A Different Kind of War @ajjax
Old Wounds

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: Old Wounds

PAIRINGS: Harry/Fleur

RATING: M

A/N: Hey all, welcome to Chapter Seventeen - Old Wounds.

This is the first chapter I've properly written in quite some time, it was a bit challenging in some regards but I think it came out alright, reviews (as always), are greatly appreciated.

Also, thank you for all the kind messages you've sent me. I know the world is a bit of a shitty place at the moment, so I'm glad I can provide something to escape to, if only briefly.

As always, stay safe and enjoy!

The ascent to consciousness was soft.

It was not the jarring, sharp pain of the morning before, lacking the taste of dust in his mouth and the metallic coating of coppery ichor that stained his tongue.

Instead, it was the ever so soft patter of snow against the window, the early glimmering sunlight that shone through the snow and grime obfuscated glass, casting an iridescent glow against his waking eyes.

And the figure that curled within his arms, the warmth of fire bellowing beneath her skin. Every breath boasting a soft scent of vanilla unique to only Fleur Delacour and exhale parting the curtain of silver hair before him.

She had moulded herself to fit his embrace, her hand clutching his own possessively as if she feared to let it be free.

But soon enough, just as he had, her breath hitched and her hand squeezed his own. Rubbing the pad of a soft thumb over the ritual scar that crossed his palm.

It was a difficult task to try and balance the feelings within him, there were no doubt battles still being fought, wounds being licked and graves being dug. Yet here he was, embracing an engaged witch in a warm bed, under a roof and free from danger.

The Weasleys were missing, Albus Dumbledore was gone, the Ministry attacked, and the country set alight.

But he swore to himself today wouldn't be cut from the same cloth - today was a day of victories.

Defeat had taken its toll.

For now, he banished such thoughts, content to peer at the rising sun once more as it cut through heavy clouds. But even such a mundane mercy as watching the sunrise was destined to be cut short by the duty that seemed to await them beyond the door.

Eventually, Fleur turned in his arms, dropping his scarred hand in favour of turning to face him.

It felt a common occurrence to be speechless in her presence, his mouth opened and this time closed of his own volition. There was nothing to be said at the moment. There were no thoughts they had not already thought, no words that would benefit them by interrupting the silence.

The events of the day before, the truths told and love shared would have to wait.

Today was all that mattered.

Her face morphed into a small smile, and she rose, the new sun crowing her silver hair with a halo of orange hues that sent his mind reeling to mere days ago in a similar situation.

Harry's muscles betrayed him, tensing and reigniting the dull ache that permeated his entire body. His hand curled under his pillow and grasped at empty air.

Where his wand would have once laid was empty, his fingers graced only by dusty sheets and the thin pillow. The real one had remained in his pocket, a holly shaft shattered and broken and a phoenix feather exposed to the elements.

He did not dare remove it from his pocket, fearful that gazing upon it once more might confirm yet another harsh truth.

If Fleur had in any way recognised his reaction, her face betrayed little. Ocean orbs shone in the snow-shrouded light, and she rose from the bed, arms held aloft as she stretched sore muscles.

Harry, however, was reluctant to believe his body's urging to draw a wand was simple vigilance.

Visions were commonplace, nightmares even more so. Taking things at face value was no longer a commodity Harry possessed. He remembered well enough the events of the past, of how closing his eyes could reveal any manner of terrors, from Professors turned to ash to Voldemort's ascent from a bubbling cauldron, eyes a volatile crimson.

He'd seen Sirius teeter backwards behind an ethereal, velvet curtain and now this.

His eyes cast themselves back towards the window, and beyond, an unyielding gaze as words once spoken seemed to echo in his ears.

War fosters many wounds; some refuse to heal.

It was yet another piece of advice from Albus Dumbledore. Counsel that had seemed almost innocuous when being spoken but was destined to ring true. The man rarely told him anything by happenstance.

Perhaps this was a wound that would never heal, one that would always refuse to be stitched or sewed.

It was a thought that scared Harry more than he'd care to admit.

Trapped in his thoughts, his mind ran from the room and with it, he did not notice Fleur moving from the bed. His obliviousness continued until she crossed the room and took a seat at a worn dressing table, a tall mirror standing vigil in front of her.

He shook his head and moved his eyes to her, content to let ghosts rest for the moment, rather than remain to haunt him.

Much like anything that occupied the room, it was laden with years of grime, borne from neglecting the space while they cleaned. Dark wood spanned elegantly, artisan craftsmanship turned dull with time and interrupted only by cracks that revealed light wood beneath.

The normalcy of his morning ritual returned, a hand procured his glasses and placed them upon his nose. Donning them as he rose from the bed, with clarity restored once more he could make out what Fleur was doing.

A hair brooch sat on the dressing table, an ornate bronze gleam that caught his eye, reflecting the light. This distance was close enough that he could see what adorned it; a trio of static ravens, pictured in flight, ending in a long, sharpened point that made it seem more akin to a dagger than an accessory.

Despite his gaze, the brooch did not seem long for this world. Fleur's rosewood wand rose and fell towards the bronze; a single wordless flick sent it morphing into something else.

A hairbrush.

The transfiguration did not seem extensive; it remained the same bronze as it rose to her silver hair. Bristles disappeared into the platinum curtain and snagged in an instant, caught up on the dirt and sweat that had no doubt caked it at some point.

Fleur continued to make valiant attempts to free the tangled hair, all to little avail. Eventually, she relented with an aggravated sigh, the hairbrush finding its way onto the table.

The great Fleur Delacour, bested by hair.

The thought put a smile on his face.

"Harry?" Fleur asked, the first words that she had spoken all morning. They were not steeped in annoyance as he might've assumed. Instead, her voice seemed small.

"Yes?" Harry returned, turning his eyes from the brush to her own.

"Could you…" Fleur paused for a moment as if she debated opening her lips any further. "Would you mind helping me?"

It was yet another departure from the cocksure attitude of Fleur Delacour just as it had been the night before. She was hesitant where once she was sure, wavered where she was once steady.

"Of course." Harry obliged quickly, landing on sore feet as his body ached in protest, an objection he chose to ignore.

Crossing the distance in a few strides, Harry was yet to understand just what she needed him for. An outstretched hand held the brush and her request became instantly clear. He gently procured it from her grip and rolled the cold metal in his hands, taking stock of the task ahead.

A task as mundane as merely brushing hair should not have been as daunting as it seemed to be. Whether by unfamiliarity or intimacy, Harry was unsure, the brush seemed heavier than it had any right to, and the distance from his hand to her hair seemed insurmountable.

He gently grasped a generous lock of hair and lifted it towards him. He had never inspected it with any degree of scrutiny, certainly never held it as he was now. It seemed impossibly soft and shimmered like the sunlight only moments ago, the griseous gaze of twilight given physical form.

His hand rose with the brush and ran it through the strands, tugging through knots softly enough to not disturb her. The bristles seemed to sing as it dragged through her hair, a melody that seemed reminiscent of her own song in the cave.

It was a call that beckoned for him to continue, an allure to caressing her soft tresses that seemed natural. His eyes flicked upwards to the mirror and saw Fleur's were closed. He continued unsure if such a reaction spoke of a job well done.

"What's next?" Fleur asked suddenly, her eyes fluttering open from his ministrations.

"Lots, I suppose." Harry shrugged as he continued brushing absentmindedly, "There's information we need to learn and leads we need to follow."

"Our leads?" Fleur asked as another knot fell to Harry's increasing prowess, "I had thought we'd make an attempt to find the Order first?"

"I wouldn't even be sure where to look." Harry admitted, "I think we have a better chance of trying to find them along the way; the Horcruxes should be our priority."

The pragmatism seemed a knife in his breast, to act upon seemed to twist it.

We don't have any other choice. Harry assured himself, wherever the Order was they would be safe. The Horcrux Hunt needed to be their priority, even if only for the moment.

"I take it Dumbledore informed you of something else then?"

"No." Harry shook his head, "Not Dumbledore... a vision."

Fleur's head righted, and her eyes opened fully, peering at him in the mirror with a concerned gaze.

"In the cave?" Fleur guessed.

"The hospital wing." Harry corrected, "It was a meeting with Voldemort and his Inner Circle, I saw people and heard names." They were still fresh in his mind, only days old. "Caractus Burke, Romulus Whitehall, Bellatrix Lestrange."

He debated whether or not Regulus Black or Kreacher warranted mentioning; the former had been dead since before he was born and the latter did not heed his commands. There were likely better paths to follow for the moment.

"Did you not think speaking earlier could've been an advantage?"

Truthfully, it had fallen to the wayside in pursuit of other things.

"I was going to wait for everything to be a bit less festive." Harry defended, "I thought we deserved a chance to settle down."

That seemed to soften features destined to be marred with a frown.

"I've spoken with Caractus Burke before." Fleur admitted, "Dumbledore sent me to Hogsmeade to investigate while you were in the Hospital Wing."

"I've heard of him in a vision," Harry said simply, as if mentioning the glimpses into other eyes was mundane. "A different one, he acted against Voldemort somehow, enough that Voldemort wanted him dead."

"Do you know why?" Fleur asked.

Harry shook his head. "They never mentioned specifics, just that he gave Abraxas Malfoy a rat with Dragon Pox to kill his father."

"They did come quite close to killing him," Fleur explained.

"What do you mean?"

"He's an ageing, blind werewolf hidden in the cellar of Dervish and Banges." She explained, "He knew very little."

"But he knew something?"

"He ran Borgin and Burkes, Borgin apparently ousted him. But he'd been cursed, forced to forget something and be pained if he tried to remember it."

"And you assume it's Voldemort that did it?" Harry asked. "I would assume killing him would have kept his silence much more permanently."

"I do," Fleur replied, the confidence returning to her voice. "I asked him about some artefacts, namely the locket of Salazar Slytherin. Their shop had it at some point, whatever spell or taboo he'd been cursed with ensured he could never recall it. Forced to live in constant agony from being cursed alongside being a werewolf, someone wanted him to suffer and had the power to accomplish it."

It does sound like his style.

"And we're confident it was Voldemort?" Harry queried, "If they've been trading dark artefacts for decades I'm sure there's plenty of people who would want them to keep quiet."

"He'd have vows in place - old magics." Fleur answered, "Few would trade with a man who divulged every secret to passing strangers or when the Auror's came to question him. This took power; it was more than just an idle obliviation or a contact curse - this was complex ming magic."

"Let's assume it is Voldemort's work then," Harry said. "So Burke can't say anything, do you think Borgin would?"

"I can't say for certain." Fleur shrugged, "If they were truly partners, they'd have taken the same vows of silence. However, he might have another lead, another piece to the puzzle. Even should the curse be in place and he cannot tell us where to look, he can tell us where we shouldn't."

There's some truth in that, I suppose.

"Romulus Whitehall is a werewolf." Harry continued discussing their leads, "I heard about him in my visions a few times. Apparently, Burke was sent to him as a punishment, outside of that I know nothing of him and Bellatrix Lestrange is out of our league for the moment."

"So this Whitehall could have been the one to turn him?" Fleur asked.

"It's possible." Harry said, "Though I can't say for sure, they never mentioned specifics."

"We might have to pay a visit to Caractus Burke once more." Fleur decided, "He might have more answers, ones that he can actually speak."

"Agreed." Harry said, "I imagine he isn't going anywhere; we can still deal with the matter at hand."

"Tiberius Ogden is another." Fleur offered in turn.

"Slughorn's friend from the party?" Harry furrowed his brow, "The one you said wasn't as ecstatic as the others."

The financier, if Sanguini could be trusted.

The sallow vampire was another enigma for another day.

"The very same." She nodded, causing the brush to swivel in his hand. "Burke was owed something by him, or so he said - it seemed nothing more than babbling. Even if the connection is tentative, it exists."

That sent Harry into his thoughts once more. A plan needed to be formed.

He continued brushing through strands of silver; a tapestry had begun to form in front of him.

Time was finite, each day, their strength waned, and Voldemort's grew. No thought was more prevalent in his mind than when he took solace in small moments like this. He'd been burdened with paths he was forced to follow; each face, name and purpose was a thread falling loose from that same tapestry.

If he pulled correctly, he could unravel the image entirely. If he erred in choosing, the thread would come loose, and he would have gained nothing for it.

The threads were all that existed; the choice was all he had.

And I can't make an error.

He didn't need the thought. The doubt had already been instilled in him. Each step he took was one that he feared, each possible misstep one that could lead to his ruin.

And his ruin seemed to haunt him with each defeat.

"Diagon Alley." Harry decided. The doubt persisted, it was something he could not yet shake. But a decision needed to be made all the same.

"Diagon Alley?" Fleur echoed, "Do you have something else in mind?"

"I'll need to replace my wand." Harry admitted, "From there we can scout Borgin and Burkes if we have the time."

"Is that wise?" Fleur asked.

Harry knew of alternatives, Ron had spoken of them often after his wand had broken when he dreamt of a replacement. Some wizards produced wands en masse, wrought from bamboo and balsa with cores of odd things, coral, bones and virtually anything he could imagine.

But it was not just a wand he needed; it was answers.

The chance of finding them with Ollivander had disappeared with the man himself. Though part of him still clung to the hope, however naive it appeared to be, that he might find something amongst whatever was left behind. That maybe he could find answers, rather than produce more questions.

"Why wouldn't it be wise?" Harry queried.

"The Alley is deserted, Ollivander's shop left empty for months. We won't be inconspicuous for long." Fleur explained.

Harry frowned, but withheld an answer.

"They're winning, Harry." Fleur intoned softly as if a louder voice would aggravate old wounds. "Victory does something to people, makes them feel like the world itself is just another obstacle. They'll be quick to parade that fact to anyone and everyone who can see, people will be equally as quick to report anything out of the ordinary to curry favour with the Death Eaters."

And Diagon Alley is the best place for exactly that, Harry surmised.

"Like people lurking around Ollivander's." Harry guessed.

"Like people lurking around Ollivander's." Fleur echoed,

Searching eyes could be their downfall.

The cloak would be ideal, if not for the fact it was too small to fit both of them, paired with a disillusionment charm could work.

But we'd be too slow.

"So, do you think they'll try and move on the Alley? Or Ollivander's shop?" Harry asked.

That was a concern of its own, if the Alley was already fully under their grip.

"Maybe not, but we can't know for sure." Fleur said, "We can't discount any possibility. They might already control Diagon Alley, might now have full control of the Ministry. There's a chance that they could be searching for us -"

It was a morbid thought, but not one he hadn't already entertained. Fleur, on the other hand, seemed content to keep her slowly forming tirade flourishing, directed more by thoughts than actions.

"Fleur," Harry tried. "Let's not -"

He was cut off in turn, just as he had to her.

"We need to accept, however unlikely, that we could be some of the last ones left."

"We're not," Harry said resolutely.

But it was one he refused to entertain any further.

"And if we are?" She continued, probing fresh emotions. "At some point, we're going to need to confront the truth, Harry. We can't run forever."

"It's not the truth," Harry assured once more, attempting to placate the dawning emotions within her, even if only for a moment.

"But what if it is?" Fleur continued, "Humour me."

"If we're the last ones, we'll rebuild." Harry tried, "We'll keep fighting - we'll try."

Truth be told, he didn't know what answer she wanted from him. Whether it was confirmation or hope, Harry wasn't sure he spoke correctly - but it was all he had.

"It won't be safe, that much we know." Harry finally said, taking a pregnant pause to give both her words and his own the proper due. "But there aren't any alternatives, I need a wand to defend myself, and we need information. I don't know if it's wise, but it's necessary."

His eyes rose from the task before him to the mirror once more, her eyes already staring where his were destined to be. A soft smile graced her features, one that he sought to coax from her in times like these.

She favoured the plan - Fleur was happy, and he was learning, it was the best either could hope for given the situation.

"We'll need access to gold." Fleur pointed out, "We're not going to get far fighting a war without it."

"Sirius might have left something behind." Harry shrugged, "But visiting Gringotts doesn't seem like an amazing idea at the moment, the Goblins were on high alert before the Ministry was raided, now? I don't know."

"The Goblins will remain open as long as there remains a profit to be made." Fleur said, "Charging witches and wizards exorbitant sums to withdraw gold in times of crisis is an old trick of theirs; everyone will be vying to remove their finances from the Goblin's control."

It was easy to forget she had once worked for Gringotts too; her knowledge on the Goblins far exceeded his own.

And war leads to rebellions.

If Binns had taught them any lesson, it was that. Blood and gold were similar scents to the Goblins; they'd chase either with equal fervour if they thought they'd come off better for it.

It really has all gone to shite.

"So no Gringotts for the moment." Harry decided, "We'll wait for it to calm down, hopefully."

"I take it you plan to steal a wand from Ollivanders then?" An arched eyebrow levelled at him through the mirror.

"If I can." Harry returned, "I'd rather steal than be without."

She had said something similar to him, a day in bloody snow that seemed a lifetime ago, of finely crafted wands and how he would grow attached if he continued to use it.

And how only a fool would die rather than use his hands.

And Harry Potter was no fool.

Not any longer.

The ornate brush has already traversed the platinum expanses enough to free the knots and remove hidden vestiges of soil. Harry released it from her hair and somewhat reluctantly placed it on the dressing table, Fleur's hand rose once more, and a wave of rosewood soon morphed it back into the brooch.

With practised ease, the reigns of her silver mane reverted to her control, grazing through his fingers with a warmth that felt like it did not belong. The silver strands balled themselves into a bun, the same two elegant wisps framing her face as they so often did.

Deciding the brooch would suffice, the trio of ravens found themselves in her hair. She turned to him and rose to her full height which had, somewhere along the way, slowly become shorter than his own.

Her wand rose once more, though this time towards his face.

Harry had not anticipated a movement of his own, his jaw clenched, and the muscles of his cheeks pulled tautly. His hand rose sharply towards her own, clasping her wrist within the ironclad grasp of white-knuckled fingers.

As soon as his fingers made contact and marred pale skin scarlet, he released it.

His hand, however, lingered in the air. The lapse of control had gone unnoticed the first time; the second would not. A smile that hoped to defuse the tension came out as something more akin to a facial tick, the hand that attempted to return to his side shook and jittered.

The battle was long-since over, there were no more spells to be cast, lives to be taken or foes to flee.

But that did not mean Harry Potter was alright.

"A glamour charm," Fleur whispered melodiously with the intent to calm him.

I don't think the answer will ever be that simple.

In truth, he had little idea of what was happening to him. Only that this was not the first time, such an event had occurred. Perhaps, the familiarity gave him comfort, or maybe it simply made it all that much worse.

"We won't remain inconspicuous for long looking as we are." Her explanation continued as if she was justifying the need to raise her wand once more.

And he understood her rationale, even if the rising wand still sent his brain whirling into thinly veiled dread.

Then he felt it.

It was not the wand nor spell, but another familiar sensation.

A song.

Had he closed his eyes, he could have envisioned a Siren upon the rocks, a call insurmountable that would lead him shattered and plummeting towards the seafloor. But this was not a song spoken, rather one in his mind.

It was not the song of a Siren, but the allure of a Veela.

His jaw unclenched, muscles relented in their stalwart attempt to stop her advance. The tension pooled in his form ebbed away, and his hand fell still.

He had been calmed. It was a scant mercy, but a mercy all the same.

Though even still, it seemed like a charlatan's trick, delaying the problem rather than confronting it. But there were greater evils to face, worse dangers to overcome.

It would have to be another battle for another day.

He did not feel the spell that landed upon his cheek, but it was surely soft. A sensation akin to someone pushing his cheeks together. Before he knew it, his eyes were back on the mirror, and Harry Potter no longer stared back.

His cheeks turned sallow as if the slow attrition of starvation had warded off muscle, his hair lengthened and morphed to auburn, falling straight and lank to his shoulders. His eyes became a dull grey, and his jawline became sharper.

He did not appear good-looking in any sense of the word, but he did seem entirely unremarkable.

Soon, Fleur turned the wand towards herself, but despite her best attempts, her ethereal beauty could not be dampened as much as she would have liked. The pale spell that left her wand had little impact on the colour or length of her hair. It fared little better against changing her features.

But, a change did happen. Her eyes changed shape, but the colour remained, cheekbones moved from aristocratic to drooping. Eventually, the changes had finished, from a distance she could simply be a beautiful woman, one who, albeit stood out amongst the crowd, was not Fleur Delacour.

Closer scrutiny, on the other hand, revealed the flaws in the adopted visage but it would have to suffice.

Had the cloak been bigger, less cumbersome it would have been preferable. As would disillusionment charms, if not for their penchant of being easily visible in the light.

Harry offered her a slight nod, swallowing a lead weight of anxiety that tried to escape through his throat while the opportunity was ripe.

"Shall we begin?" Harry asked.

And so they did.

Apparition greeted him like an old friend, just as the Pensieve did - ease born from rapid practice and necessity.

The apparition point of Diagon Alley was situated in a side street, a few shops down from the Leaky Cauldron. The sharp crack that foretold their appearance would have once been lost in the convivial atmosphere of rushing waves of people. Without the crowds to dampen it, the thunderclap echoed down empty streets without resistance.

It had been quite some time since he had last been to Diagon Alley, his appearance merely confirmed a truth he had feared.

It was all but abandoned.

He was first greeted to a growing number of windows covered with heavy curtains and decorated with motley coloured pieces of timber. A desperate act, a declaration that they only wished to continue with life and an effort to save their livelihood from the suffocating grasp of Voldemort.

Some people just want to move on.

The banner above them mattered little if they kept their heads bowed. It was a fact that infuriated him greatly.

Some people just want the world to go on.

Even if it would never be so simple.

He progressed onto the manicured cobblestones of the Alley, taking in the sights would have to wait. Ollivander's was in the near distance; a wand was paramount.

Fleur trailed behind his quick strides, a hood transfigured and donned to shroud the startling silver beneath.

He had crossed perhaps half of the distance before a familiar scent assaulted his nostrils.

His head swivelled, and a scene that should have been visible from the outset came barrelling into view.

A shopfront that once stood proud, brightly coloured against the austerity of war. It had sold smiles and laughs, currency coveted in times like these and now, it had been gutted by flames.

The Twins' shop had been decimated.

"Sympathisers." Fleur surmised, tracking his vision to the sickly sight. "They're targeting sympathisers, patrons, anyone they can get their hands on that might be helping the other side."

Fleur seemed to be correct in that assumption, many shops were left untouched, but three or four joined Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes in the embrace of smoke and flames, decorated with blackened beams and ash.

Flourish and Blotts, Florean Fortescue's, Obscurus Books.

They were all he could make out, and they were more than enough.

They had sought to take hope from them in a world already deprived of such. Though, it did not force Harry to the depths he once might have gone. They had been burnt - true. But even now he could still make out faces peeking through curtains and owners who operated despite the war, those who would not yet be cowed.

People, no matter how dangerous it was or how few they numbered, still held hope.

That was enough for him.

"Let's go." Harry offered, a renewed vigour instilled in him that led the pair to the front of Ollivander's.

There was little point in searching the joke shop; the Twins had been at the Burrow. All he would gain from searching ashen rubble was splitting healed skin once more.

In similar fashion to the majority, blinders were pulled down, and glass windows were enchanted and boarded to ensure the contents remained. Gold detailing that had stood resplendently seemed to have bore the brunt of the hard months, if not for prior knowledge of where it was he would have no doubt struggled to find the wandmakers shop.

His hand groped for the door handle into the shop front. Rather than yield under his command as he would've liked, it jammed as he assumed it would, his hand biting into the resolute, burnished handle.

He had no wand to draw to make an attempt to unlock it, but such an affair did not matter, he lingered a moment where he should not have.

It was vaguely reminiscent of Slughorn's own defences, though the ageing professor had been more concerned with wayward students than fully-trained thieves. His arm blistered for being beyond the hidden barrier for too long, hair singed within an instance as he dragged the appendage free from the handle.

Leave.

His mind screamed internally, one that sent him reeling. There was the hot feeling of revulsion in the back of this throat, a harsh amalgamation of indecipherable emotions that culminated in one, single thought.

Get out.

He stumbled backwards clutching raw flesh, the purple scar that crossed his palm prickling as he came to nurse his burnt arm.

"A deterrence ward." Fleur noted, her rosewood wand rose to the fore as she seemed intent to begin her investigation in earnest. "Are you okay?"

"Fine." Harry offered, the burns were superficial, but little more than that - it was the feeling that had shaken him. Her worried voice did much to ease the sudden discomfort. "Slughorn had something similar on the potion cupboard; this one was a bit more unpleasant."

"Slughorn's were cast by his own wand." Fleur said, her voice interest laden as she stared at the nigh invisible, ethereal barrier before her. "This one's powered by a ward stone somewhere on the property. Did Ollivander have family?"

That seems like an odd question. Harry thought, rubbing sore skin softly.

"Not that I know of." Harry shrugged, throwing a cursory glance over his shoulder to ensure they were still alone or at least, unharassed, "Why's that?"

"Ward stones are expensive, especially ones that already come enchanted." Fleur explained, probing her wand forth, "A large investment for someone to make if they weren't sure of his return."

"Could've been the other Alley owners." Harry said, "There are lots of people who wouldn't want to see Ollivander's robbed."

"If you were going to purchase something to defend a neighbour, why not choose something a tad more peaceful?" Fleur asked, "There are other, less expensive options to achieve the same goal. I think someone was angry about him leaving."

"There's only one way to find out." Harry offered, "Can you take them down?"

"I'm Fleur Delacour."

Where once, the words meant little and less, now? It was all the assurance he needed.

He turned from her, scanning either end of the alley to ensure no one attempted to impede their entry.

By the time he turned to her, she had continued her efforts to disperse the magic, weaving wand to and fro as if she was orchestrating a symphony, the barrier before her wavering with each learned, precise movement.

And with her knowledge, the barrier seemed anything but, with sweat beading at her forehead, the first fissure materialised. Soon it appeared as if her magic was acidic to its mere presence, corroding an entryway.

She was quicker still, her wand never leaving the motion as another spell arced towards the door. The lock that shielded the beyond from them did not open, but broke. The same burnished bronze that had a dull shine moments ago now decorated the stones below with a harsh, clangorous percussion that would have drawn eyes, had any been present.

The door was thrown open, bodies were ushered in, and the stale room beyond seemed a resounding victory.

It was a victory shrouded in details, and the devil was somewhere amongst them.

The scent of mould and water-saturated wood was pungent, permeating the air with the stench of time. Together, the pair advanced to the counter, behind where the old wandmaker once seemed a permanent fixture, a similar trick broke the lock on the door behind the counter.

And soon they found themselves in the den of an artisan.

Which understandably was beyond either of their comprehension.

"I don't imagine you put much thought in how you'd find a wand, did you?"

"You don't want to help me search?" Harry smiled despite the task ahead, "What happened to partners?"

"When I offered my services, I had imagined something with a bit more decorum."

At least her vanity remains, Harry mused.

"I think that was your first mistake." Harry laughed, turning to survey rows of shelving, boxes containing wands haphazardly arranged upon them. "I don't know how I'm going to find one amongst all this."

"As I said, perhaps you should have thought about this before we left?"

"Not particularly useful wisdom in the present, is it?" Harry sighed.

"If I tried to stop you from making mistakes, I'd have my work cut out for me." Fleur chirped, "Just learn from this one."

"Learn how to steal from Wandmakers with more efficiency, got it." Harry said, "Even Ollivander couldn't match my wand the first time, and he knew every wand in this place."

"I take it you've got nothing then?"

"I think I'll have to try them all." Harry replied though it was likely not as joking as Fleur would've liked.

"Do you not think that seems a tad laborious?"

"Is there a better idea?" Harry asked, and Fleur conceded the point with an arched eyebrow.

Signs decorated the end of each row of shelves, though they did little to help him. Anything that could've helped him identify what might be best suited for him was written in an ugly, shorthanded scrawl that spoke more of urgency than eloquence.

Harry stepped to the mark and plucked one of the black boxes from the shelf, sliding the top cover away to reveal the wand beneath.

It was close to the length of his forearm, a rough-hewn piece of light-brown wood that seemed more akin to a branch than any wand he had ever seen. He plucked it from the confines despite not being filled with optimism at the sight of it.

It felt heavy in his hands, too weighted to be comfortable. However, he chalked that up to it being unfamiliar.

He gave it an experimental wave and waited.

Nothing.

There was no telltale heat, just cold wood that soon found itself back in its casing and then the shelf.

Another took its place in his hand, rigid and dark, crowned with mother of pearl. The differences, while visibly ostensible, did not elicit anything different within him. Nought but the same cold feeling that saw it retake its position on the shelf.

Harry blew a breath of hot air past his lips as he delved into more boxes as the minutes waned on.

From ebony to ivory, rigid to flexible, petite and lengthy, he seemed to sift through shelf after shelf to little avail. A large pile of discarded boxes formed on the shelf, a far smaller pile at his feet of wands that provided even the smallest reaction.

It seemed a process far longer than what it actually was; Harry would have sworn it had been hours when in reality it had been far closer to half of one.

Yet another box found itself discarded and Harry reached for one more before a harsh noise broke him from his monotony.

"Harry," Fleur whispered, her voice sharp enough to cut through the air, gaining his attention in an instance.

Harry's eyes turned to Fleur, and she held a single finger to her lips, something had perturbed her. He strained his ears in an attempt to discern whatever sent her into vigilance, all the while reaching down to pluck a wand from the boxes at his feet.

Then he heard it.

A footstep, gentle but still barely audible. The roof above them quaked slightly.

Harry trained his wand upon the door; they'd neglected to check the apartment upstairs. Fleur had lingered past the doorway, but lost in their hyperfocus; they hadn't sought to clear their surroundings.

A mistake in hindsight, an easy one to avoid.

Though no foe entered, instead the door simply vanished into smoke, a smog-shrouded mirage of Ollivander flew towards Fleur who waved her wand in an attempt to disperse the foe, scattering the smoke.

A figure entered behind it. A man obscured by that same dispersed fog who moved to strike at Fleur, a disarming spell that she very nearly dodged if not for the close quarters.

The unfamiliar wand rose in Harry's hand; the wall morphed into a crude imitation of a serpent's tail that sent the man sprawling.

He had taken Fleur out, which no doubt spoke of some level of aptitude, but his movements seemed clumsy. He made to cast another spell, but the wand, like many, had refused to answer his call any further and was torn out of his grip by the man's next spell.

They'd been bested.

Harry went to reach for another, if he dove he could likely retrieve another chance to fell their attacker.

"Get out of my shop." The figure said, slurring his words.

He's drunk.

The man's wand had been trained on Fleur, but his eyes were split between them, catching Harry's subtle attempt to procure another wand.

"Try it, lad, I dare you." The man said, his voice almost pleading, "Have a crack if you think you're hard enough. Wonder how far your little partner-in-crime will make it?"

"Alright." Harry relented, trying to position himself with soft steps between the man and Fleur.

He inadvertently got a better view of the man in his journey; his eyes were grey and bloodshot, his hair a soft silver, a chain of keys around his neck.

"We're just searching for a wandmaker." Harry tried to placate, "We thought we could find something here that could help us, times are too dangerous to be without a wand."

His attempt to appeal to the man's sense of community seemed to miss its mark.

"So you took it upon yourself to pilfer through my father's stock?" The man near shouted, the alcohol-induced haze forgone in anger.

"Father?" Harry asked, "You're Ollivander's son?"

"Oh," The man chortled, a noise that seemed forced. "How very astute of you, such intelligence does not befit a thief."

He bristled at the man's barb, eager to respond.

"Our intention was never to steal." Fleur tried her own attempt to placate the man taking shape, but one that did not hold him for long.

"Forgive me for thinking tearing down my wards and searching through our stock was done in bad faith." The silver-haired man said, "Of course, you meant to pay for them, didn't you?"

"We just need help." Harry tried again, "Please."

"Find it elsewhere, fuck off."

"I can repair your wards." Fleur offered, "Improve them even."

"The only reason they need repairing is because you broke them."

"Because they were made by a simpleton." Fleur scoffed, "I can cast far more comprehensive ones, ward off anyone else - in exchange for your services."

"Yes." The man nodded in faux-acceptance, "Because trusting thieves is excellent form, thank you for your counsel. There are two wandmakers in Knockturn Alley, another near the healer's tent on the other side of Diagon. Now, fuck off."

"If you want proof of our reasoning for being here," Fleur said, apparently the final gambit of the exchange. "Cast a revealing charm on him."

"Why?"

"You'll see, then you can decide if you'll throw us out."

Fleur had made to do as he had, to reach towards the floor in pursuit of her wand. Irrespective of what happened after the revealing charm, Fleur would have an opportunity.

The spell sailed across the distance, and he fought against a similar reaction to the one that had happened only that morning.

His features painfully morphed into his own, and the man studied his face for a pregnant moment.

"Harry Potter." The man recognised, his voice above a whisper and silver eyes that mimicked the moon above widened.

Harry's voice was quick to affirm his realisation.

"I am." Harry nodded softly, "And we need your help, please."

Soon with few words and at the man's behest, their glamour charms dropped and hey were ushered upstairs towards the same apartment they had neglected to check. Introducing the pair to a spartan room, decorated only by a bed and a small table.

"Geraint Ollivander, son of Garrick." The man introduced coarsely and succinctly, taking a seat across from them. "Sit."

Not one for small talk, Harry thought. Beyond the man's understandably unfriendly demeanour, he likely owed the vitriol to the scattered firewhisky bottles alongside their break-in.

"I find myself interested in what brings the great Harry Potter and company into my father's shop." Geraint began, taking his seat across from them. "A wiser man would call the Aurors, better yet, there's likely a great many people who would pay a fine price to know the location of Harry Potter."

Seems like there's no love lost between us. Harry noted, the man already seemed to dislike him.

"But, as I said, I find myself interested in why such an esteemed guest finds his way here. Be it bad decisions or benevolence; you have my ear for just a moment."

"I broke my wand and needed a replacement; this seemed the best place to try and find a new one," Harry spoke, the simple truth laid before him.

"So you chose an abandoned, warded wandmaker's shop over one still operating?" The man frowned, "The papers lead me to believe you possessed significantly more tact than that."

"Clearly not abandoned." Fleur shot back.

"No," The man conceded with what seemed to be a rare smile, "Clearly not."

"Ollivander - your father, said there was a connection between my wand and Voldemort's. Something important, I thought if anyone possessed any further knowledge on it - any hope to repair it, they'd be here."

"My father sold wands to children, Harry Potter, he was a man of theatrics. To every child, their wand was unique, a power unparalleled within. He sold them stories as much as he did a gateway to magic. This was their first step into our world proper, and he wanted to make it special. That does not mean his stories held even a grain of truth."

The rough-edged man seemed soft-spoken when his father was concerned, yet another old wound laid bare.

"It's true," Harry argued.

"The truth of such matters little to me anyway." The man brushed off, "I am more interested, however, in whatever rationale you felt was worthy enough to deserve my help."

"With all of Voldemort's attacks, people are going to be displaced; they're going to need help," Fleur interjected. "If we want to provide that help, Harry needs a wand."

"Forgive me for perhaps not seeing a connection where I likely should." Geraint offered a faux-apology, "But I can't fathom how that connects us nor burdens me with duty."

"If you repair it, we'll leave." Harry offered, "We'll repair the wards and no one will ever have to know you're here, or that we were."

"And tell me, Harry Potter, will you be here tomorrow?"

"I don't know." Harry offered, unsure of the course of the conversation.

"Precisely." Geraint nodded, "But I shall still be here. I'll be here when Thorfinn Rowle and his bruisers return of an evening to squeeze the galleons out of every shop on the Alley. Which will no doubt include mine, given just how many eyes saw you enter the shop."

"So, you're scared?" Harry goaded, in an attempt to change approach, "You'd rather they win, do you?"

"Yes, I am." Geraint agreed, "There should be fear, witches and wizards should be terrified. Don't bandy about that as if it were an insult, most do not have the luxury of Ministry protection and the walls of Hogwarts. We are beneath your ivory towers, and here, on the ground, the nail that sticks out soon finds the hammer."

"If anyone saw the two of us enter, they'll assume we were thieves, nothing more, nothing less." Fleur pointed out, "If you can help us, I'll repair the wards, or we could leave them."

"Don't try to beguile or blackmail me, girl." Ollivander spat, "You put my life on the line by coming here, don't presume to think I owe you anything save a cursing."

"There are people we need to find," Harry said, he thought himself above pleading, but he had learned more than a modicum of cunning. "People we need to help. If you were in my position and could save someone close to you, would you not want help?"

Seeing how the man had reacted to a previous mention of his father, Harry, however unscrupulous the jab felt, plunged himself between the man's armour of vitriol.

"Had I been in such a position to help, I would have entertained more intelligent avenues."

"We're here now." Harry urged, "Fleur can repair your wards, make it look like no one ever broke in. We can glamour ourselves and disappear from the shop before anyone notices, all you have to do is help us."

"And what do I gain from this arrangement?"

"As I said, Fleur can repair your -"

"Wards that you broke, as I have already reminded." Geraint said, "Tell me, do you have any galleons?"

"Not at the moment." Harry offered somewhat meekly. Though it wasn't strictly true, they had found a coin purse left behind at Grimmauld, filled with only a handful of knuts and sickles. Money he'd rather save for a dire situation, at least until they could get more.

"So I'll be paid in goodwill, shall I?"

"I can get you Galleons," Harry offered, "I just need time and a wand."

The wandmaker leant forward to rest on his elbows, a scrutinising gaze emanating from moon-like eyes that made an attempt to perturb him into acquiescence.

Once upon a time, I might have fallen to a harsh glare. Harry mused, I might have left when he told me to.

But to come all this way only to misstep was a luxury he could seldom afford. He'd seized a thread, and now, all he needed was to pull hard enough to release it.

And so he pulled, returning the man's stare.

"Your wand," The wandmaker nodded towards Harry, "Show it to me."

Harry reached into the pocket of his robes and procured the object in question. Two main pieces came out; a bright, crimson feather protruding from one side, followed by a shower of splinters.

He hadn't bothered to peer at the fragments since the night at the Burrow, only patting them with his hand to ensure they remained.

Now, they were laid before him, a wand that had seen him through it all seemed little better than splinters and sawdust.

"I had presumed it was snapped," Geraint said, pale brow furrowing as he plucked a piece from the table. "This is shattered; how?"

"A duel," Harry said succinctly, content to forego the memories of the Burrow aflame.

"A duel would not suffice, Mister Potter." The man chastised harshly after examining the broken wood for a moment. Harry could smell the faint whiff of alcohol on his breath. "Shattering a wand requires power and emotional impetus - the former may have been present, the latter less so, but still possible. The full truth will be ideal if I am to survey the extent of the damage."

Harry swallowed against the irritation in his throat.

"Do I have to?" Harry asked, his voice raw.

"It's clearly unpleasant." Geraint offered, his features seeming softer for having heard Harry's voice. "I shall not force you to tell me anything you wish to keep hidden. But I am not the wandmaker my father is, the devil of wandmaking is in the details, despite how trivial those details might seem."

A familiar, emboldening hand found a place atop his.

"We were attacked, Christmas night." Harry began, "Death Eaters burnt down the house we were staying at, and I killed one."

The final words seemed an addendum, rather than the bulk of the statement. Said quickly as not to allow the truth to linger in his mouth for too long.

But it lacked the ever-present bitter taste; it did not bite at his lips as it once did. Now, they felt like words, just as any other.

"Butcher's work tends to be nasty business." Geraint offered, his voice softer to match his features. "Especially for young eyes, my condolences."

"We escaped." Harry continued, nodding at the man's platitudes. "Fenrir Greyback and some werewolves attacked us; I didn't know what I was casting but I -"

"Shattered your wand." Geraint finished, "A burst of flames, a flash of light, a fissure beneath your feet. You needn't look so worrisome, Mister Potter, you are far from the first to burn your wand out in exigent circumstances."

A soft sigh weaselled its way through barely parted lips at his words, a breath Harry hadn't known he'd been withholding.

"I assume it's repairable then?" Harry asked, allowing a glimmer of hope into his voice for the first time in an age.

"That, I am unsure of." The man regarded the remnants of the holly shaft carefully, "Wands are snapped by hand but shattered by magic, the latter is a fix significantly more difficult. You'd be best off replacing it, rather than hoping for a repair."

"Is there truly nothing you can think of?"

"Why do you seek to repair your wand, Harry Potter?" Geraint asked, his eyes swivelling between Harry's own and his wand.

"Like I said." Harry began, "I need it -"

"Not why you need it, why you want it." Geraint reiterated.

Harry furrowed his brow, "Is that really relevant?"

"Humour me."

That seemed a question he was ill-prepared for.

Why do I want it?

"It's my wand, I suppose." Harry said, "It's seen me through a lot, and I'd like it back."

"Oftentimes we must forego sentimentality in favour of duty," Geraint said.

"Is that insinuating that you can't fix it?" Harry asked.

"There are complexities with dealing with such, few we foresee. If you wish for a possible repair, leave it with me," Geraint decided, "I'm unsure of the exact nature of such amending or its possibility, but time may yet yield an answer."

"I'll still need a wand." Harry pointed out, "Is there any way you could match me with another?"

"I could, easily, in fact." Geraint nodded, "Though such an endeavour may dampen your connection to your current wand, a decision not made lightly."

"May?" Harry asked.

"Wandmakers deal in magic, something very rarely measured in definitives and absolutes. Your reaction is unique to you only, but the risk remains regardless."

"I take it I don't have much of a choice in the matter then?" Harry sighed, reaching forward to pluck the handle of his wand from the table.

"There always remains a choice, the intelligent choice, on the other hand, is the one I believe you've already chosen."

Harry reached forward to pluck one of the pieces of wood from the table, rolling once warm holly through his open palm.

You've seen me through a lot. Harry mused, as if the splinters could hear his call.

Through trials and tribulations, adventures and adversity - it had never failed him.

And now it's time to part.

The choice had already been made, truthfully, he'd never entertained any other, though that did not soften the blow as he had hoped. Geraint sat silently on the other side of the table, seemingly recognising the apprehension leaking onto Harry's features.

The man's coarseness, as deserved as it was, was absent. Refusing to push the agenda while Harry let the old wood free from his hand.

Then Harry nodded, seemingly all the response the younger wand maker needed. Geraint left, bound for the storage room downstairs, Harry guessed. Fleur remained silent, whether by design or lack of words he was unsure, but he remained content to let her hand rest atop his own and silence reign supreme.

Soon enough, the man returned, arms ladened with motley coloured boxes that found their way onto the table.

And with his reappearance, the mission to match a wand began again in earnest. Arms were measured, boxes were opened, and familiar wands were wielded once more. Every wood he had heard off and more made its way into Harry's hands. Dogwood and Alder, Unicorn Hair to Hippogriff feather.

Until the final one had come out.

"Cypress, ten-and-a-half inches, phoenix feather, like your holly wand. This one, however, is from a younger phoenix if memory serves correct - one of the last my father collected."

It was a pale wood, near white that found its way into his hand. It lacked a handle as his holly shaft had, instead opting for a minimalistic, uniform smoothness that tapered into a point.

"Cypress?" Harry queried as he grasped the handle with gentle fingers.

"My namesake, many centuries ago, was quite fond of it, or so my father would boast." Ollivander nodded absentmindedly, "Sacrifice given tangible form, matched to men and women destined to lay down their lives, to rush towards ruin in pursuit of a goal, however noble."

To rush towards ruin in pursuit of a goal, Harry repeated internally.

"Sounds morbid," Harry commented, extra vigilance of the pale shaft born from his words.

"Tales, that's all they are." Geraint shrugged, "Scholars said one of the three brothers from the tales of old once wielded a wand of Cypress, I've also heard they never wielded wands at all - but staffs. We are predisposed to theatricality, forever seeing falsities in place of fact if only to boost our own prowess. A generalisation, however accurate, does not make the norm."

And with the man's final words, he allowed the handle to contact his palm proper.

Whereas the others had been a slight match, this was anything but. There was warmth within Harry's hand as if he had stuck his hand into a hearth and grasped the coals beneath, though it did not blister his skin or brand him as he might've thought.

Instead, it felt right.

With a familiar motion, he levitated the wand's box above the table and lowered it softly, the exhilarating feeling of magic coursing through healing tendons and muscles, a pleasurable ache that tugged the corners of his lips upwards.

"This one," Harry said, the smile gracing his feature widening, a similar one mirrored on Fleur's face.

"If you believe you've truly found your match?"

"I think so." Harry nodded, weighing the new instrument in his hands, "Will I have to worry about it being as powerful as the last?"

"A wand is not the sum of what it holds in its core. It is not measured by rarity, but with your own connection with it, the struggles you have with it in hand." Geraint lectured, "Many a witch and wizard have grandiose dreams about rare wands and the power they may wield. A wand does not make the user, Mister Potter, in fact, it often makes them much, much less."

"How much for the wand?" Harry asked.

"Improve the wards as you seemed to adamant to do, and we shall call it even."

"And for my old wand's repairs?" Harry continued, describing the wand that had led him to that moment stung, "If you're able to fix that what do you want? Galleons?"

The man was in thought for only a moment, his closed mouth shifting to and fro.

"Free, for the moment."

"Free?" Fleur questioned sceptically, "I had assumed you needed to make a living? Why?"

"Call it belief, if you are so inclined." The man said, "Just know that if you ever hear a word on my father, regardless of his state, I'd like word of it."

Payment to find his father.

He wouldn't be a priority - couldn't be. But Harry could ensure he did what he could.

"I'll try my best." Harry offered, "But I can't be sure we'll find him."

"I don't seek idle promises, just the knowledge that you will try."

"You have my word," Harry said, and Fleur nodded beside him. "I'll do what I can."

"Return to me in a week, maybe two." Geraint decided, "With any luck, I should be able to repair the wand though I make no promises on the matter."

Harry nodded once more, peering at the Cypress wand that he could now call his own.

I have a wand again; he allowed himself to feel the high of victory, even if it seemed small.

But it was not the sweet tang of victory that lingered nor the fresh warmth in his hand, but the man's words, even if offhand and chalked up as little but superstition.

Towards ruin.

The conversation had tapered off beyond, Fleur had repaired the ward stone she had drained, and with a short exchange of farewells, they found themselves glamoured and back onto the main alley. Distancing themselves from the seemingly abandoned shop as not to draw any further attention.

He had pulled the thread and came off better for it; the picture had unravelled that much more. Now, he stood at a crossroads as they plotted their next move.

"Where shall we go now?" Fleur asked, scouring the alley with a keen gaze. "Borgin and Burkes?"

"Geraint seemed to think Rowle was active in the alley." Harry pointed out, "If that's the case, he'd be operating out of Knockturn Alley."

"Where Borgin and Burkes is." Fleur said, "I take it you don't favour the plan?"

"We might find the rat, but the pack would be smarter for it." Harry parroted, and Fleur gave a soft laugh.

"Reiterating my own wisdom is a poor way to win an argument."

"It works." Harry returned, "Or are you going to argue against your own wisdom?"

"Not today." She shook her head, "Borgin and Burkes does seem far too risky for the moment, especially with so much still unknown. Our concern should be finding out what has transpired over the past few days."

"Perhaps we should have pushed Geraint, see if he knew anything." Harry frowned.

Fleur scoffed, "He was a man staring down the bottom of a firewhisky bottle, by the looks of it, he'd been at it for days - I don't think he'd heard much of anything save for snores and belches."

"He might have lost his father." Harry defended, "Go easy on him."

"But rather than do anything about it, he turned to drink and lost himself somewhere in his cups." Fleur argued, "He possessed the means, but fell short, turning to apathy instead of doing something, anything. The bad lose themselves, the good get up once more, and try again."

Seems I'll never be free of her wisdoms, Harry smiled.

"By the looks of it, he might be doing some good," Harry said.

"He might be." Fleur shrugged, "Time will tell if his words yield anything save more firewhisky, he didn't seem the sort to get up willingly."

Harry frowned once more, peering at the back of her silver hair. Fleur had remained conspicuously quiet during the discourse with Ollivander's son.

I wonder if she's bitter because she thinks him a fool, or because she got bested by surprise.

Now he was forced to glance at the tapestry once more, a task had been completed, a name learned, and a wand gained. Now, he was forced to choose again.

Bellatrix Lestrange.

Harry was not naive enough to believe he could defeat her in a single battle; she outshined both him and Fleur where duelling was concerned. But there would be no single battle, any conflict with her was destined to include legions of Death Eaters at Voldemort's behest.

Romulus Whitehall.

A werewolf, unknown to them and likely dead if the proclivities of werewolves were anything to go off. But even Caractus Burke survived against the odds; he knew something - a secret Voldemort didn't want to be let loose.

Regulus Black and Kreacher.

The former was dead before his birth; the latter would not heed his calls.

Tiberius Ogden

The Firewhisky Financier - a lead that wasn't his own.

And the only one lead that remained to them, the only one they could truly pursue without fear of greater danger.

He could not err in his choosing, for there was only one thread that remained to him, only one avenue to pursue.

Harry looked to Fleur, hoping to find counsel in her eyes, acceptance on her features as he broached his plan.

His mouth opened and spoke, and a plan formed that saw them exit the alcove, bound for unfamiliar territory.

Fleur's knowledge of the Alley far exceeded his own, where she had worked in the area for almost a year, his visits were mostly limited to the frantic rush for school supplies, the Weasleys at his back.

Although she had never delved down the unscrupulous, cramped alleyways of Knockturn, this was clearly a path she had walked before. A thoroughfare past the apothecary led them down a spiralling path, past apartments blocks and eventually to their quarry.

Housing units parted, identical buildings on the adjacent gave birth to a wide opening. Harry's nose was assaulted by a pungent smell that was soon dissipated by freshening charms that saturated the air.

Alcohol, Harry guessed as they stepped further into the opening.

"The Distillery District," Fleur announced as Harry was allowed a proper glimpse of the section before him.

"Dare I even ask why you seem so familiar with the path here?"

"It's one of the only places that sell a somewhat palatable wine on this island."

"I'm sure it was very hard for you to live on sub-par alcohol."

"You'd mock my struggles?" She scoffed, her voice alight with faux-indignation.

"No, of course not." Harry placated, "I imagine it was such a fall from grace to be debased by my country."

"Is that an insinuation that I've fallen from grace?"

"Of course not." Harry shook his head, "It takes a remarkable amount of grace to whinge in public about just that."

"I was not whinging." Her scoff and subsequent facial expression overtaken by a scowl, "I was educating - there's a marked difference."

Had they been less acquainted, Harry might have mistaken her tone for anger, her words as an argument. Instead, their shoulders brushed, and she wore an infectious smile on her glamoured face.

Even wearing false features, Fleur Delacour couldn't be stamped out.

It was all a brief piece of levity that helped confront the daunting sight ahead.

First, Harry noticed the dull whine. It was a familiar enough noise, but one that seemed out of place here. The Distillery District had marginally more people present, a monotony of shoes rebounding off of manicured cobbles as they went about their business.

Duty. Harry noted, They're only here for duty, to try and move on.

The passage of workers stretched down the length of the street, culminating in the tallest building present, large, ostentatious lettering crossing the front of the building.

Ogden's Distillery, Makers of Fine Whiskey since 1693

With their destination found, they began to weave through the small crowds that occupied the centre street. With ease they found themselves at the foot of the tall building.

The guard at the door posed little challenge to Fleur, a wand hidden beneath her robes, a muttered spell and a false cough to hide it.

"Confundo."

The pale spell crossed the distance in an instance, imbuing the grey-robed wizard with a newfound interest for the cobbles before him, slipping behind him with relative ease and into the distillery beyond.

The workers inside cared little of their presence, feigned confidence seemed well-placed enough to ensure it looked as if they had a place within the building. Intuition served them well enough, leading them up flights of stairs and over the work floor, their journey ending with a single door.

Tiberius R. Ogden

A receptionist's desk sat empty but was not inactive as evidenced by fluttering pieces of parchment that flew from the desk to other areas of the building.

Whatever our window, it isn't long.

Fleur undid her charmwork, and once more, Harry wore a real face, his hand reaching to twist the ornate handle - off to pull a final thread.

Keep them off balance. Fleur had once told him in her quarters, nursing spell wounds. It had been a lesson applied to duelling.

What was this if not duelling of another kind?

He seized the handle and pushed it open; his appearance alone should have been enough to keep the man off balance.

Information. Harry repeated. That's what we're here for.

The familiar man sat at his desk, the space before him occupied by missives, quills and what Harry assumed to be a healthy serving of his own liquor.

"Harry Potter," Ogden said, the telltale signs of shock absent from the man's stern visage, but the same subtle gregariousness from Slughorn's party was missing. Instead of shock, it looked like calculating - the same look Ron would get whenever Harry made a move in chess he hadn't anticipated.

"And Miss Delacour, of course," Ogden added, it seemed more an afterthought to allow him more time to formulate a proper response.

They had succeeded, the man was off balance.

That part of the plan was simplistic - it was keeping the man that way that presented a task far more daunting.

For all their flaws, they are still powerful and intelligent men alone.

"Mister Ogden." Harry returned the pleasantries.

"Harry Potter." Tiberius repeated, "I had expected many a person through my door today. I did not count you amongst them."

"I'm a man of surprises, I suppose," Harry said with a noncommittal shrug.

"Indeed, you are." Ogden said, "But my courtesies abandon me, and please be seated."

Harry obliged with Fleur alongside, taking the proferred seats.

"I think I'll forego the pleasantries." Ogden explained, "Because I find myself more than surprised at your presence, not a particularly unwelcome surprise, that is - but one all the same."

Providing reasoning was not something he had rehearsed on the trek to where they currently sat. Harry wracked his mind for logic that did not seem as transparent as he felt at that moment.

"Information." Fleur spoke where Harry could not, "The world's state of affairs has evaded us for the past few days."

"Truly?" The man asked, "And you've sought me out rather than asking some a tad more familiar?"

Ogden was probing for further information on their own situation; Harry refused to play into his hands.

"We thought it best to find a reputable source."

Perhaps flattery would serve him as well as it did with Slughorn. Ogden seemed outwardly pensive for a moment, enough that Harry was unsure if the expression was truthful or a facade.

"For the love I bore your grandfather, Charlus, I shall offer my assistance - this once. He was a good man, and though you may never have met him, I see much of him in you, beyond your colouring, that is."

"And my grandfather has what bearing on the situation?"

As much as Harry wished to push the issue of his Grandfather, a man he had scarcely ever heard of, it was not the time. Derailing the conversation for familial pursuits wouldn't serve anyone but himself.

"None in this particular instance, truthfully." Ogden admitted, his face remaining impassive, "But it was his memory that saw me resign from the Wizengamot in your support, at the very least I'd consider myself a friend."

He is trying to ingratiate himself as familiar, just as Slughorn did.

Harry had observed their tricks firsthand, as had Fleur, they would not fall into his hands so meekly.

"Friend enough to support Voldemort over Dumbledore?" Harry asked pointedly, a jab that was likely best left unsaid.

Derailing the conversation seemed to happen despite his wishes, but it seemed to their advantage.

Finally, there was but a flicker of emotion across old, caramel eyes, but it was not one conducive to their discussion - it was anger, subtle, but present.

"Do not take me for a fool, Harry Potter," Ogden warned softly.

"You'd support a madman over a chance of a better world, is there a more apt word?"

Harry's penchant for letting a temper reign free had never been more apparent, there was nothing to be gained by not holding his tongue, and yet, he had let it loose.

"I am not Horace Slughorn, stumbling from one act of idiocy to the next." Ogden continued, "A man led by a council of demagoguery and fanaticism."

Harry had thought it once before, but this was confirmation of such a thought.

They're business partners, certainly not friends.

"Yet you're a part of that same council." Fleur interjected, "Yet you remain a part of it, claiming your views are so atypical?"

"I am not a man who finds satisfaction in war." Ogden admitted, "But war is a business venture, one that is not destined to last long, but an opportunity still. Few have the luxury of virtue in times like these. We have little choice but to move with the times."

"And profit," Harry said.

"And profit." Ogden repeated, "The two are not mutually exclusive."

"Not destined to last long?" Fleur questioned, taking particular note of the man's words.

"Has the Dark Lord not already shown his hand enough?" Ogden countered, "He's taken Azkaban, set the Isles alight from Scotland to Wales and raided the Ministry, decimating the Hitwizards, all that remains is Scrimgeour and a battered Auror force and ashes up and down the coast."

It took a moment to internalise the man's words.

The Ministry was truly lost.

And there were more attacks than just the Burrow.

"Neither the Prophet nor the Wireless will report on it, so long as they remain under Scrimgeour's grasp, even if he is displaced."

"Why?"

"Most already know, what good will further fear mongering accomplish?" Ogden asked, "Most can taste the tension in the air, know it's a war already lost."

"Do you know if there was any resistance?" Harry asked, a question filled with desperate hope.

"As I said, Scrimgeour and an Auror force still seem to be alive." Ogden said, "If they escaped, I assume they did so through violence."

"And despite seeing all this, despite seeing what he is capable of, you'd still support Voldemort?" Fleur asked, "I suppose you still believe you have any assurances you won't end up amongst those burnt?"

"War makes for strange bedfellows." Ogden said, "We balance probabilities in this business - Landon and Slughorn are foolish indeed, but they do not lack cunning. If they believe they have assurances for the moment, however tentative, I have little reason to believe they speak falsely."

Harry turned to Fleur, a brief glimpse of recognition in her eyes.

Because he once taught him, thought himself using Voldemort rather than the inverse.

Even after he killed my Mother, Slughorn still thinks he could pull strings through subtly and support.

A better world, he had said.

But the portly Professor had reached too far. He was a man used to having few insurmountable obstacles in his way. Then one had risen, forcing him to measure his aspirations against his actual capabilities.

He had reached too far in pursuit of a star.

And he fell.

Harry turned his gaze back to Ogden, who seemed interested in the unfolding scene between the pair.

Old habits die hard.

"What if I told you they were lying?"

"I'd call you a liar in turn." Ogden said, "A particularly poor one if such an attempt is any barometer."

"And if we have proof of such an accusation?" Fleur continued, "Would you still name us poor liars?"

"If I possessed such evidence of malpractice, what makes you assume It'd even warrant investigating?"

"You're a businessman." Harry echoed, "You'll protect your business ventures."

"Which is entirely dependent on whether I place your word on a higher rung than theirs."

"You'd put a remarkable amount of stock in the words of men who lie for a living," Fleur said, the edge in her voice could not be mistaken.

"Assumptions are a deadly thing." Ogden countered, "If I believed your words over theirs, I expose my back for a blade - it is the lies we least expect that deal us the greatest harm."

Harry did not need to glance at Fleur once more; he had a plan of his own.

"Thomas Riddle Junior," Harry said simply, leaving the statement in the air as if it explained it all on its own.

There was little sense in not uttering the words. The knowledge was not commonplace, and he could not anger Slughorn, speaking them could offer them a boon, or nothing at all.

It was a bargaining chip.

"A name." Ogden said, "But not one I recognise."

"Voldemort's birth name - a student of Horace Slughorn decades ago."

For the first time that meeting, Ogden allowed a glimpse of the evident shock beneath his hardened features.

"Point being?" Ogden spoke after a brief moment, "Pedigree and power do not always go hand-in-hand, the knowledge of such a name does little for me."

But even a layman could hear the truth beneath his voice, spy it below the surface - the man was confused and shocked but above all - he was intrigued.

"He'd rather see you dead than share the spoils." Harry explained, "Slughorn tried to use him once before, thought he could outsmart Voldemort - he couldn't. Voldemort won't be as quick or eager to forget that as you may like."

"I take it you claim to know the mind of Voldemort more intimately than anyone else?" Ogden asked, a question meant to push him off balance but Fleur was quick to interject.

"Even Albus Dumbledore thought little of you." Fleur bluffed, "He allowed you access to Hogwarts, gave you an avenue to plan because even he knew if you continued down this path, you weren't long for this world."

Neither is he, Harry thought sadly.

The bluff appeared to have worked, sending the man into his thoughts once more, the upper hand seceding to them once more.

"And I take it you have evidence of these claims?"

"We've given you the avenue." Fleur said, "Our claims are true; you need only investigate them."

"And you've laid such at my feet for what reason?"

"Because we needed allies and information." Harry said, "And because Slughorn is deceiving you like he deceived everyone."

"This is done in hopes it would convince me to abandon my allies?" Ogden asked.

"You seemed the least hostile of the group." Harry shrugged, deciding candour was likely the best approach, "And the only one who we had any idea about."

"Leave it with me." Ogden decided after, "I shall decide whether or not your words are worth anything at a later date."

It was not the reception he hoped his confession would have yielded.

But I suppose that's the best we could have hoped for.

"As it stands, despite the shock of such revelations, I think you've overstayed your welcome."

"I agree." Fleur decided, standing from the chair, Harry copying her movement a second later.

"Wait." Harry all but shouted, realisation hot on his lips. "Caractus Burke."

It had been their primary purpose, yet Harry had erred and pursued an ally rather than the truth.

Odgen arched an old, bushy eyebrow.

"Does that name mean anything to you?" Fleur probed.

"A co-proprietor of Borgin and Burkes, of course, I know the name," Ogden said, a glimmer of indignation shining through at the insinuation that they assumed he hadn't known.

"But what does it mean to you?"

"This seems like a fairly odd line of questioning, Caractus Burke has been dead for years."

"Just answer the question." Harry urged.

"My dealings with him weren't extensive." Ogden explained, "It was my father who financed their shop, I can't claim to know either Borgin or Burke in much more than passing."

"Did you owe either of them anything?" Harry asked, "Anything at all?"

"Maybe a bottle of firewhisky?" Ogden shrugged, "It's been decades."

Harry could not hear dishonesty in his voice, nor the shimmer of deceit in his eyes.

Doesn't mean it isn't there. Harry thought, They're far better at it than I am.

A quick glance to Fleur seemed to confirm she was equally satisfied that the man was telling the truth or at the very least, didn't remember.

Their true purpose had come to an end. The tread had come loose but not in the way he intended.

They searched for a Horcrux but might have gained an ally instead.

"Alright." Harry nodded to Fleur, and the pair began their departure in earnest once more, leaving the older man to their backs, pondering their words.

Harry had assumed a witty remark to follow them out the door, a threat to solidify his control of the situation, an assurance that he had not been bested.

But there was nought.

Tiberius Ogden merely downed the glass of hickory-hued liquor and fished out a piece of parchment.

Harry allowed himself to smile; it felt like a victory.

Even if it was destined to become much more, or much less.

The telltale crack of apparition heralded the day's end, the derelict exterior of Grimmauld Place coming into view once more.

The remainder of the day had been uneventful, a quick trek to the apparition point and they found themselves amidst safer grounds.

Fleur leaned against him as he twisted the door handle, allowing them access into the house beyond.

Harry had not expected any figure to be beyond the door.

Least of all one with red hair and a lit wand.

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