A Different Kind of War @ajjax
Of Socialites and Sorrows

TITLE: A Different Kind of War

SUMMARY: Confronted with the daunting threat of war looming over Britain, Harry must prepare for the inevitable confrontation. But when an enigmatic French Beauty arrives to assist Hogwarts in preparation for the coming dangers, Harry soon learns that matters of the heart and battlefield are of equal difficulty.

CHAPTER TITLE: Of Socialites and Sorrows

PAIRINGS: Harry/Fleur


A/N: As always, shout out to my beta readers x102reddragon and NerdDragonVoid.

Purposefully nebulous motivations and rising parties. Socialites and Sorrows was always favourite.

Be sure to review and the likes if you have the time.

Otherwise, as always, stay safe!

The night is here.

It approached far quicker than he would've liked. Despite all his preparation, all the long nights wasted away reciting possible conversations in his head, it still felt inadequate. It was as if he had yet to plan for the simplest of possibilities, yet to spot the glaring weakness that would tear it all apart.

But the dusk had arrived either way. Indecisiveness would not serve him well here.

His footsteps echoed through the quiet corridor that seemed far darker than it once was.

He had assumed the loss of Azkaban would've yielded results similar to the raids at Exeter and Helga-by-the-Sea and whatever other plethora of attacks had been conducted up-and-down the coast.

I imagined they would've been of a kind. He mused, I've never been so very wrong.

Information trickled in as Dumbledore had foretold. In the beginning, it had been a simple breakout, then the prison had been attacked and then finally, the dam had burst. The sea wall had shattered and they were pounded by the relentless waves of hard truths. The same waves that had battered Azkaban.

Yet, there was no sting of families being lost as the other raids had heralded. No one had kin that guarded the prison, it appeared.

Most of them gained a little family instead.

That was where the tension had spawned.

More tension. Harry amended.

The return of the Death Eaters - the sudden influx of mothers and fathers returned from the clutches of Azkaban emboldened many and disheartened even more. The Ministry now simply tried to pick up the pieces.

It hadn't succeeded.

Harry's letters to the Minister had been plastered across the Daily Prophet like propaganda. Urging men and women to take up wands for the Ministry, they'd been pushed onto the back foot and tried every strategy to regain their footing. Every page was a call to arms, every wood carefully forged to rouse the ordinary people into action.

Twelve galleons a month and three months training is a poor substitute for proper Aurors.

But real Aurors were few and far between. Some had simply left. They hadn't expected another war in their lifetime and simply walked away. Some had defected to Voldemort and some found their way into the lengthening obituary section of the Daily Prophet.

Scrimgeour had expanded the corps, amassing a sizable reserve to protect the Ministry. But they were bodies, not fighters. Though few made that distinction.

He shifted his body to weave through a group that had been leaving from dinner towards their common room. A group made up of Slytherins who upon noticing him gave him a wide berth. A berth, however, that was not sizable enough that he could not hear their laughter when they had passed him.

I know what they call me. Harry thought. He'd heard it often enough. I'm Scrimgeour's lackey, I jump and bark on his command. They'd shouted it, laughed it and hid it behind their hands with soft whispers, but he heard them all the same.

Once, I would've said I was Dumbledore's man through-and-through. But now? He pondered, Now I'll have to be my own man.

And so he thought it, and so it had to be.

Their time was nigh and the crucible was lit. Each step towards her office, every dull thump of the clock tower in the distance, each painful throb in his chest stoked the embers beneath. Even now he could feel the heat, the twinge of flames at his heels urging him onwards.

Tonight was a night of preparations and a single chance.

One single chance.

It's imperative. He'd repeat, a newfound mantra in place of the old. One that seemed as ineffective as it's predecessor.

His finely tailored robes were mail-ordered, the silk soft against his skin as he strode through the quiet hallways. His holly wand felt heavy in his pocket as did the cold bottle of wine he sequestered up the long sleeve of the dress robes.

Yet, it all felt artificial. The feeling of silk, heat and cold all felt fleeting.

This was the first sacrifice he'd have to make, with many soon on the horizon. It was a war, as every face seemed to so delicately remind him.

And war makes monsters of us all.

Soon, he found her familiar wooden door in front of him. Knocking his knuckles against the manicured frame as he'd done so many times before. Even an act as mundane as this soon felt illicit, as if he had betrayed someone or something.

Yet, despite that, he craved the rendezvous. It symbolised more than just a meeting.

At least, it does to me.

Every opened door was an escape from the outside to a sanctuary of sorts. Where levity, banter and stolen glances rose above the darkness at their walls. It seemed forbidden, there was a war raging. People sacrificed themselves every day to buy him time so that he might finally see a conclusion in sight.

Yet here I am. He reflected.

Here he was, searching for touch, for commonality, for something more with an engaged witch.

Soon, she opened the door and allowed him into the room beyond.

Her light blue dress hugged her lithe, womanly curves and her platinum hair fell down past her shoulders. It was similar to the one she had worn previously and yet, the similarities only stood to exacerbate the differences.

It'd be poor showing to wear the same dress twice in a row. He mimicked internally, Lest they think you only have one.

It was a testament to her ethereal beauty that no matter how many times Harry saw her, in all matters of dress, undress or otherwise he was still amazed. Each time since that day in the snow his heart would pound and his throat would tighten.

For all his jokes, all his musings and thoughts, she truly was beauty incarnate.

"So early Harry?" She smiled at seeing him, her tone teasing. "One could be forgiven for thinking you're almost a little too eager to take me to this party."

Perhaps I was.

Her hair was in its usual form, silver wisps framed either side of her face with the majority tied up at the back of her head. She peered up at him, somewhere along the line he'd grown only a few inches taller, but it seemed to make all the differences.

Harry kept a keen eye on her features, the same high cheekbones and elegant countenance. She'd been stressed recently in trying to ensure nothing happened at Hogwarts.

Nothing like Katie.

He had been helping her where he could, but everything seemed to demand more of him. More than he could give. She was sleep-deprived from her duties and yet that still did not mar her beauty.

"Do I have something on my face?" She asked, her tone mostly identical. "Or perhaps you see something you like?"

Her tone was exactly that - almost identical to the teasing one she'd adopted. Yet, something lingered beneath it, something that gave him the briefest glimmer of hope that there was more than platonic friendship between them.

"And if I did?" He shot back experimentally, testing the water.

"My Harry, you've grown gallant and we haven't even touched the mead yet." She let loose a gentle laugh,

"I distinctly remember there being two of us drunk Fleur." She let out another, heartier laugh at that.

"It was such a good vintage, it couldn't go to waste on simpletons who wouldn't appreciate it." She defended herself.

"Oh yes. Us British commoners can't hold a candle to your refined taste buds."

"You're the first of your countrymen bright enough to admit such a fault. I'm beginning to understand why I keep you around."

"Here was me thinking I was kept around for my sensational duelling skills and good conversation?"

She scoffed in return, "You seem to owe both to me."

"Well," He smirked, "You did say you'd teach me about 'love, elegance and duelling.'

"I suppose I have been somewhat remiss in the first one, haven't I?"

"I can't say you've taught me much." He shrugged.

Fleur leant forward, their faces merely inches apart, her mouth hovering near his ear.

"Well," She whispered, her breath was hot against the side of his face. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end and his chest tickled. "I could do something about that, if you'd like?"

He didn't trust for his voice to not portray how he felt, he merely nodded instead.

Fleur pulled her face away as if it hadn't been there, the loss of her warmth breath left nought but an icy cold void behind.

"Ginerva will be there tonight." She smirked victoriously. "I'm sure you can find love with her."

Harry sighed and ran a hand through his ruffled hair. "You're incorrigible."

"It was not I who had my thoughts in the gutter, Harry."

"My thoughts were not in the gutter." He defended.

"I distinctly remember some questions being answered the night of the last party." She trailed her, her words enunciated by a finger softly tapping her chin.

"I also remember who asked them." Harry returned, "In fact, you seemed a little too adamant, maybe you were a bit too interested?"

She's not likely to be undone so easily.

"Or perhaps you simply want me to be interested, no?" Fleur smiled slyly, "In fact, I was interested in something - Which way did you have me ag-"

"Alright, alright." Harry conceded, "You win. We've got bigger things to worry about anyway."

He procured the wine bottle from his robes and placed it on her table.

"Did you have any trouble getting it?"

"Nah, the Owner of the Hog's Head wanted to get rid of it pretty badly." Harry answered, "An envelope heavy with galleons and it was all mine."

"We'll need the entire potion." She frowned, "Three drops won't mean much against the entire bottle."

"You disagree?"

"No," She shook her head, "But Veritaserum is invaluable, I wouldn't want to dry our entire stock out."

"We'll find more," Harry promised, "I'll salvage the bottle for us."

"Oh?" She said, "A bottle of wine that makes you spill your deepest desires. Would you really like to take a sip?"

"I'll take one if you do." He resolved.

Perhaps I'd be able to end all of this for good if we did that.

"Is the truth a problem between us, Harry?" Her face looked hard but her eyes betrayed her.

"Is it?"

His voice portrayed confidence and yet, guilt gnawed at his gut as it had hers with Katie.

It is. He wanted to say, but couldn't, I can't tell you the truth be it real or false.

How could he ensure he didn't look the vain child vying for his affection when he couldn't confirm it himself? How could he eloquently broach such a subject as an unfaithful spouse?

I can't and I feel like a coward for it.

She laughed, "I'll make you a master at this yet."

She procured her own bottle, as he had. This one was diminutive, the same vial he had used to abscond with the Veritaserum.

"Do you want to do the honours?" She asked gently, offering the vial.

I truly don't.

"Okay." He replied, equally as gently. He took the proffered vial and freed the cork from his bottle then the stopper from the vial.

He poured the entirety of the clear liquid into the wine-red depths below. It mixed seamlessly, leaving no indication of any tampering. He waved the neck in front of his nose.

Not even a scent.

"Do you trust me?" Fleur asked suddenly.

"Of course, I trust you."

Would I have been here if I didn't?

"Then trust me now." She said, grasping his scarred hand, "We're doing the right thing. I know it's not what you want -"

"What I want doesn't matter." He shook his head, "The war matters."

"What you want always matters, to me, at least."

"Thank you," Harry replied sincerely, he gave her scarred hand a squeeze with his own and let it drop. "Did you get what you needed?"

"Of course. I couldn't have known Ginerva was coming without it." She flicked her wand and a piece of parchment sailed into her waiting hand.

She handed it to him and he began reading through her elegant quillwork.

"I don't recognise half of these names," Harry said, confused at the unfamiliar words that decorated the page. "I must've met most of the people present last time."

"I wouldn't expect you to." Fleur answered, "It's the Wizengamot."

"What is the Wizengamot doing at Hogwarts?" Harry asked.

The memories of austere courtrooms, hard faces and dark looks decorated his mind when he thought of the Wizengamot.

"They're here for the same reason as all the others - they've made their decision. Now they want to make the bed they're set to lie in."

"Is there anything we can do?" Harry asked, part of him desperate for a simple answer. "Think we can change their minds?"

"As talented as we are together." She began, "There are only two of us, a Veela and the Chosen One we may be, but only two."

"Wars have been started by less," Harry argued.

"But they seldom end with less." She countered.

"I managed it." He smiled.

"You did," She conceded with a matching smile, "Now let's go manage again."

Soon that same crucible became unbearably hot. The wine bottle in his pocket seemed to weigh him down.

Duty weighs me down too, I suppose.

He felt the heat but he wouldn't succumb, not yet. His hand latched onto the new door handle and pulled it open.

The Professor had selected a new room to hold his gathering. Long forgotten was his spacious office tailored to fit his acquaintances. This was nothing of the sort. It looked more like an amphitheatre, pillars bedecked in Christmas decorations that spanned the outside of the inner circle.

A table sat in the centre, long, ornate and adorned with a golden tablecloth that seemed more a statement of egregious wealth than anything else.

I probably wouldn't believe this is Hogwarts if I wasn't standing in it.

Though the true decor lay within the guests that littered the room. Seas of tailored-robes and dresses that formed a motley expanse as far as he could see. Pipes and wine glasses seemed commonplace amongst the older guests. Students instead seemed to flock to the fringes, taking solace in the empty corners.

One big testament to his hedonism. Harry thought, Ron and Hermione are supposed to be here amongst all this.

"Ah Harry and Miss Delacour!" A jovial voice cried from the centre table, "Please come in and enjoy yourselves!"

Harry sighed and with Fleur behind him, did as they were bid.

"I wouldn't have minded a few more seconds to get ready," Harry grumbled so only Fleur could make sense of it through the ambient chatter.

"Best we don't waste an opportunity," Fleur said, being optimistic. "Promise me you'll try our more genteel approach first?"

"Why the sudden concern?"

"I didn't think we'd be meeting them all at once." She whispered harshly. "Don't let them anger you."

"You think they're going to try and anger us?" Harry queried, "It'll be no different from last time then."

"Not us, you. They'll try and glean what they can out of you, anger is conducive to such tactics." She explained, "Their cards are on the table, the best hand will win tonight."

"I'll be the definition of poised." Harry assured.

"Somehow, I very much doubt that." She smiled slightly, "Any ally we can get tonight is one we didn't have yesterday."

"See every foe as an ally." Harry recited, "Professor Dumbledore taught it to me well enough."

"Don't just recite it. Remember it, use it."

Their approach to the table was belated by their conversation. But soon enough, they were forced into the gravity of Horace Slughorn.

"Gentlemen, I give you Harry Potter, who I assure you needs no introduction! Escorting the lovely Miss Delacour, one of the finest additions to the Hogwarts staff in quite a few years!"

He turned from the pair of them and began gesturing to the man sitting at the table. There were five in total, none of them looked similar yet they all had a look about them that made them appear identical.

"Harry, Miss Delacour I give you this merry bunch of Gentlemen." Slughorn said, "Aldrich Hawksworth," He was skinny, short with a large white moustache, "Damocles Belby," Plump and clean-shaven, "Tiberius Odgen," Bearded and hard-faced, "and Carlyle Landon." Sallow and tall.

"A pleasure." Harry said.

"Please," Slughorn began, "Be seated and share a toast with us."

"Of course."

No sooner had they sat down were crystal decanters passed around, amber and crimson liquid spilling from their depths.

"To a speedy war!" Slughorn announced.

The words were unspoken, but he could still hear them.

And a profitable one.

They raised their glasses to their lips and gulped, Harry merely raised his and let the liquid touch his lips. Slughorn hadn't deigned to invite any other students to the table, he stuck out like a sore thumb amongst them all as did Fleur.

"So, Mister Potter, I trust you've had a pleasant year?" It was Landon, his voice seemed cruel, almost mocking.

"As pleasant as any other." Harry replied neutrally.

"Oh?" The gaunt man said, false surprise lacing his tone, "I had it on quite good authority this year, in particular, was ripe with misfortune?"

"No more than usual."

"Come now, boy." The man laughed, "I've been told you've suffered quite greatly at the hands of many a troublesome incident."

"Carlyle." Ogden warned.

"Come off it Tiberius," Landon said, mocking him as he had Harry, "We're all interested in the pristine record of Hogwarts."

They're business partners, Harry observed, They certainly don't look like friends.

"Do keep in mind, Mister Landon." Fleur broke in, carrying the sickeningly sweet banner he was meant to parade, "That two staff members of that same school are at this very table. The same school you currently stand amongst."

"If you take umbrage to such a statement, perhaps my jape was closer to the mark then I may have intended."

Harry looked to Slughorn, perhaps to call him off. Instead, the Professor looked interested.

"Are you insinuating something?" Harry asked the sallow man, perhaps more bluntly than he should have.

"Perhaps the matters of war and education are too taxing for Albus Dumbledore?" Landon said, "If the man cannot protect the future of this very Isles, I'm reluctant to believe what future he may forge should he win."

They're bold. Harry remarked, To mock the man in his own school.

"He also almost killed Voldemort at the Ministry, or have you so quickly forgotten that?"

"It's been decades split between two wars, boy, you do not call a hound a hunter for coming away with its snout bloodied once."

Harry made to quickly return his words, but a harsh squeeze of his knee dissuaded him from such.

They're baiting me.

"I'll bow to your superior knowledge in the subject," Harry said noncommittally.

The man seemed irritated by his refusal to rise to the provocation but said nothing more. Slughorn and Odgen wore grins that couldn't be hidden under their glasses.

"That would be smart, Mister Potter." Hawksworth said, "Carlyle can be a bit eager with new guests, you have our apologies."

"O-o-of course." Belby stuttered.

"Yes, perhaps I can pursue new prospects a bit more enthusiastically then strictly appropriate." Landon said, although his hard eyes betrayed the lack of sincerity.

"Best mingle with the other guests, Harry." Slughorn advised, "Lest you spend the entire night in our esteemed company. I'll be sure to seek you out later tonight, as will these other gentlemen should we ever manage to leave the table."

Slughorn's eyes were hard like Landon's, a look that seemed clear-cut to Harry.

Their plan didn't work. Harry wanted to smile. They're cross with Landon.

"Of course, Professor." Harry stood up with Fleur, "Enjoy your evening."

"A pleasure, Mister Potter." Ogden said, "You reminded me much of your father when he was your age."

He couldn't detect insincerity behind the man's eyes.

Doesn't mean it isn't there.

"Thank you, sir."

The rest remained silent, there were no pleasantries exchanged beyond Slughorn and Odgen as they left the table.

"How'd we do?" Harry whispered as they vacated the centre of the room.

"Better than we could've hoped." She returned, "They didn't push you as hard as I thought."

"I'm unsure if that's better or worse."

"We'll see by the end of the night." Fleur said, "We should split up for the moment, go find Ginerva if you wish."

"What will you do?" Harry queried, peering around the room.

"I'll try and gather what I can, from who I can." She said, "You should do the same before we're caught by Slughorn again."

"I'll see what I can do." Harry said, "We'll need to kill time enough for him to start drinking some more."

"Also, Harry?"


"Do try and look like you're enjoying yourself." She grinned, "They may start rumours about you if somehow you've brought a Veela to a party and still can't enjoy yourself."

"You really are incorrigible."

"Good luck, Harry."

"Good luck, Fleur."

He turned from her beautiful features and to the surrounding crowd, braving the masses in search of familiar faces.

Harry made through the large crowd. What began as adequate progress to the far side was soon made a slow and methodical crawl to avoid exchanging pleasantries with people he vaguely remembered from the first party. Like vultures circling a ripe carcass, they descended from all sides one-by-one, aiming to take their piece of the flesh. Every time he successfully circumvented deeper conversation, another came.

Soon enough, he broke into large enough of a gap with no one around him. He spied, looking for a head of ginger hair that stood above the others.

And so he found one, although it was a darker variant and belonged to someone far shorter.

"Hello Harry," Ginny said lightly, "Enjoying the party?"

"It's certainly more congested than last time." He said with a lace of underlying sourness in his tone as a particularly stout man brushed by him rudely.

"I imagine so." She said with a giggle that sounded more forced than anything else. "I see you've been busy tonight." She offered, nodding towards the centre table.

"I feel like a trophy being passed around by the winning team." He said disdainfully, locking eyes with another potential 'vulture'.

"It does seem that way. Though speaking of trophies, we could've used you last game. We're a mess without Katie." She explained sadly.

"I haven't really been keeping up with Quidditch lately." He explained lamely. "I'm sure you're doing well though."

"Oh." She said, surprised, "I suppose that's too bad."

This was where the differences between Fleur and someone like Ginny became far more apparent. At least, the differences beyond those skin deep. Conversation with Fleur was effortless, quick-witted and exhilarating.

Conversation with Ginny felt anything but.

She was quick-witted too, but it was a different wit, one she had decided not to employ here. It felt more akin to a sinking ship, one he had to work constantly to keep afloat.

He shot a glance across the room at Fleur, partially to see how she was progressing with her own conversations. But on the inside, Harry merely wanted to telegraph the fact to Ginny that he wasn't interested in this particular conversation.

I've got a lot to do. He wanted to say, but brushing off the girl seemed a bad decision.

It was a rude, callous way to do it. But Harry felt if she was anything like Ron and after coming to know her quite well over the years he could only imagine the stubbornness ran deep. Her infatuation, her misplaced romance, was just that - misplaced.

She was too young to have a romance at the forefront of the war, they were all too young. But to be involved with Ginny was to bind himself to a girl he would never allow to follow him anywhere, for fear of her safety which wasn't a particularly appealing thought.

She saw the sign and ran with it, though not entirely how Harry intended it. She traced his gaze across the packed room to the head of glittering silver hair.

"How is Fleur?" She asked tersely though not entirely impolitely.

"She's alright, I think the holidays will do her some good." He said though he doubted Ginny particularly cared.

Maybe it will do her some good, maybe it'll do me some good too.

He'd been caught up in all of this for so long.

We could all use a break.

"I should think so, with Bill coming home and all." She said offhandedly.

"Bill's coming to the Burrow?" He asked almost hoarsely, he found it odd how so few words left him feeling like the air had been punched from his lungs.

They are engaged, Harry reminded himself, She was never really yours.

"Of course, it'll likely be the last for a while, with the promotion and all."

Harry was no master of dialogue and certainly no social butterfly, but Ginny didn't mask the giddiness in her words very well.

She's more cunning than Ron gives her credit for. Harry thought sourly.

The happiness in her voice was definitely not aimed at her favourite brother being out of reach and given what had been her simmering contempt at Fleur for taking him away. There was only one solution to the puzzle.

She in some facet, however obscure it was, must've suspected that he had feelings for Fleur. His callous attempt to free himself from the conversation was met with a much greater rebuttal if anything, Harry thought, it was an apt display of karma.

"Have you seen Ron? I need to talk to him." He asked of the crafty redhead though definitely not with the confidence it had prior to the conversation.

"Over in the corner," She waved her hand in a gesture to which corner she meant, "Last I saw he and Hermione were arguing, seemed like a pretty big one too."

"About?" Harry asked succinctly, though knowing the pair for long enough it could be any myriad of situations, ranging from useless to urgent.

"You know them, Hermione's ignorant to some things, Ron's ignorant of a lot. Together they're ignorant of each other. Neither of them knows what they want."

"That's oddly sage, Miss Weasley, where does it come from?" He quipped.

"It's easy to judge," She boasted casually, "I know what I want." Her last words rang with a touch of finality about them as if she couldn't be persuaded.

"What's that?" Harry asked, fearful that he already knew the answer.

She pondered for a small moment. "One day, I think I might just tell you. But what about you Harry, do you know what you want?"

His eyes quickly flashed to the silver hair across the room, the reaction was almost involuntary. He wasn't sure if Ginny caught it.

"I do." He said.

If Ginny did catch it, she showed no indication of it.

"Then I hope you get it, Harry, you deserve it."

"I hope so too." He said to Ginny, with a goodbye Harry moved on towards Ron, though mindful that Ginny walked away with definitely more sway in her wide hips than when she arrived.

With Ginny out of the way, he tried to push the conversation out of his mind.

There truly is nothing half as wicked as a teenage girl. He mused, Fleur might've been right.

Harry broke through the unusually dense canopy of ageing women between himself and Ron and Hermione and true to Ginny's word, they were there.

He caught sight of Hermione first. If her broad frown was indicative of anything, it was likely the fact they were indeed bickering. Though it was definitely not in their conventional format, no raised voices or rude glares. He made his way closer and caught a bit of their conversation.

"Even your mother doesn't want you to do it, Ronald." She said exasperated. Harry already knew it was never a good situation when full names were brought into play.

"It's a war Hermione, I'm not going to be a burden to anyone." He argued, equally exasperated.

"If you want to get yourself killed, go ahead." She bit back, "When have you ever needed to listen to me though?"

"If I want to get myself killed, that's my choice."

She seemed to turn up her nose. She was never one who took disagreement with her points easily.

As Fleur can attest to.

She stalked off towards the tables of drinks on the opposite side of the room.

"Rough night mate?" Harry joked from behind him, breaking Ron from his staring at her retreating form.

"You could say that." He said half-heartedly, glancing at Hermione across the room again.

"What's eating at you?" Harry asked. Ron was clearly perturbed by something.

"Hermione," He mused, "What else?"

"What has she done?" Harry asked pointedly. "Better yet, what have you done?

"I've been practising some of the Prince's spells. She told me to stop, even owled Mum to try and get a handle on me." He explained bitterly.

"What's wrong with that?" Harry asked though he had an inkling of what it could be, magics darker than strictly appropriate.

"I decided to practice one with her, y'know, after Defense." Ron explained.


"Put three gouges in the wall about two inches deep."

Harry let out a low whistle. "That'd do some damage, are they all like that?"

"Nah, most are just silly jinxes; make your pants bite you, twirl you around by one leg. But there's a few that are a bit more serious." He continued.

"Do you intend to listen to Hermione then?" He asked, but he already knew the answer.

"No." He stated simply, "She doesn't get it and she's not too happy being told that truth. But she doesn't get to decide what I do. Her family isn't in this, mine is."

He really is growing up.

He'd spent years trying to escape shadows of people he thought better than him, now he was just trying to be someone. Someone that wasn't killed in a war.

It was rare that he was the more sensible of the two. But Hermione persisted in her thoughts of prizing the institution above all.

Even if it scorns us at every turn.

"What do you plan to do then?" Harry asked simply.

"What else can I do? I'll learn what I can and give it up." He said, his voice full of resignation.

Harry frowned. "You could always lie?" He knew Ron wouldn't entertain the notion of lying to Hermione and given how egregious he was at lying, it was likely for the best. "If you felt like you could get away with it."

"I don't want to lose her." He said wistfully. "Lying would be a quick way to do that."

"Why don't you tell her how you feel then?" Harry asked.

To his credit, Ron played feigned nonchalance very well in that instance, though it didn't fool him at all.

"What do you mean?" He asked calmly although his voice had definitely adapted a slightly higher pitch.

"You're not fooling anyone mate. I've watched you dance around each other for years." Harry explained.

And had more than my fair share of help from Fleur.

"Do you really think it'd work?" He asked hopefully. "You know, if I did actually fancy her."

"I do," Harry replied sincerely.

He stared across the room at the back of her as she made conversation with one of the guests.

"I'm not too sure about that." He started indecisively.

"Listen, mate, I want you to be happy, I want her to be happy. For the rest of our lives would be ideal but we don't know what's around the corner, we'll have to settle for the 'now'. There's a war, we've got to live for the moment."

"Do you really think it'd work?" He reiterated nervously.

"Yes." He replied confidently. Ron clung to the hope every word gave like a student listening to a gifted teacher.

"I'm telling her it was your idea if it goes sideways, you know that?" Ron said matter-of-factly.

"Somehow I doubt that'll mean much to Hermione. But if it does go sideways, I guess we'll fall together."

After all their years together, that's how Harry always envisioned it happened, falling together that was.

I'm not sure I ever imagined it being by Hermione Granger though.

He took a moment to ponder the situation. "How do you reckon I should do it?"

"Try at Christmas, it'll be easier then." Harry offered.

Christmas had just recently become a sore subject for Harry with Bill's return. He'd gone to immense lengths to source a gift for Fleur and in the end, penned a letter to Gabrielle. Who with the help of her mother, concocted something and judging by the time it took to reach him and its price tag seemed a more than ample gift.

But with Bill coming? Now I don't know.

"I'll give it a try. Thanks, mate." Ron offered in return. "We can talk about it later."

"I better find Fleur again." Harry confessed, "I'll see you soon."

Harry shot a quick glance at Slughorn, ostensibly to check how the host was entertaining his guests, but his real objective was to see how inebriated the Professor had gotten. The gregarious man seemed high-spirited, making lively gestures with hands though he noticed that the table had more vacant spaces then when he departed.

Though he was clearly drunk, it wasn't enough nor had the numbers at the party evaporated enough to get the man one-on-one. There were still quite a few people who Harry should talk to whilst waiting for an opportune moment.

Harry spied the silver hair across the room, it certainly wasn't hard. Every feature was crafted by a thousand elegant strokes of a brush. Her willowy form made her visible in any room, no matter the count.

He made to walk over towards her but was yet again halted. This time by a face no less familiar but less welcome.

"Mister Potter," The gravelly voice spoke, "A pleasure to see you again." The tall and imposing form of Sanguini stood before him, appearing to have traded his crimson suit for a better-tailored black robe.

Harry peered down the man's attire. I don't know why I'm surprised, he is of the night.

"Sanguini," Harry greeted tersely, "I'm surprised Mister Worple isn't with you."

"Eldred is a good friend." The vampire said, "But he is no more my keeper than I, him. Though I must confess my own surprise at your appearance here."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Politics is an old oak, tall and imposing. But it is odd to find one so young tangled amongst its roots."

"If I had a choice, I could think of many places I'd rather be." Harry said. He'd lost the glimpse of silver hair.

"Yet you're here." Sanguini said, "Presumably amidst men many decades your senior for the same reason as I."

"I wouldn't have a single clue about what you mean, sorry." Harry said, "I'm only here to see some friends, maybe sneak some of the Professor's refreshments out."

The Vampire looked at him, his dark eyes staring menacingly down towards him. But instead of a threat or a demand that he assumed would come, it was a laugh - a grating noise, but not at all what he would've expected.

"They had called you a fool, Mister Potter, believed you to be led around Scrimgeour, Dumbledore, even the lovely Miss Delacour. But they appear to have done you a disservice, you have an intelligence all your own. And a disservice played into your own hand is a great boon indeed."

"Maybe." Harry shrugged, "So why are you here then? If you don't mind my asking."

"A cabal rises tonight, Harry Potter, a decision long since made."

"Why does that interest you?" Harry asked bluntly, "I had assumed wizards did not interest you."

"It was never my ambition to be the most auspicious piece, nor the prettiest. I do not seek to flourish or flounder - I seek only to remain in the collection." The Vampire explained, "To achieve such, one must be prepared to play their game."

"I don't think it's much of a game." Harry frowned, "I'd like to say it's a bit more serious than that."

"Not a game, Mister Potter, the game - the great game." Sanguini lectured, "The greatest game to ever have existed. Much shall be decided tonight, many shall follow and all shall suffer."

"You seem a bit too familiar with it." Harry remarked, "Anything more you'd like to share?"

"Information is currency coveted in these circles." Sanguini said, "If you wish for my information, you shall divulge your own in turn."

"You first." Harry demanded.

"What do you seek to know, Harry Potter?"

He thought for only a brief moment, not wanting to give away the fact he felt woefully out of his depth.

"What do you know about them?" Harry said, nodding towards the men at the centre table.

"The newly-minted cabal?" He asked and Harry nodded. "Ogden is old money, the financier of them all. Landon, the fanatic, he is brittle like fanatics so often are and an ardent devotee to the cause. Hawksworth and Belby, the intelligence behind their moves and Slughorn? The connective tissue that binds them all. Think of them like a fist, together they can clench, grasp - strike. Together they are everything, alone, nothing."

"So get them alone and they're useless?"

"For all their flaws, they are still powerful and intelligent men alone. But a wolf without a pack is felled much easier."

"What about a Vampire without its coven?"

"You've got a wit about you, Harry Potter, that I cannot dispute." Sanguini smiled, "But now, it is my question for you."

"Go for it."

"What is your true purpose in being here tonight?"

The truth would never be allowed to spill from his lips. Though a half-truth would have to suffice.

"I'm here to convince them to support Dumbledore over Voldemort." Harry said, "I'm not doing a great job, however."

The Vampire studied his features for what felt like an age before he smirked. His elongated canines became visible.

"I name you a poor liar, Mister Potter, but I cannot begrudge your intelligence." Sanguini praised, "You make for far more interesting conversation. Should you wish to trade again, you need only ask."

"Of course," Harry said, he went to say more but the black-robed figure had disappeared. Slinking back towards the darkness and into his domain.

I suppose I did learn something, at least.

It had taken some time, but he had finally weaved his way through the crowd to meet Fleur.

To say she looked displeased would've been a gross understatement. She showed the signs of someone thoroughly irritated with whatever the man was saying, her eyes seemed to be looking everywhere but the robed man, her arms were crossed and her lips pursed.

"Excuse me, I was wondering if I could borrow Fleur for a moment?" Harry asked the man, a particularly plump one at that. The wizard simply swivelled on his feet and stalked off angrily without a word to Harry in response.

"What was that about?" Harry asked confusedly. "Fleur?"

Fleur didn't respond immediately, prompting Harry to tear his eyes away from the retreating form of the man to instead gaze upon her face.

It was noticeably different, to say the least. Her ocean blue eyes, the same he'd lament breaking his gaze from were no longer blue. Instead, they were a cruel yellow, avian and slanted, narrowing at the last glimpse of the wizard. Her facial structure angled slightly but seemed to still.

She looked more a bird of prey at that moment than Fleur Delacour.

"Fleur?" Harry asked gently, this time more out of concern than confusion. That seemed to break her from her stupor, she shook her head a few times and the ocean blue returned to her eyes and her jaw detracted.

"Zat, cochon!" She spat at the man's retreating form, in her anger she reverted to her first language. That alone was more than enough to worry him.

"What's wrong?" He asked, now thoroughly concerned about what transpired between the two.

She took a moment, presumably to regain the composure she had lost.

"Nothing," She assured him, "It appears Slughorn's made friends with some ardent fanatics." Disdain lacing her tone, her words barely more than a growl.

"What did he say?"

"Nothing to repeat in polite company." She said, "I won't let him ruin our victories."

"I've had a pretty interesting night myself," Harry admitted.

"Oh?" She said interested, "Dance with me Harry, it'll be easier to talk without interruption."

He'd barely noticed the cramped dancefloor decorated with virtually no one, only a few conversations lingering on the border.

"I'm not much for dancing, Fleur."

"You fared well enough at the Yule Ball." She said.

"I should amend that statement; I don't really know how to dance." Harry admitted.

"Well," She pondered, "I suppose it's advantageous that you're a quick learner with a gifted tutor."

His sigh signified his acquiescence on the matter and soon he found both himself and Fleur on the small, checkered area.

"I fail to see how this will stop people from talking to us." Harry groaned, placing his hand on her hip at her direction. "Instead they'll be laughing at us."

"As long as they can't hear us, it doesn't matter." She said, "No one is going to interrupt two fools in love."


That was the thought he could muster in this situation, his eyes latched onto hers within an instant, searching for her meaning.

"You're engaged," Harry said succinctly.

"A joke, Harry." She frowned, "Just a joke."

She grasped his scarred hand in hers, holding them in front of them and then the dance began. An antique gramophone playing an equally antiquated song - one almost drowned out by loud chatter.

Step forward, step back, turn.

That was the extent of his dancing lessons, but at the very least, it seemed sufficient. His shoes avoided hers and they spun in a small circle.

"See?" Fleur smiled, "A natural with me."

"I think I learned this one all by myself." He smiled in return.

"Make any fine acquaintances tonight?"

"Two Weasleys and Sanguini. An interesting conversation all round." He explained.

"My, my Harry." She tittered. "Trysts with Vampires and redheads, you've become quite the scandal."

"What can I say," He shrugged, "I had a good teacher."

"I'm quite the teacher, am I? I must keep that in mind when you beat me next. I'll have to assign detention."

A small recess of his brain was elsewhere, wondering whether the punishment of detention extended to less intellectual spaces.

"How about you?" Harry asked as they spun, "Meet anyone worth knowing?"

"I saw Tiberius Odgen again." Fleur announced, "I'm not sure he's a fan of all this."

"Sirius told me he resigned from Wizengamot when I was on trial." Harry said, "Think he might be sympathetic?"

"Time shall tell," She said, "I haven't talked nearly enough to discern that."

"Did you see how Slughorn was looking?"

"I did." Fleur answered, "He was stumbling quite a bit too."

"Maybe now's the time then."

"Still got the wine bottle?"

"Yep." He pulled his hand from her hip and tapped the heavy bottle through his coat.

"Do you want me to come with you?" She whispered, her voice solemn.

"No." Harry shook his head, "I think this is something I need to do by myself."

And at his answer, the dance ended with nary another word. They separated and the brief detente from his duty left with it.

Now, he no longer had warm skin to clutch. Just a cold bottle of wine and a single chance.

Guests had begun to leave en masse, partially in part to the hour growing ever later and largely due to Slughorn quickly forcing everyone out with his over-excited chatter. They struggled to escape the attractive force of the man, but soon, they were free. Leaving only a handful of people in the room and none at the table with Slughorn.

Not wanting to be seen as a poor host, he quickly decided to ingratiate himself with those still present, he shot up and made a beeline for the closest group, which just so happened to be Harry and Fleur.

"Harry! Miss Delacour!" He exclaimed excitedly. "How lovely to see you again! Please, join me at the table for a drink."

"I can't, I'm afraid." Fleur admitted, "I've been meaning to check on the western ward sector. I'm afraid I've neglected my duty for far too long."

"It's of no trouble Miss Delacour!" Slughorn reassured, "We'll lament your loss but your duty is indeed paramount."

"In that case," She said, "I'll take my leave, quite a lovely party, Horace." With that, she headed to the exit and the plan that had been painstakingly devised began.

"What about you Harry?" He suggested happily.

"I do have this for you, sir," Harry said, fishing the bottle from his robes.

"Such a nice vintage." The Professor said, appraising it with a keen eye. "I believe we should return to my quarters! I think such a bottle should be enjoyed in silence."

"You wouldn't mind sir?" Harry asked with faux excitement.

"It's absolutely, demonstrably fine my dear boy!" He said, "I daresay there'll be far more dangerous things than sharing a glass with a Professor!'

"Lead on then, sir."

He peered around the room. He was thankful for having won this battle, a front where he could finally claim victory. But the room did not greet him as warmly as he would've liked. Every man and woman around him was another front, another struggle to be fought, to victory or defeat.

But that was for another day.

There was no more levity, no more silver-haired beauty to guide him.

Just the crucible.

Unlike Fleur, Professor Slughorn's quarters were not adjoined with his office as he had assumed. And was in fact, a fair distance away on the opposite side of the sixth floor. The entire way, Slughorn regaled Harry with one tale or another; of his days as Head of Slytherin House, or as an avid Potions Pioneer.

The man stumbled around on the journey as if he hadn't yet gained his sea legs, but in time, they made it to his office. Also distinctly dissimilar from Fleur's office was the lack of a door. Instead, it was protected by an expansive portrait, on its canvas was a siren that sat upon a rock at sea, flowing red hair falling down her shoulders into the waters below.

"Lily." The Professor spoke solemnly.

The portrait giggled for a moment before swinging open.

"For your mother, you see Harry? Was the portrait with the greatest likeness to her I could find." He explained.

"It's charming sir." Harry commented, staring at the back of the portrait.

"Indeed." The man said with a wide smile, "I bought her myself, quite the find."

Details seemed to whirl by as he followed the man. Soon, the pair were sitting in an ornate antechamber. With a flick of his wand, he uncorked the bottle and the red liquid was exposed to air once as it had been hours ago.

Harry conjured two glasses for them, pouring a generous serving for the man and a more conservative one for himself.

This is it.

"Here you are, sir." Harry passed him the glass, clinking the Professors with his own. The man wore a jovial expression at the prospect of tasting the fine liquid.

Slughorn gave it an experimental sniff before he bought it to his lips and Harry's heart stilled in his chest.

"Quite a vintage." He praised and then gulped half the glass in a single swig, decorum long since forgotten.

"Does it taste good, sir?" Harry asked.

"Oh, yes, quite good." He agreed, having another sip.

A vein in the man's neck seemed to bulge after a few more tentative sips. His gooseberry eyes swivelled from the glass to Harry, and his face portrayed the shock he clearly felt.

"Harry." He gasped, peering into his glass.

"Sir, did you ever know Tom Riddle?"

"Please." He pleaded, and Harry wavered.

He's fighting it.

No matter how much I detest him for trying to use me, I'm making a man relive his worst memories.

"Did you ever know Tom Riddle?"

The man paused for a moment.

"Yes." Was Slughorn's simple reply, devoid of emotion.

"Did you teach Tom Riddle about Horcruxes?"


"Did you hide the memory of this from Professor Dumbledore?"



"The stone bowl." He pointed lifelessly, "The one with the fish."

Harry walked over to the corner and peered downwards into the offending object.

The bowl was made of dark marble. Water filled the lower half of it as a bright, alabaster fish swam around, its fins highlighted with light pink.

"Where is it?" Harry asked across the room.

"It's the fish." Slughorn droned. "The fish is the memory."

Harry peered between the man and the fish intently before reaching his hands into the shallow bowl. His hands scooped up the writhing fish, a fish that slowly transformed into a flower as he drew it from the depths.

The flower held the same colouring as the fish once had.

A lily.

He reached gentle fingers upwards towards the centre of the flower and plucked a protruding vial from the centre of the petals.

The memory.

It was a tiny container, meant to meld seamlessly into the flower, but he had recognised the pale milk glass memory swirling within.

He gently placed the lily back down to the water; it broke the tension of the water and soon transformed into the same small fish he'd first seen.

But it did not swim.

Instead, it floundered and sank towards the bottom whilst trying valiantly to propel itself onwards. But it could not. It fell into the dark marble depths, dead, a pang of agony biting into his chest at the sight.

Harry breathed out a hot sigh and turned towards Slughorn who still sat in his chair.

"He's got you wrapped around his finger." The man commented. "You know that?"

The potion has worn off.

"I need you to know I didn't want to do this, sir."

"You outmanoeuvred me, Harry." He praised darkly, "I thought you a fool, as malleable in my hands as the rest. But you were harder than that, I've grown dull in my solitude."


"But everything you've done has been at his behest, every footstep you've ever taken has been intricately composed for you since before your birth."

Harry could've mistaken him as both inebriated and disorientated. Both by the drink and the heavy dose of Veritaserum.

A drunk mind speaks true, I suppose. He mused, I'm unsure if that applies to serial liars and avid socialites.

"Dumbledore isn't manipulating me." Harry said with a tone of finality, "Not anymore."

"Perhaps." Slughorn agreed, "Perhaps not, but you've done this at his design. You cannot hide from the truth."

"What's the truth then?"

"He's not the man you'd ever thought he was." Slughorn announced, "He has never been."

"You lie." Harry said flatly.

"Ask him of his first love. Ask him of his sister."

"I don't care," Harry refuted, "Not one whit."

"Then perhaps you are a fool, Harry." The Professor said, "Be what your mother always imagined you to be - be smart, Harry. I did not accumulate this information to lie, not now. "

"Don't talk about her." Harry snarled, "Not after all this. Not after you plot to put him on that pedestal."

"It was never about light or dark Harry." The man admonished lightly, "The concepts are antiquated, the definitions are blurred. There is only power, Harry. We wanted to change the world."

"You want to tear it apart." He spat, "Sit yourself upon the highest rung to trade favours and people like chattel."

"We only want to change the world for the better." Slughorn reiterated, his voice strained. "A world your mother would've been proud to live in."

"You won't."

"I'm sorry, Harry, I truly am." Slughorn confessed, "The memory - all of it."

"No." Harry shook his head, "I don't think you are."

He's ashamed, but never apologetic.

He retrieved his bottle of wine and returned the cork to its home. He walked briskly from the room. The man made odd noises as Harry left the ante-chamber, they could have been sobs or cries of anger. He didn't know, wouldn't know.

The death of my Mother was all that tempered him. Take that from him and he'd be the same man.

One that did not yet deserve his pity.

He sacrificed men and women to climb the ladder. Now, maybe I've shattered that illusion.

Maybe not.

All he could think of was the small vial hidden in his robes, his hand clutched over it protectively.

And of the withered lily, the fish that had sunk to the depths never to rise again.

Sometimes innocence is the greatest sacrifice of all. Dumbledore's words found a way to mock him, even now.

But who's innocence was sacrificed tonight?

Harry made it to Fleur's quarters as the clock tower signified midnight with a harsh percussion of its bells.

"Do you have it?" She asked quickly.

Harry waved the glass vial containing the memory in front of her, she leapt at him, bringing him into a quick embrace. What had begun as his task, became their task. The hours they'd put into it, the meticulous crafting had come to fruition, giving them a small victory comparative to what lay ahead.

But it gave them hope.

Hope that it should herald more victories, inspire greater acts and close the war soon. It was naive, optimistic and foolish - but it was victory.

"Will you come with me?" Harry asked

Dumbledore's Pensieve had been relocated to her office. The man had thoroughly insisted on such.

Our meetings are over, but he still has one final lesson left to teach me.

Dumbledore could seldom accompany him into the pale world below, so he bestowed the Pensieve elsewhere. It looked of regular size in his colossal office, but titanic in Fleur's much more reserved space.

"Always." She said solemnly.

Slughorn sat in his office, looking much younger and flourishing a full head of hair. He sat at his desk, scratching at missives with an ornate quill.

A quick rap on the door broke him from his work.

"Come in!" He called out, stowing the paper below.

The door opened and beyond it, stood Tom Riddle.

Harry had stood before Tom Riddle enough times to not be perturbed. He'd seen his dark eyes that would one day turn scarlet. Seen his smiles that would one day herald suffering, experienced his mind that would one day succumb to rot.

But this felt akin to none.

"Ah, Tom! Take a seat my boy, what do you need?" Slughorn said happily, clearly pleased to see the boy.

"Professor, I was just here for something purely academic this time."

"Of course, Tom, I daresay your questions are always the most interesting, ask on lad." The younger Slughorn smiled, "I daresay Tiberius and Bob haven't recovered over the last meeting."

They were using him.

They saw in him what they saw in me. He thought grimly, Slughorn needed a centrepiece.

"I was wondering if you'd ever heard of this term?" He sat down, sliding a piece of parchment to the Professor, Harry could clearly see what had written though he didn't need to.


Slughorn seemed like he had been thrown for a loop. "Where did you hear that word, Tom?" He asked harshly, which seemed entirely uncharacteristic of the polite old man.

"I found it in a book, sir, in the Library." Tom explained with a nonchalant shrug, "On the shelves like any other."

"What book Tom?" He asked.

"The Secrets of the Darkest Arts."

Slughorn seemed horrified. "It'd be best to forget you ever read the word, Tom."

"So you know the word, sir?"

"I do, it's proscribed in every country that subscribes to the ICW's charters and ideologies. Very few know of such a word."

"Yet you do?" Tom asked pointedly.

"I do, I learned it purely for its contribution to academia." He explained defensively. "Nothing more, nothing less."

"That's why I want to know sir, you know how I love knowledge." He said, flashing Slughorn a beaming smile that seemed to make the Professor acquiesce. "I've always had ambitions to teach Defence, you know that. How could I defend against that of which I've never heard of?"

Slughorn tapped his quill against the desk in contemplation.

"Soul Jars, artefacts that allow a wizard to circumvent death," Slughorn explained tersely.


"Soul Magic, Blood Magic. Volatile and dangerous, areas of esoterica most wizards would be wise never to delve into." Slughorn continued.

"But not you sir?"

"No, Tom, not I."

"But how does it work?"

Slughorn frowned. "There are few records of it, a sacrifice would be needed of equal importance. It's stated Herpo the Foul committed self-emasculation in order to create one. For immortality strikes the notion of reproduction asunder, to create progeny is to extend your legacy beyond death, which becomes redundant."

"In order to create one?" Tom asked interestingly. "You infer that you could create more than one?"

"In theory, if you had enough items of sacrificial importance, it's more than possible should the arithmancy be sound."

"What about seven?" Tom asked.


Harry had a terrible sense of what was coming and judging by the morbid look on Fleur's face, she did too.

Slughorn pondered for a moment. "I'm unsure of the exact specificity behind the conditions needed. Seven is a number of power, indeed, but requires great power to surmount it. I'm unsure, a ritual in the seventh month, perhaps. The death of a seventh child? It's hard to say."

"So seven is possible?" Tom reiterated.

"I suppose, why the interest in seven Tom?" Slughorn asked, confused.

"Just a random number sir," Tom explained with an incomprehensible glint in his eye. "It was always my favourite number."

Tom stood up from his chair and bid the Professor goodbye, but before the door opened Slughorn called out to the boy once more.

"Tom!" He yelled, "Be sure this conversation stays between us. If you agree to meet with myself and my associates, we may have a more concrete answer."

"Of course sir," He assured, "Our secret."

Harry and Fleur shared a brief look of despair, cut short by the Pensieve ejecting them both.

"Seven!" He gasped when the real air hit his lungs. "He split his soul seven times."

Harry sat on the floor to avoid falling over, catching Fleur as she stumbled alongside him.




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