with her loose hair fluttering around her shoulders in the night breeze and her bare feet cold on the floor. Before she attracts too much attention, she closes the window and heads back to her bedroom, where she sits down hard on the floor and thinks through what she just did.
She’s just called for the former President of MACUSA to come to China as her personal guest.
“I am an idiot,” Ya moans, laying back on the floor with her hands over her face.
How can this end well? Ya’s personal feelings are too tangled up in this. The world will be shocked if she takes Seraphina on as an advisor. They’ll be more shocked if she accidentally makes the relationship public. What if Seraphina rejects Ya’s request for assistance in the voting bloc? What if she rejects Ya altogether? What is she thinking?
As she hauls herself into bed, regretting everything about tonight, a thought occurs to her. In time experience will teach you that rashness can be wise, Agonglo says in her head. Well…Ya has made her choice, and now things will happen. Seraphina will come, or she won’t, and they’ll go on from there. It could be a terrible decision.
Then again, joining this conspiracy could be a terrible decision.
Why worry about one choice when it could all end in disaster anyway?
Only time will tell.