A Different Kind of War @ajjax
Visions and Vows

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: Visions and Vows

PAIRINGS: Harry/Fleur

RATING: M

A/N: To the long-awaited Fleur POV, Visions and Vows.

Big thanks to everyone who beta'd this chapter and quelled the ongoing stress dream of being mobbed like a crowd who disliked my take on Fleur.

It was equal parts fun and daunting, which is an odd thing for a chapter, certainly a feeling I hadn't experience before. I stressed quite a bit about the portrayal, but we're here now. Was it the correct take? Only the reader knows. Was quite fearful that it wouldn't make the distance to my usual ten-thousand words, now it's my longest chapter to date. So... hooray?

We're closing in on the fun bits, certainly the bits I was most excited to write so the pressure is definitely on.

Be sure to review, otherwise, as always, stay safe and enjoy!

Sleep had evaded Fleur Delacour.

A mixture of many things halted her from closing her eyes and drifting away. The weakening after-effects of wines both white and red, the adrenaline of conversations past and dances held in crowded rooms.

But there's more to it, isn't there?

Even she had trouble convincing herself as her back sank into the soft mattress. Her thoughts were plagued by a single number, the thoughts of war and a raven-haired, emerald-eyed man that had occupied her mind more often than not.

In times like this, her thoughts were little solace to her. She'd stare at the roof and count manicured cobbles until she could find sleep, recite complex chants and rituals in her head until her eyelids would droop.

But no matter how hard she tried, how long she fought, sleep would not come to her this night.

She had debated the merits of foregoing sleep entirely. Perhaps there were paintings to gaze upon, wards to cast or sunrises to observe. But any distraction she could muster would only hold her interest for a short time. Reality had a penchant for returning with a greater force the longer she tried to subvert it.

This is my reality.

Unfamiliar stone walls that had become the norm, a bed that would never truly be her own, a fiancé she hadn't seen for months nor heard from in weeks and a war that raged across the country.

And another - The Chosen One, The Boy-Who-Lived.

He is all of those things and none of them. She thought, Perhaps that's what makes me feel so vulnerable.

There was no need to mince words - Fleur Delacour was confused.

It was a state of affairs she was woefully inexperienced with. Life had always been a simple affair for her - it either made way for her or she overcame it.

But this was a challenge unlike any she had ever faced, one that didn't succumb to her nor one she could overcome alone. She could beguile herself into believing her thoughts were about the war, but not even she was that naive.

She wasn't just confused; she was conflicted.

She shed her outer robe and threw it across the room, fluttering harmlessly against the wall. It smelt of smoke and wine; the scents were a reminder she could do without.

She stood from her bed, grabbed her wand and walked through the open door to her desk. The air was frigid against her skin, and the warm blankets of her bed called a Siren's song to her. She ignored it, a flick of her wand lit the small candles placed on the chandelier, returning some warmth to the room.

She shifted through the letters on her desk. Most were from Gabrielle, some she had been too busy to reply to in time, others that had accumulated over her time at Hogwarts. She fished a piece of parchment from the drawer and began clearing her work surface.

Then, she crossed a letter she had desperately tried to forget.

She hadn't wanted to open it, so she didn't. She had already held it up to the flames and read the words within, or those she could make out, at least. Kind words to placate her, apologies to soothe her, but they were false platitudes. She often debated the merits of such a letter finding its way in the fire.

Everything truly was confusing.

She weighed the oddly heavy envelope in her hands, running her fingers over the red wax seal made in haste. She could peel it open and read the contents; all it would take would be a healthy dose of courage.

Courage that she had in spades but refused to harness.

Not this time.

I am Fleur Delacour, and I am worth more than half-truths and belated apologies.

She jolted in surprise at a sudden noise. A harsh knock at her door that roused her from her thoughts, she placed the letter back amongst the pile and turned to the door.

At first, she might've assumed it to be Harry, but the hour was too early, and the rap at her door too loud. Her wand fell into the centre of her palm once again, and she crept towards the door. At this hour, it could be anyone - with the castle in such a state she was unwilling to leave anything to the harsh mistress of chance.

Homenum Revelio.

The bright, radiant light seeped through the wood of the door and encircled the occupant on the other side.

One single person.

She often cursed her Veela heritage whenever some piercing noise sent her head aching or when it sent suitors to her door. But now it almost seemed like an ill-fated boon - she could hear ragged breaths from beyond her door and the fist raising to strike again.

She clutched her wand all the tighter and threw the door open.

Whatever she had expected on the other side was not what she found.

"Headmaster?" She questioned, shock evident in her tone.

The ragged breaths had belonged to Albus Dumbledore, and there was a fire beneath his blue eyes that looked conspicuously of panic.

"There's little time." He spoke quickly and breathlessly, "Come quickly."

He fled back down the corridor she assumed he arrived from. For a man of his age, he moved with surprising agility and swiftness that seemed out of place on his ostensibly frail form. Despite there being almost a century between them and not a great deal of height difference, Fleur found herself having to jog to level herself with the Headmaster's long strides.

At first, she couldn't be sure of their destination but the further they dashed through the hallowed halls of Hogwarts, the more apparent their goal became.

The Hospital Wing.

She had never known the man to act with such urgency. She couldn't fathom why she had been summoned either. Her questions that hoped to clarify the situation battered against his back although he never halted to answer any of them.

There was a coldness that grew beneath her breast, an uneasiness that multiplied tenfold with every step taken behind the older man.

It has to be Harry.

It wasn't an egregious deduction to make. She had wanted to entertain other avenues - someone else had been hurt, a ward stone had failed perhaps, another issue with the paintings even. Her optimism bordered on naivety - beggared the imagination.

The last time she had seen Harry was when he had left to see Dumbledore. The same man was leading her across the school towards the Hospital Wing.

Harry was injured, and if his reaction was indicative of his status, it was grievous.

Harry had said the man's magic was waning, all but gone but he obviously held some command over it still. The usually troublesome grand staircase moved at his behest, never once attempting to deposit them where they didn't intend to go.

The rest of the journey was a blur, but soon enough her tired eyes were greeted by the harsh alabaster-white of the Hospital Wing, where Fleur was welcomed to the sight she'd been dreading.

Harry was splayed out on a bed in the corner of the wing, both Snape and Pomfrey waving their wands over his prone form with quick movements. Even from across the room, she could smell the burnt ozone of esoteric magics, taste the bitter copper of blood on her tongue.

She stepped forward, against her better senses to get a better look. His body was decorated in runes she didn't recognise, pulsing under Snape's wand as he burnt channels into the skin of his arms and chest. A garish wound crossed the top of his left shoulder and into his chest, that wept watery-blood while the Matron tried desperately to close it.

Though it was not the unfamiliar, pulsing runes nor the weeping wound that drew her attention, not the plethora of embedded splinters or his blackened palm either.

His once bright, vibrant, emerald eyes had dulled and stared towards the roof with a vacant gaze. If not for Snape and Pomfrey's frantic work, she'd have assumed him dead already.

Anything that had once made him, him, had fled. There was none of the strength she had come to admire, nor the tenacity that was always alight in them. There was nothing.

Merely empty eyes, in an empty gaze.

That broke her heart more than she cared to admit.

The older man attempted to place a hand on her shoulder. Whether it was to console her, placate her or avert her gaze, she wasn't sure. She shrugged his hand away and continued staring.

She should've turned away when she had the chance, but she was bound to the spot by the sight. Snape's dark hair was plastered with sweat, and Pomfrey was still in her nightgown. The pair exerted enough magic between them that she could feel the air pressure fluctuate with each spell and rune.

How?

She turned to the Headmaster only when she felt she had seen enough.

"How?" She verbalised her thoughts, her demanding tone saturated with the sudden anger she felt. "I last saw him heading to your Office to see you about Horcruxes." Even in her anger, she knew to whisper the final word.

But she was wroth.

A surge of anger the likes of which she'd never felt before. She had assumed him safe in the Headmaster's hands, thought him capable of returning him without harm - she had little cause to think any differently.

Now he's returned to me not six hours later as little more than a corpse.

There was the recess of her that wanted to allow her rage to spew forth, an urge to let her avian side reign supreme, to invite a full change inside the wing here.

It would've been taboo to invite a full transformation outside of battle, but her thoughts were not on Veela conventions.

She was above mindless anger, and she was very interested in what the Headmaster had to say.

"There was one in the castle. One that had lain dormant for near fifty years." He made an attempt to ease her, his tone soft and soothing, though it did little to simmer her anger. "I had assumed it to be as safe as it would ever be, but I did not appear to understand the specificity behind his interactions with Voldemort fully."

He turned back to face the hospital bed, breaking her gaze.

"Had he been anyone else, he would have perished in that room. But now? Now I simply do not know."

There was seldom ever confusion in the Headmaster's voice. Never when they had their infrequent discussions, not during staff meetings nor when he addressed the school. Yet it was present here, a shock, but not one that possessed the ability to override her anger.

If he had been anyone else, they would've died. She thought darkly, Would've died because you rested the world upon the shoulders of a young man.

"Is that your best attempt to calm me?" She bit back at his words furiously. "That what happened tonight is all perfectly fine? That your ignorance is some kind of protection against the fact you almost killed him?"

"You needn't remind me of my errors, Miss Delacour." He said sadly. "I'm more than well aware of them."

"Of course." She replied sharply, "I think the fact that Harry lies dying mere meters away from you should be reminder enough of your errors."

Dumbledore winced at her tone and words, but Fleur couldn't find it in herself to care. Her words felt foul on her tongue, possibilities she didn't want to entertain and thoughts best left without life breathed into them.

She watched as the Matron continued to desperately try and seal the wound on his chest as Snape's wand, laden with bright light, carved new channels into his legs. His entire body was soon to be marred with such odd runic inscriptions. He looked less the Harry Potter she knew and more a canvas destined for an artist's scrawls.

"It was imperative we gained a greater understanding of the connection between them." He tried again, the same grandfatherly voice that sent her anger flaring, "It was an ill-made decision, I have no reservations about admitting such, but it was not one I made without consideration. It was as controlled a setting as we could have hoped for."

"Our definitions of controlled certainly differ." She scoffed. "Harry lies on a bed, fighting for his life, and you have the sense of mind to call that controlled?"

"Tell me, Miss Delacour, what would have been a preferable situation?" Any attempts to appease her were foregone with his words.

Even amidst her anger, she could see why Albus Dumbledore had been as feared as he had. Despite his waning magic and life, he commanded respect.

Beneath the grandfatherly appearance, steel.

"That he had been in combat against the forces of Voldemort when such an incident occurred?" The man continued, "That he be stranded without support? It pains me more than you could ever know that I'm as much to blame for him being here as Voldemort. But I did not make such a choice lightly."

"I'd prefer he didn't have to fight a war that everyone thrust upon him." She returned, her voice full of scorn, "I'd prefer that I didn't have to fear that he might not wake from that bed."

"Such is a luxury we cannot afford." He explained, his voice becoming progressively more passive, "Time is not our ally in the wars to come and will seldom ever count itself amongst them. We needed to seize the opportunity while it remained ripe. We needed to prove it could be done again. In that same vein, Harry needed to know he could do it."

You needed him to carry the banner while you failed him.

She could have bitten back, traded more jabs to try and gain ground. Instead, she cast another glance back to desperate attempts to halt the curses on Harry.

"What happened to him? Truly?" There was no anger in her voice; she couldn't muster any. Not while she tried desperately to make contact with the familiar yet vacant eyes.

"A Welsh curse, we believe." Dumbledore explained, "One that stops the victim's blood from coagulating. Archaic, definitely not from the last five centuries and usually applied to blades. But it is not his physical injuries that cause us to worry. His very magic rejects its own presence. A war within him, if you will. The Horcrux incited something volatile within him."

"Will he live?"

Those were the words she'd dreaded asking. Even as they left her lips, she didn't wish to hear the answer, let alone ponder the question any further.

The man took a moment to ponder, he toyed with the knot in his beard, seemed acutely interested in Snape's work and then finally back to her.

It was a trick she knew well enough.

He's trying to find eloquent words for a situation that's anything but.

"The odds are undecided, a coin yet to land." He began after his moments of contemplation, "Time heals many wounds, with diligent care and investigation into the impetus it could be days, weeks, months even. It is a case without precedent, one not written in any piece of history known to me."

He'll survive, she assured herself. The sorrowful eyes of the Headmaster weren't conducive to her hope, however.

"An elegant wording of a simple truth."

"Indeed." He agreed, "I cannot be sure he shall survive. His ability to overcome adversity, however, cannot be underestimated in these dire times."

"Is there nothing we can do?"

"The odds shall resolve themselves, as they always do. A victor shall be decided, but not by us - never by us."

"Have you told his friends yet?" Fleur asked, her mind drifting away to how the Weasley children would react.

"When he is stabilised in the later morn, I shall tell them myself." He said solemnly, "But they don't need to see him like this."

But I do, I needed to see the costs of it all - what this war will truly do.

But his hollow words remained in her ears.

We cannot be sure he'll survive.

"You know," Her voice was cold, an affront to the white-hot fire bubbling within her. "He'd always tell me tales of how he knew the great and wise Albus Dumbledore. He told me how good you were to him, about what you taught him. But everything that has ever befallen him has happened on your watch, at your hands. Teaching him spells and giving him private lessons won't ever change that."

It was bitter, callous even. The Headmaster winced at her words, and the urge to press harder was great. She had wanted to hurt him as he'd hurt Harry, as he'd hurt her.

"As I said, Miss Delacour," He said, his voice weighed down with sorrow, "You need not remind me. I'm well aware of what I've cost him over the years. But I have never once subjected him to danger without cause. Everything he's ever done within these walls and out has been in service to a singular purpose."

"The death of the Dark Lord," Fleur answered.

"A correct assumption." The man agreed, nodding his head idly, "But not one made by you alone, I trust he's told you much?"

"Harry had told me nothing." She denied.

"Of all the times to play this game, there has seldom been a worse time." He chided gently.

"Odd that you, out of everyone, feel inclined to push for the truth." She bit back, "You want the truth? I know it all. About how he sees things that aren't there, of how he can hear his voice, the prophecy, the Horcruxes. All. Of. It."

Everything you thrust upon him.

"Perhaps not all of it." Dumbledore disagreed, "But enough to grasp at the true importance of it all."

"Importance?" She said, "Maybe that's the crux of it all. You were a god amongst men. You could've stopped it all before it began. Yet, you relied upon him, since he was eleven. All because Albus Dumbledore believed him to be important."

"An interesting point of view," He congratulated, "But by the time any of us realised the Dark Lord's goals, his strength was too great for a simple confrontation. His reach too great to lop the head off the serpent and be done with it. Harry is the greatest hope we have now."

"There were waves of wizards poised to eliminate him." She said, "An entire country at your heels, the Aurors, Hitwizards - everyone. Yet it is upon him to carry the banner that you dropped years ago."

"Take a seat, Miss Delacour, and I shall tell you a tale." He said, dragging a pair of chairs from the bed adjacent to Harry. The act was mundane, one that was done without his wand and for good reason.

He doesn't wish to expel any magic unnecessarily.

"I hardly think now's the time for stories." She said, "I'd much rather the truth."

"I believe, Miss Delacour, that once you comprehend the importance of what I try and tell you, you'll be quite surprised." He wagered to her softly. "Perhaps a different mouth may convince you of such, where Harry's failed."

She was unsure of where he was going but chose to oblige the man and took the proffered seat. They had drawn heavy, white curtains around the only occupied bed in the wing.

"Many years ago, I had received a message from a woman, a seer, requesting a position at Hogwarts. As far as I was concerned at the time, Divination was a fickle subject, one I certainly put little stock into as a viable barometer for the future. But due to her heritage and my desire to give her a fair chance, I accepted. We spoke in Hogsmeade, and despite my scepticism, she bore a true prophecy, of the Dark Lord's equal, born as the seventh month died to those who thrice defied him."

"Harry told me the same." She pointed out, "I choose to believe neither. Trances are easy to fake without the correct eyes observing, even easier to find meanings in false words."

"Do you believe me a fool to be tricked so easily?"

"I did not." She said, "But after all this? I'm uncertain."

"There is truth to the Prophecy. I once tried to circumvent it, thought myself above the words of magic, of gods, of whatever entity gifted such a vision. Yet, here we are."

"And here you claimed you didn't put much stock into Divination," Fleur remarked with a dry tone.

"I did not." He confirmed in turn, "But the interview was infiltrated by a follower of Voldemort who heard but a piece of the prophecy and returned the knowledge to him. Hence, I took steps to protect the families in question regardless of the truth in the matter. I foresaw Voldemort's inability to let supposed opposition, no matter how nonsensical, remain alive."

"You and Voldemort both acted upon the words of the woman."

A war because two men couldn't let the words of a false seer lie.

"We did. And I mourned when I heard of the loss of the Potters at his hands, the destruction of the Longbottom's psyche at the hands of his followers. But from the ashes emerged Harry Potter, scarred as he was - but healthy. The destruction at Godric's Hollow had not reached him; it had left a boy only a year old unharmed where it had felled the Dark Lord. Only then did I know there was truth to her words - that the scar wasn't happenstance, his survival wasn't chance."

"Or you simply played off one another, believing there was a higher purpose to it all."

Her resolve had once felt ironclad, her words strong, and her thoughts unwavering.

But even I can see some truth in his words.

Her defiance felt simply for the sake of it, her reluctance to believe him bordered on impudence. Part of her still wanted to disagree. Her anger had yearned to make it so.

"Your scepticism is healthy." He assured her, "There had not been a prophetic vision of such magnitude since long before even I was born. The Hall of Prophecies is overflowing with predictions, both terrible and benevolent, bound never to come true. This, regrettably, is not one of them. Be it destiny or magic, the truth of what she saw is inescapable."

"So you believe Harry is the key to defeating Voldemort?"

"It is no idle belief," Dumbledore said, his face had aged more in their discussion than in all the months she had been at Hogwarts. "The moniker of 'The Chosen One' is no falsehood. Harry Potter has always been our singular hope."

She cast her eyes over to the thick curtains that hid flashes of magic behind them.

And she simply pondered.

She was not as simple-minded to persist in her refusal, nor had she been naive enough to discount the truth in Harry's words initially.

Confirmation is vastly different from suspicion.

She had traded the four walls of her room, dark stone for a lighter white.

But this is still my reality.

"Why are you telling me this?" Fleur asked sceptically, "You're not doing it out of some latent sense that you need to make peace with the world."

"No." He agreed, "I've long since foregone any pretence of being able to mend my mistakes with the little time I have left. But first, I believe it is my turn to level a question at you?"

"I suppose." She allowed.

"What shall you do?" He asked, his tone as unclear as the question.

"You may have to be less vague, Headmaster."

"Your tenure at Hogwarts will be finished in a matter of months and open warfare brews on the horizon. What shall you do?"

She gazed towards the curtains as if she could see who lay beyond.

"I promised I would help him." She said simply.

"Is that so?" Dumbledore, "The world truly is a terrible place, one would forgive you for seeking shelter while the opportunity was ripe."

"Do you think so little of me?" Her eyes narrowed, and the wick of anger inside her relit.

"The tide raises all ships, or it sinks them. But the tide is rising, Miss Delacour, and fleeing for higher ground is as safe a strategy as any."

"I gave him my word."

That was the only response she could give and the only answer the man required.

"Then, perhaps I have an offer for you." He nodded, a small smile gracing his aged features, "Tell me, what do you know of the Order of the Phoenix?"

"Very little," She shrugged, "The Weasleys weren't exactly candid about their other lines of work."

He rubbed his hands together, softly, gingerly taking care not to aggravate his glove.

"It was a resistance group I formed amidst the Global Wizarding War. We fought against Grindelwald and pushed him back to Germany. Now, we fight Voldemort in the hopes we can accomplish such a goal again, this time on the homefront. And you, Miss Delacour, would be a valuable member should you wish to hear my proposition."

"You want my assistance? Why?"

"Because you've chosen to involve yourself in this war as much as anyone. You know the war is not simply waged with the crude matter of spells and open fields - that there is a greater war beyond it all." She had thought the man finished and went to open her mouth to respond.

"And," He continued, "Because I very much believe he will need you in the battles to come."

His final words had stilled her response at her lips.

"Why me?" She questioned, "Why not his friends?"

"While Mister Weasley and Miss Granger are in their own right, quite admirable and capable. They remain children still, and I would not commit any child to this war if I didn't have to."

"Still, why not one of the other members of your Order?" She probed again. "I'm sure you have enough capable members."

"Because at the heart of it all, you are quite talented. But your reputation as an exemplary witch aside, Harry cares for you, quite possibly more than he shall ever care to admit. And you, Fleur Delacour, care for him greatly in turn."

His words seemed neutral, no different from idle conversation. Though it was not the words he spoke that made their impact but the words he hadn't. The ones he let linger behind his lips, the simple truth left unsaid.

A truth that she seldom thought on, one best left unacted upon.

"I'm engaged, Headmaster." She said scandalously, though she could feel small tendrils of heat creep into her cheeks. "He's a friend."

I am engaged, she echoed.

"I, too, once loved another, Miss Delacour. Of course, I'm quite a bit older now. But not so old as to forget the signs - the stolen glances and clasped hands. As it so happens, I possess the same heart that once fell in love and a pair of eyes to match. A fool could see you care for him, more than you should, but care for him nonetheless."

"Don't." She pleaded softly. "Not now."

"It is not my intention to compel you where I ought not to." Dumbledore eased, "My wish is only to perhaps interject some joy where it cannot be found. Happiness has been my goal for him, for any of my students or staff, including you. If I may leave this world knowing I was not as remiss in that goal as I once was, the next great adventure will seem all the more welcoming for it."

He sat back in his chair and nodded, leaving her alone with her thoughts.

I am engaged.

But even she, in all her conviction, could not stop her thoughts from drifting.

"If I accept your offer, what does that mean for me?" She asked, if only to put distance between her and her errant thoughts.

"You'll protect him - guide him." Dumbledore explained, "Harry is powerful and within the not so distant future, will present a serious threat to the Dark Lord. But for now, he's a young man caught amidst a war without full training or understanding. It is an insurmountable task he faces, one he cannot confront alone."

"To what end would I protect him?"

"Ideally, until the Dark Lord is defeated, though such an instance may seem unlikely for some time. From the moment I discovered what would befall us, I've tested the boy. One day, he will lead the Order of the Phoenix. At that time, I would see you released from any obligations you felt like you owed to us."

"You intend to thrust him into your position?"

"There are men and men." Dumbledore nodded, "Harry Potter is one of the latter, and for that very reason, my legacy shall live on within him."

He took to his feet and drifted towards the occupied bed, their view still obfuscated by curtains.

"Of course, you have no obligation to accept my offer. You could, as I suggested, flee to safer ground and live your life in peace." He turned to her, his blue eyes locking with hers. "But I don't believe Fleur Delacour is that kind of woman, no?"

Their eyes remained locked, and her lips remained closed.

"Do you accept my invitation, Miss Delacour?" He urged softly.

Could I really leave them alone?

She had a life here, one that could end at any moment just by being who she was.

Her entire life she had been encircled in the arms of bigotry by men made from the same stitch as Voldemort. Beauxbatons had been sure to stress the importance of Grindelwald - of empires falling and darkness rising.

Could I make a difference here?

Could I abandon him?

She knew the answer long before she thought of the question. She refused to entertain any notions of fleeing.

But would I ever be allowed back home?

Could she accept the fact that they might label her a warmonger? Accept the fact her home might cease to be such if she threatened to bring war to France?

I have a life here.

Her eyes lingered back to the curtains, her piercing gaze attempting to see beyond.

I have all I need. She resolved.

"I accept." The conviction in her voice hadn't wavered.

My choice is made.

"Very well, Miss Delacour." The man turned to her. His face was no longer the aged man that it once was. It flickered away as if it had all been a facade. It hadn't been, but the change was no less jarring.

Instead, it was of a man determined - there was much to do and little time to do it.

"Are you ready for your first mission as a member of the Order of the Phoenix?"

She nodded, her acceptance heralded much yet to come as the man smiled approvingly.

Time will tell if I've made the right choice.

The curtains had been drawn back, Snape and Pomfrey's work had been finished. They lingered at his sides and she tried desperately to make contact with his eyes again.

No, she amended, Perhaps time doesn't need to tell me.

Blizzards were an unfortunate yet common occurrence in the highlands surrounding Hogwarts. Ambient magic of such strength could play such a role in ensuring the weather didn't calm, but it seemed even the sky sensed something amiss in the world.

As did she.

If I had known what he was going to assign me to, I might've had the good sense to wait another day. She mused, wrapping the scarf around her neck tighter to ease the cold.

The path to Hogsmeade had been shrouded with the ivory-white of the snowstorm. The calamity of frost, however, didn't seem to perturb them enough to charm the path against such a feat of weather. Without the thestral-drawn carriages for protection or any form of apparition while within the wards, they'd even shut down the Floo Network for protection. Hence, she was relegated to trekking through the snow on foot.

Merde, she swore under her breath, I hate the cold.

The cold made her feel confined, a sense of suppression that permeated the air and made her feel weak. It sapped at her magic, trying desperately to keep the cold from snuffing out a core of fire-made flesh.

Lethargy bit at her legs, her heavy-set boots displacing snow with a soft crunch with every footfall. She felt sluggish and the long walk to Hogsmeade did little to soothe such a feeling.

Warming charms could only do so much. The inside of her robes was hot against her torso, her extremities, however, weren't as fortunate. Only the dream of mulled wine and a warm fire to recuperate in front of spurred each foot forward.

And the memory of emerald eyes and what such a journey would mean for him.

She had long since passed the barren quidditch pitch. The snowfall made flying difficult, the wind might've been an impediment, but a broom could've carried her across the distance with ease had it not been for the cold tempest.

Minutes passed as the repetitive trudge droned on. Soon enough she had crested a final hill and Hogsmeade Village came into view. A five-minute journey by carriage had morphed into twenty, but she had finally made it.

It was far paler than she remembered, bleak even. Snow formed thick blankets over the taverns, houses and shops. They'd have seemed invisible if not for billowing chimneys and windows shimmering with light beyond them.

Even the children that had graced the town last time she had been there had retreated inside. The scar on her hand tingled as if it knew her thoughts drifted to the last time she'd been there.

She walked through that same square, one that had not too long ago been tainted with cursed blood, where she had lain exhausted in the cold snow despite the pain.

It was a bittersweet memory, more the former than the latter. But they'd saved the life of Katie Bell, even if she had failed her, she survived. She had made her contribution and then Harry had made his, in both blood and words.

Her destination soon came into view as she rounded another corner. Dervish and Banges hadn't changed since she had last seen it. Although the last time was far more jovial, it had been graced with friendship and laughter, even against what came after.

Now it was marred with the sourness of duty.

The green of the shop had perhaps faded a little more, the gold writing obscured by snow, but it remained relatively similar.

She reached forward and grasped the cold door handle in a gloved hand, wiggling it gently to open the heavy frame. The top of the door connected with the mounted bell, letting a harsh noise resound throughout the room, alerting the owners to a new customer.

She brushed the accumulated layer of snow from her cloak, a flick of her rosewood wand vanished it before it could melt into the wooden floorboards. It was far more pleasant inside, wavering candles and permanent heating enchantments saw to that, though she was reluctant to shed her outermost layers just yet.

Soon, a woman had emerged from the door behind the counter. She was middle-aged, a homely face with eyes as warm as the room, her tied-back hair bobbed as she seemed surprised at Fleur's appearance at their shop.

"Welcome dearie." She offered to Fleur, "I didn't think anyone would be brave enough to venture out into this storm."

"Not bravery," She amended for the woman, shooting a disdain, sidelong glance out the obfuscated window to the frost beyond.

"Are you in search of anything in particular?" The woman probed, "Or just here to browse?"

"Professor Dumbledore sent me." Fleur explained, " He informed me that there was something here he needed."

"You'll be needing my Husband then, I suppose." She explained, she returned back to behind the counter, she lifted a hatch that seemed to be mounted there and yelled down into it.

"Hen!" She cried, "I need you!"

The woman busied herself behind the counter while whoever was below made their way to ascend. Fleur grabbed the fingers of her gloves and freed her hands from their warm embrace. Her hands remained cold, the scarred skin of her palm had turned purple with the cold.

She rubbed warm into it with idle fingers as the man in question began to rise from the depths. It was the same older man that had served them those weeks ago. Although he seemed different on closer inspection, his face was an odd shade of red and his hands were covered in lantern oil.

"Miss Delacour? A pleasure." He greeted politely, extending his hand.

Fleur took it gently, even covered in oil "Have we met?"

"Not officially, we've never been introduced of course. But I remember you from the papers and the day of those unpleasantries." He stepped back and bowed his head, "Henley Dervish, proprietor of Dervish and Banges."

He's refined his courtesies. She mused, a smile threatening to peek at her lips at the man's display.

He had mastered his introduction, from the tone of his voice and the wide grin - both spoke of a man who had rehearsed and executed such a show countless times.

"Professor Dumbledore said you had something for him?" She explained to the genial man, "He asked that I come and gather it."

"Gather it?" He seemed surprised. "Oh! That bit of difficulty? Well, I..." His voice was stiff and his eyes fluttered back to the hole of which he emerged from.

"Best follow me then." He finished, anxiety was clear on his face. A flick of his wand sent the lock of the entrance into position with a sharp click and the shutter of the windows sailing downwards.

Fleur followed him behind the counter and down the creaking stairs below the trap door. It was a derelict cellar, small and full of surplus stock but little else. He crossed behind a pillar that had a lantern mounted upon it. He quickly waved his wand with an incantation even she couldn't hear.

A portion of the stone wall dissolved into nothing and revealed a rough-cut tunnel behind it.

An illusion.

Such a charm was beyond a regular wizard as far as knowledge went, but he merely walked through the gap and continued down the tunnel, beckoning her to follow. The walls were lit with antique torches and the walls were lined with worn cobbles.

"Did the Headmaster tell you exactly what he wanted?" He asked, taking a torch out of the bracket.

"I'm here investigating a series of artefacts, historically significant." She explained, "He's a scholar at heart, of course, I'm merely apprenticing for him."

"Albus has always enjoyed the intricacies of life." The man commented, ducking below a low-hanging torch, "Though I don't possess any such artefacts."

"Oh?" Fleur prompted, "Do you have any information on where I could possibly search for them?"

"I don't, no," He shook his head, "But I know someone that does."

They rounded a sharp corner and found themselves against a dull, wrought iron door.

"I'd prepare yourself, Miss Delacour, I don't believe this will be a pleasant sight." The man tapped his wand against the frame and threw his weight into a heave that opened the door.

Not pleasant indeed.

She was immediately greeted with the stench of bile and excrement that ignited a rumbling within her stomach. However, it was the lone occupant of the room that was her foremost concern.

A man was laid out on a bloodstained cot, his body emaciated and his face pale and gaunt. Each breath he took seemed to grate his throat upon exiting, turning into a vicious wheeze.

His right arm was severed in a crude amputation and a gnarled wooden replacement was fitted where a limb once resided. But his eyes flickered around the room aimlessly, as emerald equivalents had days ago.

But these possessed no colour, they were a dull, milky white.

"What is this?" She demanded harshly, rounding on the shopkeeper.

"Not what, Miss Delacour," The man corrected politely, "But who - Caractacus Burke."

This is it. She nodded, There was never a Horcrux here, only a remnant of one's past.

"What's wrong with him?" She asked the man, kneeling to get a better look at him.

"Many things, sadly." The man said, moving to stand beside her. "He's well past his first century, older than the Headmaster even. He's blind, maimed and a werewolf. He came to the shop years ago, decades now. He was a friend of my father see? I couldn't turn him away."

That would explain the scars. She could spot a few of them towards the man's neck.

The man was jittery, looking for approval for a choice he clearly hadn't accepted himself.

"Of course." Fleur agreed softly, "Keep going, please."

"He used to own Borgin and Burkes before a deal went sour. Borgin put a wand in his back and he wound up a werewolf somewhere along the way. The Headmaster set up a room for him down here, said he couldn't do much but let a friend live in peace."

Crafty. She nodded, Keeping him safe under the guise of friendship.

"Did the Headmaster ever try and speak to him?" Fleur asked, trying to piece together a blurry image. "Ever try and ask him any questions?"

"Plenty." Dervish nodded, "But Caractus detests him, well, what he can remember anyway. Never answered the man's questions, barely even wanted to see him half the time."

"Would you have any idea why?"

Dervish shrugged, "Was never my place to ask, though he could scarcely stand being in the same room as him."

"Even after the Headmaster helped him?" Fleur probed.

"Even then, he's a bit stubborn." The shopkeeper smiled gently, clearly reminiscing over some memory or another.

"Do you think he'll answer my questions?" Fleur questioned, "Or am I wasting my time like the Headmaster?"

"Oh, he'll talk." Dervish assured, "He's a bit of an old letch, but he's not a bad man, see for yourself."

The prone man in question sat up gingerly. The set of scars that marred his wrinkled visage, crossing his face at odd angles became all the more visible.

No. She realised, It was no beast that made the wounds, it was a blade.

Somewhere along the line, he had been tortured.

"Hen?" He rasped. "Is that you lad?"

"It's me 'Cus," Dervish responded, reaching out to take his hand, "Someone is here to see you."

"Not that cunt Borgin?" He asked, his frail voice was alight with rage, the likes of which she had never heard.

"No, not Borgin."

The other shopkeep. She assumed.

"Edmund?" He tried again, his voice full of hope.

"He's long dead 'Cus. She's a friend of Albus Dumbledore. You remember Albus, don't you?" He prompted gently.

"Was he the alcoholic?"

"No, that was Odgen."

"Oh." He nodded, "Wonder if that fat bastard will ever give me what he owes me."

"Not likely." Dervish smiled, he gave the impression of a man who'd had an identical conversation with the man many times over. "Keep your hopes up though, you might get it yet."

She knew that name well enough from Slughorn's party. Tiberius Odgen, heir to the firewhisky fortune.

"The shop hand from the twenties?" He struggled

"That was Hawthorne and he's dead too, remember the one who defeated Grindelwald?" He asked.

It was as if a light had switched on behind the man's dark white eyes. "How could I ever forget? The old prick. What does he want?"

Dervish gestured for Fleur to come closer. "Careful," He cautioned. "The full moon was only last night. He might lash out, try to be wary."

Fleur leaned down next to the bed, the man despite not being able to see must have sensed her presence, he propped himself back up against his pillow.

"Yes?" He rasped expectedly.

"Professor Dumbledore said you might know something about some artefacts. They, at some point, passed through your hands."

"My, you sound like a pretty one." He snarled lecherously, his elongated canines still visible from his transformation the night before. However, Fleur refused to rise to his bait.

The man waited for a response but didn't get one. He sighed before acquiescing.

"You'd have to be more specific, lass, I traded dark artefacts for the better part of my life and my memory is not so good these days." He explained, "Only thing that helps these days is some of Odgen's fancy stuff."

"A Dagger." She explained, "Goblin-forged, the hilt had been covered in Runespoor skin and basilisk ivory. The crossguard was shaped like a basilisk too. A one-of-a-kind piece traded sometime in the forties."

"Sure it wasn't a sword?" He tried. "I might've traded something goblin-forged, but it wasn't a dagger. Everyone wants a decent one of those, you see, easy to conceal 'round Knockturn. Hitwizards will check you for a wand, never a blade.'

"No, definitely a dagger." She reiterated, "Emblazoned with Slytherin's crest."

"Sounds like a decent piece." He agreed, "Borgin might've dealt with it, but I can't remember anything about it."

"What about a locket, perhaps?" She inquired again, "Gold, magical, had emeralds inlaid in the form of a serpent, same time as the dagger."

The man seemed to ponder for a moment. "I bought one, from a woman, around the time you're asking."

"Did it have a decorative snake on the surface?" She pushed, "Could it not be opened?"

"I can't remember." He shook his head.

"What of the woman?" She pushed again, her voice harsher, "Is she still alive?"

"I don't know," He admitted through gritted teeth.

"Try and remember, please." Fleur urged.

The man continued gritting his teeth, grinding them against each other with a soft crack. Threadbare sheets found themselves balled in his fists and his eyelids fluttered over his milky eyes.

"What's wrong 'Cus?" Dervish asked from behind Fleur, concerned.

"It hurts Hen." The frail man pleaded, "Make it stop. Please!"

"What's wrong with him!" Dervish asked frantically, leaning beside Fleur.

Maledicta Reperio.

A soft pulse of sable light left her wand and enveloped the old man who had been reduced to shivers.

He hasn't obliviated. Fleur observed, Something is eating away at his mind.

It had to have been a sinister curse, one that atrophied his mind slowly to forget something he shouldn't have. It sole purpose hadn't been to merely silence the man, but to tear him apart. He had angered someone greatly, and she had an inkling of who.

She hadn't got the information she required, but she had probed the right wound.

He wasn't meant to live this long. Fleur deduced. The lycanthropy might be helping him fight the curse.

"He's been cursed." She explained bluntly, "It's localised to only his memories, specifically surrounding what he bought all those years ago."

"He's been cursed?" Dervish whispered aghast while the old man rocked in pain. "Who could've done it?"

Sopor.

She waved her wand and the man went still, pained no longer. Instead, he fell into a deep slumber, flopping against the cot mattress.

"I think you know more than you portray." She countered, "I think you know precisely who cursed him."

"It couldn't be." He refuted passionately, his face decorated with a stubborn look, "He's an old man, for Merlin's sake! What could they want with him?"

"To know the answer to your question would put you in far greater danger," Fleur spoke, her eyes not leaving the man. "I won't subject you to that."

"That's probably for the best." He nodded nervously, "Do you have any idea on what we should do? Does the Headmaster have a plan? Anything?"

His pleading was frantic; the man seemed desperate to be free from it all.

"The continent would be lovely around this time of year." She said offhandedly, "Your patrons would surely accept a small holiday in a time of such turmoil."

"Of course." He agreed vehemently and returned his own gaze to the prone form of the older man. He adopted a position as a mute while he tended to his sweat-laden brow. "I've heard Italy is a sight in the winter."

She nodded and the man gave her a final, anxious smile.

She had left them behind, through the iron door, past the cellar and up the stairs. She bid Dervish's wife farewell and braved the blizzard's icy embrace once more.

The lead had been exhausted and she had not claimed any artefact as she might've hoped.

But she had another now, more avenues to pursue.

Borgin, the shopkeeper.

The Locket.

Ogden, he knew him somewhere along the line. Maybe he can fill in the pieces I cannot.

The hope of mulled wine and fire would have to wait, Hogwarts stood an imposing figure in the distance, even against the shroud of snow.

And I've finally got some answers.

He'd been falling.

He'd been falling for quite some time now.

Truthfully, his feet had never really left the ground. But there was a sense of perpetual motion that lingered - like he was consistently being launched into a Pensieve memory. Though there was no milk glass barrier, no silver wisp of memory, just foreign ground he felt he'd never reach.

Compared to falling, the vision didn't seem so foreign a sensation any longer.

I suppose I've become accustomed to it.

At the very least, the control of his body was his own. Though, there was no pain in his chest as there had once been, no feeling of aggravating raw flesh every time he took a breath.

I was at Hogwarts.

But he was at Hogwarts no longer.

Tapestries were threadbare, artisan-crafted furniture cracked and rusted, the windows faded to dark green, obfuscating the sunlight from coming in and bathing the house in a sickly glow. It was exactly how he remembered it.

He took a few steps forward; it all felt familiar.

Grimmauld Place.

The same Cimmerian surroundings that his Godfather had detested with every fibre of his being. Flagrant displays of wealth to lord their superiority, crazed elves, odd ornaments and screeching portraits.

It was not hard to hate the derelict townhouse as much as Sirius did.

But why am I here?

His feet walked towards the main stairwell, his head swivelling to and fro to take note of the doors on his adjacents.

S.O.B

Sirius Orion Black.

It was a plaque sat upon his door that hadn't been upon his last visit. Glittering gold that caught Harry's eye with ease, there was one that adorned every door.

Harry's heart stung at the reminder of his godfather, a remnant of his parents that his feet slowly dragged him away from as he sought to find purpose in the vision.

O.A.B

Orion Arcturus Black.

This one was on the door to Sirius's study, or rather, where his Father's had once been.

What is the point to all of this?

He continued past the rest of the doors; some had been graced with names where others had not.

Walburga Irma Black, the owner of the hellish screeches they'd become accustomed to while they had occupied the house.

Harry wasn't sure if purebloods sleeping apart was common practice, but given Sirius's home life, it seemed odd but he'd been more than candid about how they'd treated him.

Alphard Pollux Black - Sirius's favourite Uncle.

This is not the Grimmauld Place I knew.

He continued past the named doors and descended the central stairwell, finding his way to the dining hall. He stood, his hand lingering over the ornate handle as he debated twisting it.

Anything beyond that door was something he'd have to face either way. He grabbed and twisted quickly.

It was hot, terribly hot.

Harry could feel it blister the flesh of his palm under the intense heat, but he could no longer free his grasp from the metal.

It had lulled him in, the false sense of security within his own mind. Now, upon contact with the door, his body freed itself of autonomy with nary a protest.

The dining room was not the one that he had known. It was darker, elongated with a fireplace crackling in the centre.

A myriad of robed figures sat at their seats and knelt as he entered the room. A passing window reflected a glimmer of his face.

His cheeks were hollow as if he was starving, but his skin was not too sickly. Lanky hair still sat on his head, on the precipice of falling out, but his eyes were bright crimson and slit-pupiled as if blood pooled welled within them.

He was not the Tom Riddle he'd seen in the shade of the diary, nor the serpentine visage that returned that night in the graveyard. It was almost as if he was in limbo between the two, some sort of vile equilibrium he had made a poor attempt to balance.

"Have you done as I had bid?" Harry asked, his voice wavering close to the demonic drawl he had become accustomed to. Yet, a shred of humanity remained in his tone.

"Aye, M'lord." One of his followers rose. He was fresh-faced, carefully manicured facial hair covering his chin.

Antonin Dolohov. The familiar thought that wasn't his own informed in his head - one of the most capable of my followers since the death of Abraxas.

"Was it successful?" He growled and the effect of his voice was immediately palpable, both on the faces of his followers and the air between them.

"Aye." Dolohov spoke again, "We set the forests alight from Braemar to Longmorn, they were flushed out and put down."

"The Highland pack is finished, I presume?"

"Scattered." Another voice, long, elegant blonde hair fell past his shoulders. "Routed. We've slain enough that they fled towards England with their tails between their legs."

Lucius, son of Abraxas. He killed his father as did his father before him and inherited his fortune, but none of the steel Abraxas had within him.

"I take it Romulus Whitehall is dead then?" He folded his hands in front of him, his wand curved, caramel wand dangling from his fingertips menacingly.

His knuckles flexed as they found their position threaded amongst each other, even now his flesh seemed more akin to scales.

He had inundated himself with delusions of grandeur, of propelling himself above me by uttering a single secret.

"No, my Lord, He fled with a handful of stragglers."

The anger rose and his crimson eyes flared, the caramel wand dipped further into his palm.

"Who claims leadership of their pack?"

"Fenrir Greyback, my Lord." Dolovoh explained carefully, "A commoner, a savage. But an effective one."

"Shall he be more receptive to our persuasions then Whitehall was?"

"Most definitely, my Lord. His pack has an inclination for brutality against wizard-kind." Lucius explained, "If we supply an avenue for their rage, they'll be valuable allies. They've already sought to bloody themselves against the remnants of their old pack."

Once, they had been reticent to believe the Werewolves would be valuable tools. The death of Gilford and Harwell disavowed them of such questioning inclinations.

"Antonin, extend an invitation to this Greyback, I wish to meet." He ordered. "Inform him the head of Whitehall shall grant him a place within my circle and all the flesh he requires."

"Yes, M'lord," The man appeared to be working up the courage to speak further. "It also appears Caractacus Burke escaped with Whitehall."

A brief look of fury passed over his gaunt features, but as soon as it appeared, it was struck from his face.

"You needn't worry about Burke. I shall deal with him alone." He stated calmly, "If there is nothing further, continue with our plan."

Set the Scottish Highlands alight, herd our foes into a single position.

"Of course, My Lord." A new voice spoke, it seemed joyful, a disparity that became immediately apparent in the cold and silent atmosphere of the room.

Harry didn't need to think hard nor far to place the voice to a face.

Bellatrix, Daughter of Cygnus. The sickly thoughts made a revelation already realised all the more apparent.

Her violet eyes were bright against the darkened dining room, her face not lined with the remnants of Azkaban and the corruption of dark magic.

In another life, she might've been beautiful.

But he knew she was already tainted with the dogma of Voldemort and the House of Black.

Antonin may be better with a wand, but his superiority in combat against her is fleeting. She is loyalty incarnate, a true daughter of Black.

Death Eaters began to pile out of the room with haste at his behest. As they passed, he could make out a few of the others, albeit they were quite a bit younger.

Rabastan, Rodolphus, Crabbe, Goyle, Jugson, Avery

He had seen them the night of the Department of Mysteries, saw their snarling pictures in the Daily Prophet. They too looked healthier, somewhat, the hard years of Azkaban were erased from their features.

But even from this distance, he could see the rot had set in.

"Not you, Regulus," He said quietly, "I've need of you."

"Of course, my Lord." Harry's head turned briefly, caught by his sudden words.

He seemed similar to Sirius in many ways. Shorter, but more robust, his face and features longer and his hair short. He'd seen a similar picture when they'd gone to retrieve Slughorn, one of the Slytherin Quidditch team that sat proudly upon his mantle.

He died in this war. Harry thought He couldn't have been much older than this when he died either.

Bellatrix lingered behind him, and he seemed to let her.

She must need something or know what's to be asked.

"I require your elf." He demanded simply, Regulus' dark grey eyes betrayed his surprise and he turned to summon the requested elf.

He was not privy to the rest of the conversation as he saw a house-elf apparate into view.

Kreacher?

It could've been him, or one of the other elves whose head now remained in Grimmauld Place, adorning their mantle.

Though he had enough information, a brief glimpse of bat-like, drooped ears and familiar bloodshot eyes.

He could still feel a lingering rage within him, born from the failure of his followers. Voldemort was wrath and yet, he had not let the wrath break out. It had neither manifested itself across his cold, serpentine features nor within the caramel wand that laid just below his fingertips.

He has something more important on his mind.

He had been shown this vision in particular, for a reason, it couldn't have been mere chance. He wasn't able to fathom the intent of why he had seen it, save for Dumbledore's words.

Maybe he was correct, Maybe I can see the Horcruxes.

Perhaps he had seen something significant.

Caractus Burke

Romulus Whitehall

Kreacher

Bellatrix Lestrange

They were the links to whatever they had tried to show him, likely knew whatever Voldemort had wanted to keep on check with the murder of his foes.

He had no further time to ponder his situation, there was the suppressing darkness, and the scenery faded.

Then, he began falling again.

Fleur found herself in the Hospital Wing yet again.

Between his underwear and the thick, white sheet that covered his lower torso, there was nothing to protect his modesty. They'd had the good sense to close his open eyes, but they had left the ghastly, purple wound across his chest on display.

She had bought a parchment and quill, whenever she dared she would peek closer at the runes flaring on his chest. Looking beneath the cloth that covered his lower body to get a brief glimpse of what lay beneath.

But, at the very least, he appeared at peace.

She had never been much of an artist, but she'd sketch them on the piece parchment, off to scour the library for answers to the questions neither Snape, Pomfrey nor Dumbledore would answer truthfully.

The quill scribbled against the coarse surface of the parchment with a soft, grating noise. It was one of the few idle distractions that worked. Fleur could fool herself into thinking her scrawls were a step closer to figuring out the riddle.

She traced a sickle-shaped rune that pulsed with every beat of his heart from memory. She had seen why her father had loved drawing so, even if they were both terrible at it.

It had been nearly a week since Harry had found his home behind the curtained section of the Wing. Most of the children of Hogwarts had long since gone home, and Christmas was on the close approach.

Yet, she remained.

She could not bear the thought of a return to the Burrow. To leave him to fend for himself against such a curse, to leave him alone. She simply sat at his bedside, observing the horribly slow beat of his heart and rise of his chest.

Ronald and Hermione had wanted to stay too, Ginevra as well. But both Dumbledore and Molly had come to an agreement that seeing him in such a state would not be beneficial for them.

They had left with teary-eyed and hushed goodbyes and soon returned to the Burrow. They had made vows to his still figure that they'd return to see him, shooting her sharp glances while she had sat there.

I got to stay where they didn't.

But their glares didn't perturb her. She formed an idle conversation where possible with them.

Hermione and Ginevra really do detest me.

While their hatred wasn't warranted, nor the blame they'd inevitably try to shift on her for some part she didn't play.

But, they were hurting.

As was Fleur. She would never claim to be friends with the pair, but they did not deserve to hurt alone.

Even I can admit that.

True to his word, Dumbledore had come in days ago to carve a litany of his own runes. The majority of which were still in a dialect incomprehensible to Fleur. But he himself charged them, despite his magic reserves being nigh depleted. The rune scheme was flowing up and down his body with a red, periodic glow that looked vile to Fleur.

She didn't dare touch him, the runic circle they cast to ensure the energy he leaked off wasn't fatal had contained the worst of the backlash. She had stuck her head in once, to merely ensure he was breathing, and the experience wasn't one she would care to repeat. The air inside was corrosive and foul.

It stung her skin and made her feel filthy, filling her mouth with an acrid taste and her head with a dull ache. The runes seemed to hiss at anyone that braved their barrier as if they were guarding him against some evil.

The Matron came every few hours if only to voice the unneeded confirmation that he was still unresponsive - as if his prone form wasn't enough of an indication.

Between such visits and her sketches, she had taken a series of books with her. The first a romance novel that her mother had ensured she took.

Ever the hopeless romantic, Fleur mused, peering at the cover.

She had made a few, forcible efforts to try and read beyond the first page, but had produced no results. Every attempt to turn a page was met by a soft breath she couldn't block out, a glimmer of sunlight that caught her eye or rustling from the Nurse's office.

She had stowed it away for good. Even if she had pursued the tale, Fleur doubted she'd care for whatever nonsensical romance she'd find inside.

Life is rarely so simple.

"Hello, Miss Delacour." An older voice spoke from behind her.

She stowed her parchment and quill below her chair and turned to face the approaching visitor. As expected, Albus Dumbledore had arrived, bedecked in outlandish robes and his single glove.

"I take it nothing has changed?" He asked, stepping forward to border the markings on the floor.

She merely shook her head, not willing to voice the reality.

The Headmaster drew his wand and braved the runic circle. He tapped at one of the runes at the bottom of Harry's breastbone and a scheme that covered his body flared with new life. Fleur could feel the magic leak from the barrier, but she couldn't comprehend any of it and didn't dare to ask the Headmaster for fear of what she may find.

He withdrew from the circle looking paler and weaker. Fleur thought that he looked little and less the legend that had vanquished Grindelwald this past week and more a frail, ageing man crushed under the weight of his mistakes.

A punishment not entirely undeserved.

The runes pulsed with new vibrance and the deceptive signs of hope crossed his body, the twitching of eyelids, bated breath, attempt to roll over. They'd been happening for days, and each time nothing had ever arisen, a cyclical series of events that only ever resulted in her hope being crushed.

"Has anything new arisen?" She asked. It was the same question most days, an attempt to find hope in the man's visits.

"My research, no matter how expansive, has yet to yield results." He said, his soothing tone did not assuage her fears at all. "But every day is a step forward to a cure. You can take solace in such a small miracle."

No, I can't.

"Have you established what the next course of action for the Order shall be?" She asked quietly.

"We shall continue our investigation of areas that may produce information on the whereabouts of any other artefacts." He explained, "I depart for the continent in a matter of days, I shall seek the counsel of a friend there who may have answers where my research has failed."

She merely nodded, not wanting to prolong the conversation any further.

She didn't want to talk to anyone at the moment.

He still waited for a while, merely observing Harry. The Matron too came later and cast her diagnostic spells and then invited the Headmaster into her chamber to converse on his status as they always did.

Beyond my ears, she scoffed, As if I can't be trusted.

She cast a glance towards Harry, leaning forward in her chair.

I shouldn't be.

She shouldn't be. But Dumbledore's words had rung true, a truth she had been avoiding for quite some time.

I'm engaged. She tried.

To a partner who has been home for days but can seldom escape the clutches of the Goblins to visit me.

It was a war between her rational mind and her emotions, one she'd been having for an age. A battle brought to the forefront the minute she had entered the Hospital Wing all those days ago.

I shouldn't be. She repeated. But I have.

I've fallen for Harry Potter.

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