A Different Kind of War @ajjax
Dead Ink

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: Dead Ink

PAIRINGS: Harry/Fleur

RATING: M

A/N: Hey all, welcome to Chapter Sixteen - Dead Ink.

Big thanks, as always, to my Beta Readers, x102reddragon, NerdDragonVoid and Triage and also a big thank you to Honorverse, who helped me format a few ideas for this chapter.

Usually, I like to keep a bit of brevity with my A/N's but I have somewhat of an announcement to make.

Over the past three months, I've surprised even myself, managing to write 170k words, even if they weren't all from scratch has been a huge personal victory and a learning experience that I've come to thoroughly enjoy. However, in moving forward I need to ensure my vision for the remainder of the story is ironclad and hence, I shall be taking a break from the story as I finish writing my outline in its entirety.

This is not me abandoning my story, to be perfectly clear. As my first work, I want to ensure wherever I decide to go, that I can actually finish it. I shall be on both my discord and the main Harry / Fleur (both of which can be found on my profile.) to provide regular updates on my progress.

The hiatus should not last too long, ideally, a month but I have no knowledge of where life will lead me. I do feel comfortable, however, in saying that as far as the plan has been written, the story encompasses five separate acts. None quite as long as the first act and they'll vary somewhat in length, as will chapters moving forward as I attempt to move to more concise, effective storytelling, though I'm excited for the future.

So thank you, for being a part of the journey and I'll see you when I'm ready to head to the finish line.

There he was again.

It had been a familiar sight, though not as he might have expected. His dreams invited no taunting inferno, no flame to highlight black-cloaked foes, no howls to send his blood cold and no Fleur to make the ordeal somewhat bearable.

The Ministry of Magic was a familiar sight. A peacock blue roof that imitated the sky above, dark wooden floors that his feet resounded across quietly and a steady influx of civil servants, bounding from gilded fireplaces to complete their day.

Men and women emerged from the floo network behind him, clad in the scarlet robes of the Auror Corps. They did their best to blend in amongst the growing crowd. A feat that, if accomplished, would not last for long.

Their advance was unimpeded, bolstered by the ignorance of the witches and wizards around him. His cloak hid crimson eyes and pale visage as he weaved through waves of rushing workers.

This was a strike at the homefront - no one expected enemies within their walls nor a gate breached by deceit.

That same ignorance will be their undoing.

The atrium still wore the damage of a skirmish long since passed, a colossal encounter that felt more akin to an eternity than the less than a year it had been.

The floor was still scored in some places by mismatched colours, pockmarked by magic so foul that even months later, the wood still bore the scars. The fountain was reconstructed in a way that made it seem haphazard, rather than divert more galleons into the piece they let it waste away into squalor.

Soon enough, he stood before the booth of the guard, dispensing visitor's badges with a disinterested expression.

"Wand." The man requested. He was young, or at least, his voice sounded of youth.

A caramel wand peeked through the gap in his booth as the wizard went to grab it, before being stilled by a dull, yellow spell.

Imperio.

To the guard's credit, his mental resistance was not non-existent. Whatever training the Hitwizard Academy gave him was sufficient enough to not fall immediately to the urge, but such an effort was futile.

His mind was flooded with yet another flurry of thoughts that were not his own, the man's bewilderment at the situation came to the forefront of his own mind.

What is happening?

Even internally, the man's voice seemed frantic. His iris flashed with a dull yellow hue before the curse settled.

Open the gate and allow us passage, demand the hitwizards report to the atrium.

The man complied, the barrier before them shimmered out of existence, and a message spell of some variety shot from his wand.

Red-robes fluttered through the opening, flooding in behind him. He took only fifteen, a token force by any definition.

His forces had a task of their own. Deception would fell his foes where numbers could not.

Hitwizards came to investigate at their colleague's request, brown-robes forming ranks trying to discern the disturbance that brought them there.

The yew fell into his hand as scarlet robed imposters turned to engage the coming foes. He lifted his hands, one armed with his wand and the other, a clenched grip. His body twisted viciously in an arc, his intent soon becoming apparent.

The Fountain of Magical Brethren melted at his wands behest, melted gold and steel swirling, dripping slag as it coalesced into a crude ball.

The atrium was soon alight with the crossing of bright curses and the cries of flesh torn.

Fight.

The guard from the booth rose from his position, joining his followers in their unyielding barrage of unsuspecting foes.

The molten metal of the dissolved statue flew towards the Hitwizards, a twist of his wand encasing them in a red-hot grasp, levitating the witches and wizards to sit atop the plinth of gold that once stood for equality.

Then, the alarms went off.

Caterwauling charms rang out, blasting an ear-screeching noise throughout the Ministry that could not be ignored. Cracks of apparition augmented the cacophony of wailing that sounded. Battle was near, that thought alone thrilled him.

There was a detente once the Hitwizards had fallen. Shock as they grappled to come to terms with the sudden situation.

Until a rallying cry rang out.

The ivory wand sang in his hand, weaving an intoxicating tale as brown cloaked men and women rushed to the forefront, wands in hand. They were little more than a nuisance, bees against the swarm, an ant to a human - a gnat to a tyrant.

The first man stepped forward, courage alight in his eyes. It mattered little; his bravado served only to hasten his demise. Black ropes shot from his wand, heavy and hardened by magic. Within seconds the man choked his final breath through a purple face turning black, the ropes constricting that final breath.

Another rushed through the breach, although this time a woman and noticeably more apprehensive about her chances than her predecessor. Although, she still had enough courage to step forward amidst the battle.

She barely had the time to lift her wand, an almost haphazard flick of his wand followed her gallantry. Her body split into two, falling with a slowness that seemed almost false, another flick of his wand sent the body careening backwards into the lines of his enemies.

That continued for some time, like a practised ebb and flow of brutality. Each man and woman that stood to the line was refuted, sent backwards with a spell that made the one prior look tame. For suffocation and bisecting relented to boiling blood and white-hot pain that tore through his enemies with all the enthusiasm of a giddy child.

Soon, they stopped standing, stopped rushing forward. Soon, he was through their lines, the final survivors held in a destitute room, wearing signs of fatigue and battle. Upturned tables and furniture lined the room as they hid behind them.

A single flourish of his wand turned those same fortifications to ash and soon, the remaining men and women in blue cloaks and robes were beaten.

"Bow."

It was a simple command that carried a resonance that beget obedience, that demanded servitude. Some went to their knees, but they numbered few. He had to applaud their tenacity, he supposed. They held their convictions close; many men talked of bravery, but he found it a pitiful concept for old men to encourage others to do their bidding.

He cared not for bravery, only obedience.

"Bow!"

His second command was unlike the first, he did not command, he forced. Rage lit his nerve endings alight, power thrummed through his muscles. There was a euphoria born from his command of the weak.

With a twist of his wand, they all fell to their knees. The air above them becoming oppressive enough to force them down, like slaves. He held their position with his magic for a fleeting moment, then released. Eager to see who would remain in their servitude.

He stilled briefly, awaiting the more courageous amongst them to stand.

So one did.

A man wearing what looked to be four decades, his brown beard flecked with grey, and his cheeks blemished with wear and judging from his eyes, a man who at some point, had seen war. There was a tension in his posture like he was a snake looking to strike for prey, he was anything but prey, a tension borne from combat, of looking death down. His eyes almost stared through him, a steely gaze that may have perturbed lesser men.

He was no lesser man.

"We shall never kneel to things like you." He said gruffly, rolling his shoulders back.

Harry smirked, it was an almost comedic affair.

"Take solace knowing you die a braver death than most."

He did not applaud the bravery, but his willingness earned him a quick end.

Another twirl of his wand and the room flared green if only briefly and the man stilled, his steely gaze falling still before he followed suit.

The man had seen war. Now he would see no more, war or otherwise.

The body contacted the floor with a soft thud, a foreign voice once again making itself known.

This is my boon to you, Harry Potter, a gift of great importance. To stand is to fall, to rise, is to be put down and to resist, is to be conquered.

Let it never be uttered that I am not a kind Lord.

Harry rose from an uneasy slumber, shooting upwards into a sitting position. Where his veins had been alight with rage and euphoria only moments ago, now they echoed only pain. His efforts to rise were stifled in their infancy, a strangled gasp and a back roaring in protest halted his attempt.

"Be gentle." A quiet voice intoned, the cloak having slipped off her from Harry's movement. "You need to rest."

It was dark, dark enough that he couldn't make out her face although he knew well enough who it was.

"No." He croaked, trying to rise again. "Voldemort-"

"Will have to wait for the moment." She cut him off, a soft hand pushing him back down to the hard rock below.

"The Ministry… attacked."

She seemed to still in her effort to push him down for a moment before that same gentle hand pushed him to lay flat on his back.

The vertebrae creaked and ground against one another. He didn't have the strength to argue as the urge to fall back under the spell of slumber became apparent.

Then, she sang.

It was a soft melody, one that slowly eased him of his aches. A harmony that didn't seem legible in his fatigued state.

I wonder if this is how she charmed the dragon. Harry thought wearily, his eyes wavering in their battle to remain open.

This time, there was no Ministry, no Voldemort. There was no fiery maw or burning home.

Nought but a vision of silver hair and blue eyes, and a soft calling that invited him to sleep.

His eyes fluttered open, and his raw throat breathed in the frigid morning air, alongside an unfamiliar tickling sensation.

His glasses remained on his face, the lenses cracked and the frames warped - but they allowed him to retain some semblance of vision.

He looked down to the head of platinum hair that was currently occupying most of his face.

His arm was curled over her chest tightly, the cool silk of the cloak draped over them. He'd have liked to relish in the contact, but they remained injured, their world alight and fleeing for their lives.

He found less pleasure in the union of skin than he would've liked.

It took him a moment to break from the confines that his body had shifted to. He extricated his arm from her own and after a brief moment to let the pain simmer and die, he shifted his entire body to flop back onto the stone floor.

The sudden contact sent the roaring pain through his nerves again; he let out a sharp hiss of pain at the sudden contact. In hindsight, it would've been advantageous to just wake Fleur and save himself the pain, seeing as his movement had her twist from her slumber, wand in hand with a shimmering tip.

Her eyes widened slightly at seeing him move, a moment of silence passed over them that seemed to linger a moment too long while they studied each other.

Scratches littered her beautiful visage, not deep enough to detract from her beauty nor scar, but ones that remained unhealed.

Their eyes made contact, and he desperately wanted to give some assurances - anything, but none came to his aid. His mouth opened, then closed without anything rising from it.

She seemed to sense his apprehension, shared it even.

He continued his struggle to find the words to set the world to right, but how did one heal a wound they could not sew?

"Hey." He croaked, a lame attempt to ease the worry that bunched itself at her brow, his voice still rough from the smoke inhaled and the spells shouted.

So that's what we're going to go with.

Despite his poor attempt, her lips curled upwards slight. Even if such a smile did not reach her eyes, it was a start.

"How do you feel?" Fleur asked tenderly.

Terrible, he was tempted to say but settled for something tamer.

"Sore, but alright." He offered, "How do I look?"

"Not as good as you once did." She said with a modicum of amusement lacing her voice, "What shall Harry Potter ever do without his looks?"

"You'll have to be good looking enough for both of us, I suppose."

"That might be a challenge, even for a Veela." Her voice wavered on the last word, a sign that the facade of normalcy was just that.

He looked around gingerly, careful not to disturb the sensitive bones in his neck.

"I might just stay here then."

He was gifted with another small smile in return.

He turned his neck back to true, however, this time the bones creaked like a door that lacked oil, enough to reignite the pain on the compressed nerve endings and send him wincing once more. Two warm and gentle hands reached up to his face, then to his neck.

"Would you like me to try and heal it?" Fleur asked softly.

"Yes, please." He returned, not feeling gallant enough to nod his head.

Her rosewood wand was procured once more, switching his torn shirt for some gravel off to the side, scattered rocks falling around his person harmlessly.

"What happened to you?" Fleur whispered, her voice aghast and thick with emotion, her eyes shimmering in the low-light of the cave. "Harry."

He dared to agitate his sore back in order to see what had her fearful, at the end of his gaze was a sight enough to make his throat twinge with anxiety.

His skin was no longer pale, whereas once upon a time Ron ribbed him about his similarities with a vampire, such a joke would fall short.

His torso was littered with broken blood vessels, motley patches of bruises and discoloured skin painted his body in an ill imitation of camouflage. Pieces of wood, some as wide as his little finger were embedded in his body, coating their surroundings with a thin layer of watery blood that had refused to dry - but were not mortal.

"The wood, was it from the trees?" Fleur asked, her voice quiet as she peered over his navel.

"No." He shook his head, struggling for an apt way to bring up the events of the Burrow.

He felt a coward. He danced around the subject, fearful of having it confirmed to him. The Weasleys could be dead.

And he, Harry Potter, had killed someone.

It was him, or us.

That was a thought he had entertained countless times since it had happened. He had more at stake than morality. Had he died, a chance to defeat Voldemort would have died with him.

Perhaps war does make monsters of us all.

Though, he did not feel a monster in that moment, just a boy. A boy who knew a sad truth - he could not cling to morality when there was more at stake than himself, could not shield himself from the horrors at his doorstep.

Maybe my innocence died with Slughorn.

Maybe it died at the Burrow.

Regardless of the answer, he knew the truth of what was needed in war, knew that the toll the wind spoke to him would have to be paid.

But there would be time to ponder the price, time to deal with the tragedy that surrounded them. The Ministry and the Burrow could wait, cowering in an unfamiliar cave seemed neither time not place.

She stilled for a moment, trapped in her own thoughts as he was before her wand touched his tender chest.

"Accio." Fleur incanted softly, one of the wooden splinters freeing itself from the confines of his skin. Each retrieved shard was sent sprawling behind her with another flick. Each piece removed opened a small wound, a channel from which the watery blood flowed free once more in pale rivulets.

"Conrigo Lacrimam."

Gentle power pooled against his skin, a cool sensation against torn flesh. The small wound seemed to fight against the pulsing blue light of the spell.

The curse, Harry realised. Thankfully, the sable scar on his chest had remained intact, not torn by their nocturnal battle.

That was a small miracle he could appreciate.

Fleur continued her attempt, the wound continued its resistance and shrank, but did not close. Another spell shrank it further, and the third sealed it entirely, leaving bright red skin where the wound once was.

"Does it hurt?" Fleur asked, tracing the skin gently with her wand.

"No." He lied, the stinging sensation only abating slightly.

She cocked her head and placed a finger against the wound, pressing down gently but enough to elicit a grimace in pain.

He met her eyes, a stern frown and an arched, elegant brow met his gaze.

"Doesn't hurt?" She reiterated, Harry offered no answer in response.

Her stern glare morphed to a slight smile then relented into a giggle. Despite his own injuries, he joined her, a smile that reached her eyes was enough to forget the lances of stinging pain.

Soon the musical laughter died down, and she began healing lacerations and punctures in earnest, casting the same spell thrice on each wound before ensuring it would not break. After the wounds were healed, broken blood vessels and bruises were next.

Soft spells and warm spells abated the pain of most of the discoloured skin, the lighter shades returning to the normalcy of the rest of the skin and the darker shifting towards the former.

"How does it look?" He questioned quietly, now laying on his chest on the cold floor of the cave.

She began a small chant, pressing her wand gently on each individual vertebrae, ascending every thirty seconds or so. A radiant heat began to pulse at each bone as if to coax them back to their positions.

"It doesn't look amazing." She said at his prompting. "But it's not terrible, you've cracked something."

"That's vague." Harry noted dryly, "Do you think you can heal it?"

Her chant finished, and her wand lingered over a specific spot.

"Can you?" He asked again, her silence letting his mind run.

"It'll hurt." Fleur finally answered, "I've never performed the charm before."

It's either waste away in a cave or take a chance.

"I'll yell." Harry returned.

"I wouldn't recommend that."

"I suppose crying will have to do," Harry japed nervously.

She tapped the bones in the centre of his back this time. She seemed to be tracing some pattern that prickled his skin as she drew, then, the wand lifted.

"Spina recta."

The two words elicited a pain far worse than extracting the splinters. His shoulder blades arched backwards, and his chest puffed out, frozen in place to stop him from aggravating the nerve endings as his spine returned to true.

After only a few crucial seconds, he returned to the cold grasp of the stone beneath him, his back striking the rocky surface with a soft thud.

But instead of the pain he had been feeling, there was only the sharp cold of the ground beneath him.

"Are you okay?" She asked worriedly, the levity of their previous conversation long forgotten.

"Better, thank you," Harry said, thankful for the reprieve.

"It's not a permanent solution, Harry." Fleur offered as he rolled his shoulders. "With your other injuries adding up, we need to get somewhere safe."

With my injuries adding up. Harry echoed internally. I was a day out of the hospital wing before I needed to go back.

This is a pace I can't keep up forever.

He sat up to his full height, the pain in his back fading to nothing. Daylight shone from outside the narrow cave, illuminating its depths with ease. He snatched his shirt from where the switching spell had deposited it, the old fabric decorated with a plethora of holes and scorch marks.

His hand instinctively fell to his belt, reaching for a wand. Instead, his pocket was filled with only shards and a bright, red feather.

"Fleur," Harry called, drawing her attention from the entrance, "Could you please…" A gesture to the torn shirt explained his call.

The loss of his wand was a vulnerability he was not ready for, nor one he accepted with open arms.

And I don't know why.

He'd never heard of a wand shattering, not without snapping it or using it while broken.

"Of course," Fleur responded, turning around to face him.

"Necto." She said firmly, tapping his shirt.

Threads emerged from the tears and burns to mend the wounded cotton. He soon threw the shirt over his head, confident that all the holes were remedied, a second spell returned his glasses to right. He gave his shoulders and neck an experimental roll, ensuring there were no further kinks before he turned to Fleur.

She seemed to return her gaze to the entrance, lost in thought as if her eyes tried to decipher something.

But it was not idle thought she was lost in.

Memories. Harry recognised, he'd seen a similar look on Dumbledore's face often enough. She's lost in her memories.

He gave a little frown at her, not that she noticed.

"Are you okay?" Now, it was Harry's turn to ask. "Fleur?"

That seemed to break through her stupor.

"Fine." She offered offhandedly, an ill-born attempt to seem more confident than she felt.

Her eyes returned to the entrance, unflinching to the soft breeze that flowed against her face.

"We could talk." Harry offered, his voice barely above a whisper. "If you want to, that is."

"Harry…" She sighed softly, hot breath displacing wisps of dishevelled silver hair.

He'd only just finished counselling himself against dealing with such tragedies at an inopportune time and yet here he was, betraying his own resolution once more.

If it would benefit her, he could manage it.

"You hurt," Harry said, the shimmering behind her ocean eyes and a ragged breath he could hear from across the small distance was indicative enough. "I hurt too."

He extended a hand to her, scarred from that day in the snow.

Harry would never possess the elegance she held in a conversation. Each of her words held a story, a dream hidden amidst her voice that inspired. He could never match her, nor ease her sorrows as he would have liked.

Though it was not words that defined Harry Potter, but actions.

He was a man like any other with his words, but with actions? He stood a head above the rest.

She reached out with her hand to grasp his own, an action that as mundane as it may have seemed, was more than a union of scarred flesh.

Words unspoken that reassured them both that, despite it all, the world was not at its end. That, for the moment, they still had each other in the face of what they might have lost.

And that was enough.

"When we're safe." Fleur resolved quietly, "We'll talk when we're safe."

He gave a small half-smile in response as he allowed her hand to be free from his own. It was a promise that a conversation would indeed come; that was all he needed at the moment.

"What's our plan then?" Harry asked, eager to get their minds back to the matter at hand.

Her gaze had returned to the entrance, peering keenly at something Harry could not yet understand.

Suddenly, a crack.

A pair of Death Eaters emerged in full daylight in the clearing, looking around briefly with their wands drawn.

"Homenum Revelio." One of the cloaked figures cast almost lazily, the glowing white light slinked towards them. Despite having no wand, Harry prepared his injured body best for the fight that would come.

But no fight came.

The spell revealed nothing, falling short at the entrance with a barely visible blue glow.

Wards.

"They've been searching every quarter of an hour." Fleur explained, "Somehow, they know we haven't left the forest."

"How?"

"It's possible it could have been a tracking spell." Fleur said, "I dispelled anything that could have been on us, but they know we had to have been static to remove it."

"For how long?"

Fleur shrugged, "Five hours or so."

"Five hours?" Harry questioned, "How long have we been here?"

"You were unconscious for the better part of a day." Fleur answered, "We can't stay here for much longer, they've been getting closer for hours now. It won't be long before the wards fall to scrutiny if not magic."

"What's our plan then? Apparition?" Harry asked.

Fleur shook her head in response.

"I've already made an attempt, they've put up wards of their own." Fleur said, "If they believe we're still inside them, they won't stop until they've found us. I'm surprised they've yet to set the forest alight."

"What if we get clear of the wards?"

"We'd be able to." Fleur said, "But we can't know where the ward lines are. With enough ward stones with just an Anti-Apparition ward? It could be miles, with no way to key ourselves into them or take them down, we'd have to go on foot."

"Could we apparate directly to Headquarters once we're clear?"

Hogsmeade was the closest he could get to Hogwarts and still too far away. The Burrow was ashes.

Grimmauld Place is all we have.

"If they get close enough to our apparition point, they can follow us." Fleur shook her head, "We'll have to lose them before we head anywhere populated. The Fidelius isn't infallible, if we lead people to Order's Headquarters, there's a chance, however unlikely, that they could uncover it."

"Do you have anything?" Harry asked.

"They shouldn't bother anyone wearing a mask and cloak." Fleur surmised, "If we can take those of the next patrols, we might have a chance of fleeing unharassed."

"Think it'll work?"

"It's not ideal, but it's the only option we have." Fleur assured, "Nothing I can imagine gets us past the patrols, let alone the ward line. As long as we remain inconspicuous, we can make for the ward line."

"I'll take the patrol." Harry announced.

"You're injured." Fleur frowned, "It's best if I do it."

"You'll have to apparate us around the countryside; you need to conserve what strength you have left."

It was not ideal, but it was true. She had already expanded energy healing him, if she was forced to apparate them around the country to lose their pursuers she'd need all the energy she had left.

His forearm still bore the injuries of the Burrow, but Fleur must have tended to his lesser wounds while he was unconscious. Clenching his hand stung, but he would manage.

"Are you so eager to rush into the fray once more?" Fleur asked, "Such an attempt will matter little if your spell lands wide or if they're more vigilant than the last."

"Do you trust me?" Harry asked.

"Of course I do." Fleur said softer than she had previous, "But you're injured, Harry."

"I can do it." Harry assured her, "You need to conserve your energy more than I do."

"Harry." Her voice was still soft, yet shaky.

It did not take hyper intuition to understand the fear that lingered beneath her words.

She doesn't want to lose anyone else.

It was Fleur Delacour once again laid bare.

However implacable she seemed to be, their eyes met, and she relented. Passing her rosewood wand to him.

A final smile was his parting gesture, throwing his invisibility cloak over his shoulders, he crouched from the cave's entryway and awaited the next patrol in the clearing.

The time before their next appearance wasn't long, a swirl and a black cloak coalesced into a pair of figures. He clutched the wand tightly despite the pain and readied himself.

Their feet touched the ground, and Fleur's wand peeked eagerly from the cloak under his guidance.

The wand flared red, as did the ground beneath the rushing spell. One of the Death Eaters made to try and cast the human detecting spell once more but crumpled under the weight of a stunner.

The second was quick enough on their feet to weave out of the way from the second spell that followed.

The attack left the Death Eater surprised enough to allow a short window, Fleur's wand flared to life in his hands once more.

"Mors..!" A female voice screeched before Harry responded, his wand rose the earth in a small wave that sent her sprawling, wand from hand into the same abyss of unconsciousness her partner fell to.

Fleur soon emerged from the cave and followed Harry over to their stunned foes.

"I'll take her." Fleur nodded, pointing to the prone female.

Well, the idea of stripping a female Death Eater isn't exactly appealing.

He walked over to the other Death Eater, shedding him of his outer robe and mask. He threw the blackened cloak over his clothes and peered downwards to the mask.

It was silver, simple etchings on the countenance as if they had been done by a shaky hand and a wand.

He weighed the object in his hand, debating tossing it into the trees.

This felt a challenge of an entirely different magnitude.

But he donned the mask, placing it over his face as cold metal bit at his cheeks.

Fleur had placed the black cloak of the woman over her shoulders. They were roughly the same proportion, so there was little need to resize the cloak, whereas the male had a good few inches over Harry. A few choice charms from Fleur had the cloak sitting relatively near what would've been appropriate.

A brief idea flashed over him. He reached down to pluck the man's wand from his hand. A long, dark, blunt instrument. He gave it an experimental wave and hoped.

Nothing.

Just deathly cold.

He snapped the wand in two, a heartstring peeking out from the core before throwing it towards the cave.

He walked over to the woman, plucking her wand from her hand. It contrasted her partner's in every regard. A petite affair, short and flexible, light ivory crowned with pearl.

Another experimental wave followed.

This time, there was hope. A reaction, if only slight. A gust of wind bellowed from the tip, enough to warrant him keeping it.

It was not as good as his own, but anything was better than an empty hand.

Harry levitated the two across the opening to an area near the cave that they'd be less likely to be seen. He would've liked to ensure they wouldn't be found but time was working against them.

"We've wasted enough time." Fleur said quickly, "This has bought us ten minutes, maybe. We need to go."

That was enough of an impetus for him, he righted his robes, and they chose the direction they had apparated towards, bounding off on foot.

They had been running for a short while, weaving through branches and bounding over fallen logs in search of reprieve.

Far sooner than they would have liked, dark clouds formed in the sky. The same emerald constellation was formed once more, infamous skull and serpent writhing skyward, befouling the world below with its intention.

The bodies have been found.

It made them run all the faster.

The cracks of apparition made themselves known in the foreground, distant enough away not to cause immediate concern, but he didn't want to dwell any longer.

A dull red barrier wasn't far off; the ward line was in reach.

Then a voice called out to them.

A lone Death Eater.

"Oi!" He called out from his position; his level wand raised to the fore as they approached, "What are you lot doing here, Avery said no one out of the wards!"

Harry approached him, "Avery said they might be coming this way." He said succinctly, lowering his voice on the odd chance the Death Eater would recognise it.

His tone felt ironclad, the return seemed to send the cloaked figure into cautious thoughts. If only for a moment their story seemed anything less, it was soon forgotten in favour of the dark mark lingering in the air.

"Shite." The man muttered audibly, turning his back to the pair before he began weaving his wand in some predetermined pattern. His magic having an effect on the ethereal barrier that shimmered with greater intensity at the movements of his wand.

Whatever he seemed to be doing, Fleur took umbrage to the repercussions of it.

She raised her wand and snapped off a stunner to his back; it sent him careening sideways. He seemed to roll for some distance before he passed through the wards that flared brightly at his exit.

"Merde!" Fleur shouted at the sight, before sprinting at the barrier.

She had never sworn. Had the situation been mundane, he might've found the humour in such; instead, he took off after her.

Fleur crossed through the barrier first, Harry tailed shortly behind her.

A flurry of curses shot behind them, impacting the barrier they crossed through mere seconds ago.

"Fumos," Harry whispered, dispersing a cloud of smog behind them, enough to obfuscate the vision of the pursuing Death Eaters.

"Praecuro." He followed, debris moulded together, forming sharpened amalgamations of sticks and rocks before a flick of his wand banished half a dozen objects directly into his foes. Hopefully, the kinetic force would be enough to halt their advance.

He grabbed Fleur's hand, and emerald eyes met ocean blue in a brief glance before a deafening crack sounded and the surroundings rapidly shifted.

First, it was the park in Little Whinging that he'd visited in the Summer.

Fleur must have seen it somehow.

Pulled from his gaze or not, the park was deserted in winter. Fleur's hand still firmly in his own; they ran another ten paces before the scenery changed once more.

He could see a town in the distance as they trudged through foreign snow, they followed a similar tact and ran a short distance before a crack signalled their pursuers were close.

Another apparition brought them to a non-distinct forest that Fleur must've known.

"Incendio." He shouted, the flame charm lighting the debris and foliage of their arrival site alight in an attempt to slow down their foes even further.

Now, he made an attempt of his own.

Deliberation, Determination, Destination.

Apparition lessons weren't scheduled until after the Christmas Holidays, but it was a lesson that would have to go unlearnt.

Deliberation, Determination, Destination. He echoed once more.

He hadn't taken the lesson, but any student of Hogwarts could scarcely go five feet without hearing it when the upper years had their lesson.

Deliberation, Determination, Destination.

With a pull on his core, a thrum of magic within his chest, the suppressive iron band formed around his body. An invisible gap they were forced to slip through as he swirled quickly across the country in another leap.

A beach he had once visited with the Dursleys long ago, shrouded in snow and covered with sharp rocks.

"Harry?" She probed, short of breath.

He didn't bother explaining himself; he wrapped his arm around her midriff and pointed his wand towards the cold sand and snow.

Impello.

The repelling charm forced its way through his battered arm to propel them into the air. The force of such a spell cracked the stolen wand at the seams as it had his own.

His spell had the desired effect, sailing backwards over crashing waves, careening through the cold winter winds with all the force of cannon shot. They had reached the apex of their height within seconds and began plummeting towards the icy ocean below.

Their eyes met briefly again, and another crack sounded out.

With any luck, they wouldn't find them now.

Harry was a novice with apparition, in all his limited experience, no one had deigned to him you retained momentum.

Whether it was inexperience or the norm, they sprawled and skidded down cold, frost-ridden asphalt until the snow acted as enough of a buffer to bring them to a relatively soft halt.

Thankfully, the festivities and heavy snow remained from Christmas day, acting as enough of a deterrent to those who might have been walking the streets.

He rose to his feet, brushing snow from his robe before turning to Fleur, helping her to stand.

"Where are we?" Fleur prompted, brushing frost from her own stolen robes.

The hum of suburbia was soft around them, even in the street the distant roaring of cars and laughter of families was loud in his ears. Even knowing his destination, he peered around to take stock of his surroundings.

Fleur knows about Headquarters, but she must not have been to a meeting yet.

Once the robes were safely hidden, he looked back to the house in front of them, or at the very least, him. It had never occurred to him that she hadn't yet been here, that would cause some problems.

"Follow me," Harry said simply, weaving through the stationary vehicles to step onto the pavement. A few subtle waves of his wand deposited the Death Eater robes and mask behind the wheel of one of the static cars.

Before them was a row of identical buildings, identical copies that spanned the length of the street without fail.

A step towards the building was all it took, a memory of a piece of paper once shown and burnt. Light bricks separated to make way for another, moss-covered walls met clean, clear windows turned laden with grime and finally, a door emerged, the number twelve adorned vividly on the door.

"Grimmauld Place." Fleur surmised, whispering from behind him, sharing a secret they both knew.

Harry merely nodded and stepped towards the door, reaching forward to hover his hand over the ornate handle.

Mere days ago, he had grasped a door handle identical to this and burnt his hand in the process. Now, he reached forward once more to grasp the manicured steel.

But there was no heat, no blistering flesh.

Just cold.

His hand remained on the handle, not willing to twist it just yet and expose himself to whatever truths might lie beyond. But soon enough, even gravity seemed to urge him forward, his hand twisted and the lock receded into its chamber with an audible click.

He pushed the door open and stepped into the house beyond, one he'd seen so recently in an ashen-hued dream.

It was as he remembered it and so very different. There was still the smell of dust and dirt heavy in the air, an aged stench that no charm could dissipate. The house was still dully lit, casting odd shadows throughout the hall.

And there's no Sirius.

Confronting that truth seemed more daunting with each step forward, as did the eerie silence. He strained his ears for any wisp of sound.

But there was none - no chatter he could make out from the dining room, no footsteps from upstairs, even the dogmatic spouting of Walburga Black was absent.

Homenum Revelio.

The pulse of magic left the stolen wand and seemed to seal its fate, the cracked seam split open further, and a braid of white hair became visible.

He could see it pass through floors and walls alike before it struck the wards.

The pulse returned after a few seconds of bated breath. A hope that someone might be able to shed light on the world around them.

But nothing.

"We're alone," Harry confirmed sadly.

"Kreacher!" Harry tried again, in hopes that the ageing elf might hold a piece of the puzzle.

Again, nothing. A mere echo of his voice carried through the hallowed halls of Grimmauld Place before it fell silent.

"The Order isn't here?" Fleur asked.

"No." Harry replied, "Just us."

"Are there any other safe houses they could have fled to?" Fleur continued, "If there were more attacks, maybe they needed to spread out?"

It was a better thought than anything he was entertaining.

Maybe they fought at the Ministry.

"Sirius told me some of the older families sympathised with the Order, let them use their properties." Harry said, continuing his slow advance, "I don't know where any of them could be, though."

Or how to contact them.

Eventually, they reached the junction to ascend the main stairwell or continue to the kitchen.

"Why don't you head upstairs?" Harry suggested, "Try and find a room and get some rest."

Her lips inadvertently quirked at the thought - rest sounded advantageous on all fronts.

Fleur's eyes peered up the staircase and beyond. "What will you do?"

"I'll try and see if there's anything left behind in the kitchen." Hunger had been tickling their stomach for some time. "Then we can talk about what to do next."

If the thought of conversation seemed to perturb her, it did not rise to the forefront. Instead, she turned to depart.

"Be careful!" Harry advised to her retreating form, "There's not much in this house that is strictly friendly."

She swivelled on her feet to turn to him, a look that was decidedly Fleur Delacour sat upon her beautiful visage.

"I'm a curse breaker, Harry." She scoffed, "I have faced threats greater than boggarts and charmed curtains."

Some things never change, Harry smiled, and she continued her journey upwards.

Harry made his way to the kitchen, pressing the door open with a ghastly screech of unoiled hinges. The room lacked light, forcing him to navigate tactilely over countertops and through cupboards.

He dared to reach into one at random, groping around aimlessly to procure a loaf of bread, barely protected by preservation charms.

The rest of the food was gone.

If they managed to take the food before they left, they can't have left in a hurry or with a struggle.

There was a small glimmer of hope in that revelation.

He made sure to check the remainder of the kitchen in hopes of something else but to no avail. Food in hand, he headed back to the junction and headed upstairs.

It was not hard to guess which room she had occupied, a lance of light making its way outside via the slightly open door.

Regulus Arcturus Black. The plaque read, one of the few still standing. Corrosion had eaten away at the corners, but it was still legible.

He remembered the face of the dark-haired youth, from errant pictures around the house, Slughorn's boasting of him on the mantlepiece and even his vision. A tale that could have been Sirius's own, of a boy that played the hand his parents had dealt him and come up short.

And a puzzle piece.

He'd never been inside, Sirius was not one to raise the ghosts of his past, the room of his brother paramount amongst them.

And now, he stood before it.

Harry had once been told that history written was dead ink, though, in that instance, it was malleable. Now, it could not be changed nor struck from the page. They either confronted it, or conformed to it.

He raised his knuckles and rapped at the door.

He had chosen to confront it.

"Come in." Fleur called from inside.

She was sat upon the bed, a book in her hands, likely to keep her thoughts from wandering.

Though, it was not any book in particular.

The diary. Harry recognised, It survived.

"Your present?" Harry asked, shocked, "I had thought it would be ashes by now."

"I was reading it before I came to find you." Fleur explained quietly, "I kept it in my robes."

It was indeed a bit worse for wear, frayed edges and torn pages, but it was nothing that time could not fix.

Dumbledore's journal had been burnt, but theirs had survived. Dogma and ideology had been lost. Now, only spells remained - the worst part of his legacy culled.

"I lost mine." Harry apologised, the photo frame had stayed in his room and suffered the same fate.

It felt as if he had lost the memory of them together with the picture gone, even if it was irrational.

He was unsure if she saw it on his face or if her response was merely chance.

"It was just a memory, Harry." Fleur placated, "We can make more."

He moved to sit beside her on the bed, and for a moment, both seemed more content with silence.

Fleur had closed the book and drummed on the torn cover with shaky fingers.

It was her that began a conversation they both knew needed to happen.

"That was my first transformation." Fleur admitted softly, "We're not really…"

Such a revelation was sudden, she had seemed in her element that night. Beauty and grace born from silver feathers, the fire made flesh he had always thought her to be.

Perhaps it was not beauty as I imagined it.

It was abrupt and unsure, lacking the decorum any conversation with her promised. That had already set the tone for the words yet to come.

"Fleur-" Harry tried.

"Veela are told from birth to never transform; the Covens shun it." Fleur continued, "Not fully transformed, that is. 'Sanctioned wars only' they'd say."

He forewent the attempt to stop her; instead, he let her continue.

"And it hurt, Harry." She said, her voice seemed broken.

Once again, Fleur Delacour was laid bare before him. There was no armour of intelligence to protect her, no rapier wit left to defend herself. She was clad in nothing but sorrow.

"I wanted to do it too." Fleur said, "And part of me wants to believe I didn't, that I had no choice in what happened, but I know that's false. I wanted to fight, to see what I could do."

"You were injured, Fleur." Harry broke through finally, "You were justified."

Perhaps, this was what his own struggle looked like from the outside. The knowledge that such an action was warranted, but feeling anything but.

"I'm not sure that'll ever help, Harry. I lost control. It wasn't the Veela, it was me."

He was short of words.

"They say the Covens merely have to glance at a Veela to see if she's transformed in anger."

It seemed beyond her, she had never truly been a Veela with him, now she seemed afraid of the same heritage she seemed intent to separate herself from.

She was perpetually in control and now, the one aspect she had seemingly little control over brought itself to the forefront - and that scared her.

Fleur Delacour was truly shaken.

"The Covens aren't here, Fleur." Harry placated, "And if you hadn't transformed, hadn't done as you had, I don't know if we would be either."

Though a question arose in his mind.

Why is she so fearful of the Covens?

Fleur had always seemed divorced from life as a Veela, even if she took pride in it.

She was an enigma.

But it was not his duty to solve her, not unless she asked.

"It's okay." Harry said, it was all he could offer.

Perhaps, it would never truly be okay. It was a problem he did not know how to fix - but he could try.

Silence reigned once more, she leaned towards him, resting her shroud of platinum hair on his shoulder.

From the outside, she struggled as he did. The grapple with morality, the hope to cling to a shred of themselves admits the turbulence of it all.

He knew what she felt, perhaps he'd taken the first step where she lingered behind.

"I killed someone at the Burrow." He began his own admission.

Maybe it would draw her from her own thoughts, maybe it would give her perspective. Together, they had surmounted Katie being cursed in the snow, he held hope they could surmount this in such a fashion.

She did not say anything, but he knew she was listening.

"Quirrell was something entirely different, I guess." Harry continued, "With him, I didn't have to do anything. He tried to kill me, and when he wrapped his hands around my neck, he burnt to ash. But it wasn't me."

Fleur remained silent.

"But this was me - all me. Maybe I wasn't fully in control, maybe I was. Either way, I have to live with the choice I made." Harry said, "Part of me knows it was the right choice, knows that fighting evil is not the same as sowing its seeds."

Even if it doesn't feel like it.

"Do you remember what you told me about the Veritaserum?"

She nodded her head against his shoulder.

"We made the right choice, it might not feel like it, it might never feel like it, but we did." His voice was softer now, almost inaudible, "If we didn't, there might have been another raid, another wand for someone else to fight. I killed someone, and you transformed, we can't change that. Only take comfort in the fact that we did it for the right reasons."

He hoped his words rang true, for he had no others.

"Where do we go from here?" Fleur whispered from his shoulder, and Harry had no answer.

It was hard to shake the feeling that they had lost the war before it had begun. It was equally difficult not to profess he was just as lost as her.

"We need to find the Order." Harry decided after a pregnant pause, "We need to try and figure out whatever happened here and what we can do to help."

"What about the Ministry?"

"I saw it being attacked by Voldemort." Harry answered, recalling the vision, "There weren't any Aurors to defend it when he arrived. He won, but I don't think he plans to keep it."

He already has Azkaban, keeping the Ministry might stretch his forces too thin.

"If the Ministry falls, the people will scatter." Fleur pointed out.

Dumbledore was quick to level such a point in his office.

"They will." Harry agreed, "Voldemort will put the country on its knees, it's our duty to ensure they stand on their feet again; otherwise, they'll stay forever kneeling."

"How very sage of you." Fleur laughed, a soft giggle that heralded some warmth restored to the world. "Had I known we had a philosopher in our midst, I would have been a far harsher teacher."

"Between you and Professor Dumbledore, I'm bound to pick something up." He smiled.

"Well, I'm sure no one will begrudge us a pause from saving the world." Fleur said, "Maybe rest will grant us a new outlook."

"I bought dinner for us, at least," Harry said sheepishly.

Fleur perked up from his shoulder, only to scowl at what was in his hands.

"Bread?" She questioned simply, levelling it with a disdainful gaze as if such would make it anything better.

"Mouldy bread." Harry corrected with a laugh of his own. "Not the fine French Cuisine you expected?"

"This validates everything I've said about your food."

"Hardly." Harry scoffed.

There it was, the normalcy, the levity. A hope that tragedy had not broken them, but the inverse.

She broke free from his shoulder and kicked her torn shoes from her feet, depositing herself on the worn pillow.

That seemed dismissal enough for Harry.

Maybe I can try the room I had last time.

He stood from the bed, content to let her rest for the moment.

"Harry." Her soft voice called to him as he made for the door.

He craned his neck, peering back to her.

"Stay."

What might have once seemed a demand from the cocksure Veela seemed more a plea in the light of such events.

But he obliged and returned to the bed with a sedate pace, unsure of the water he waded towards. He kicked his shoes away as she had, sore feet meeting threadbare carpet. He made his way to the side opposite her and slowly laid beside her.

His head met the adjacent pillow, and their eyes met, perhaps it was for comfort's sake, but they simply locked their gaze and held it as time passed.

"Fleur?" Harry asked after what felt like an eternity.

"Yes?"

He hadn't meant for the next words to be given life, he was more content with mulling it over in the safety of his head and await better days.

"What are we?"

But they came out, all the same. Now, they were off to confront yet another truth.

He was unsure why he asked. Perhaps quantifying whatever they had together in times such as this would ground him amongst the whirlwind or maybe he simply had no other words to say.

Whatever the reason, he felt childish as soon as it left his lips.

"What do you mean?" Fleur tried, but the feigned ignorance did not pass as seamlessly as she would have liked. He'd spent enough time in her company to know it was avoidance rather than anything else.

She was as unsure as he was, and she was woefully unprepared for such an affair.

"You know what I mean," Harry said.

"What do you want me to say, Harry?" She blew out a soft sigh, her breath hot against his face.

It was as if he was playing with fire, begging not to be burnt.

"I want to know what you feel."

"Humour me then." Fleur requested, "What do you want us to be?"

"I care for you." Similar to the simple words he uttered a day ago rang true again, he just hoped they had the same effect.

Her features softened at his words.

"I know." She said, barely above a whisper. "I know."

"Then what do you want us to be?"

"I care for you too." Fleur said, and his throat constricted, "And I want us to care for each other."

"But?"

"Whatever labels they put on me, whatever they'd scorn me for being isn't true, Harry. I'm human, just as you - and I'm confused."

She was laid bare once more. She was no seductress as the songs would paint her, nor the enslaver of men the Wizarding Wireless would write tales about. The whispers at Hogwarts of an enchantress couldn't seem further from the truth.

She was Fleur Delacour, and he was Harry Potter, and neither of them were immune to the whims of the heart.

"Bill." Harry guessed, and his heart sank at her small nod.

"He taught me there was more to Fleur Delacour than simply being a Veela or the failed Tri-Wizard competitor. He shared my passions and valued my strengths as my own." She seemed to take a brief second to compose herself. "And then he forgot me. He left me behind with people that hated me, ignored me in favour of seeking gold at the world's edge. He forgot I was not a trophy wife, that I am Fleur Delacour."

"And me?" Harry asked, his heart raising from the depths of his guts to his mouth.

"You're everything that he isn't. Less in some regards and so much more in others."

Leave him - Harry wanted to say, to shout it even. To give life to thoughts that felt a betrayal.

But Bill had betrayed her in turn. Perhaps, that softened the blow, perhaps, it didn't. He couldn't help but ponder such a dangerous thought as they lay on the bed.

"But I'm confused, Harry." She repeated, "I'm..."

He prepared for what felt like the inevitable.

"Just be with me, please."

That, he could do.

Even if it was only for the moment, she was a forgotten bride no longer.

They met halfway; her silver hair shrouded her face as their lips met once more. It was not the fervent craving of the night at the Burrow; the kisses were soft and tender. A promise, more than a display of passion. That they would care for one another as long as the war allowed, and beyond that still.

They soon broke for air, leaning their foreheads against one another.

"I never expected this to be so…" Harry struggled for the words.

"Exciting?" Fleur suggested, her arms circled around him in a passionate embrace.

"Scary." Harry corrected.

"It's always scary." Fleur laughed softly, "It never gets less frightening, not if you don't stop thinking about it."

"So I should stop thinking about it?"

"No." She smiled, "Never stop thinking about it."

I won't. He promised internally.

He'd spent so much time looking outwards, to the war that raged at their doorstep. He'd been so focused on victory that he'd been unable to comprehend the simple truth at the forefront, failed to see the battle before him.

Love is a different kind of war.

Their lips met once again, stealing kisses and sealing the union between them.

It was true. The ink was written - dried, dead. The tragedies of the past had been cemented in history, and there was little sense in lamenting what might've been lost. It was time to move forward, to ensure the future was well written.

Tomorrow would be different, that, he would make sure of.

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