A Different Kind of War @ajjax
Survival Misnomer

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: Survival Misnomer

PAIRINGS: Harry/Fleur


A/N: God, it feels weird to be here again after being absent for so long.

I apologise for the long absence, lots of things have been happening on my side of the fence. I lost a family member, I wrote a lot of one-shots, ignored the chapter a fair bit, collaborated with another author and even started a charity in a fanfiction community to raise nearly $2000. Suffice to say it's been a weird couple months for me. But I wanted to get a chapter out before the new year, admittedly rough around the edges, I wanted to give the people that enjoy the story a little piece of ADKOW amidst a shit year.

If I'm honest, I've been struggling a fair bit with writing and not so much on the idea side of things. This chapter was particularly difficult in that I had to portray emotions in a manner that I hope doesn't feel synthetic, which is always hard. But as a writer, I'm being hit pretty hard with trying to change my style and meld what I've learnt so far.

My troubles aside, the chapter is here and I hope you enjoy it! Stay safe!

The levelled wand before him was hot and lucent, a pale, iridescent glow bathing the hallway before them, daring him to edge closer.

Fleur remained to his rear; her wand brought to the fore in a defensive effort — not content to be caught off guard twice in the same day.

Though it was impossible to not seem on the back foot.

Their vigilance had not extended inside the walls of Grimmauld Place, reserved instead for old men with hidden agendas and drunken wandmakers. Harry had expected much less beyond the door, a place where the intensity of the day's events became muted and the high of victory lessened to a dull ache.

Where dark thoughts were faced once more, and painful conversations were had; where they dared to speak the harsh truths that lingered beneath the facade.

But be it boon or bad luck, life was never destined to be so simple.

A rational mind would have realised from the outset that while the Fidelius charm remained intact, there was little chance of an enemy lying inside.

Harry traced the unfamiliar wand with his eyes, from apex to source and up a gnarled forearm to familiar, red hair.

"Charlie?" Harry asked, his question laced with the shock of realisation.

"Harry?" The familiar voice returned, the glowing wand seeming duller for having recognised him.

It was a mundane exchange, all things considered, but one burdened with the duty of having to convey the lance of shock they had no doubt both been struck with. Though it had little chance of breaking them free from the sudden stupor they found themselves in.

They're alive.

A simple thought, the voices that surrounded him were soon lost in the peripheral haze of such a resounding truth.

They're alive.

Even if in reality it spoke only of Charlie being alive, it lit the wick of hope within him. In retrospect, it seemed foolish to cling to such.

And then, came Ron.

He rounded the corner with as much decorum as he could muster, a stutter step followed as their eyes met. Surmounting the distance of the hallway with long strides, he stood before Harry. Ron's lanky form was rigid as if he was a soldier forming ranks, blue eyes boring down upon Harry.

Christmas had been only days ago, and yet it seemed a lifetime had passed between them.

Harry thought there was little use in not letting his eyes drift to the new feature that adorned the familiar face.

Scar tissue ran the length of his right cheek, painting cheekbone to chin in a pale reddish hue. The skin seemed leathery — as if Harry had dared to reach out and touch it, his fingers would come away bloody from having grazed the rough surface.

Truthfully, it was an odd affair.

They were best mates, they had been best mates for years. Why was now any different to any adversity they had conquered in the past?

Yet there was a marked difference; no words sprang to speak of his relief or even his defence. Harry merely withered under the scrutinising gaze that could have been accusatory in this light.

The same lifetime that had passed between them spoke of far greater tragedies, expressing a far louder sentiment than words alone.

They were alive, but not unscathed.

Uncomfortable silence reigned no longer, the doors behind Ron and Charlie burst open and started to teem with life - life that had been absent only hours ago. From Order members coming out to check the disturbance to the rest of the Weasleys spilling out to greet him with glassy eyes and broad smiles.

Eventually, Hermione had wiggled through the crowd with open arms to envelop him. Harry might've said something, offered some platitudes. But if he had any, they soon escaped his mind. Lost somewhere amidst the maelstrom of cheerful cries and suffocating embraces, Harry's mind was filled with joy. Despite the events of the last few days, they seemed whole once more.

It was a joy not set in stone, the harsh grip of gravity took him by the ankle and dragged him, kicking and screaming, back to earth.

There were absences.

The differences were subtle at first, as faces both familiar and unfamiliar flew by. Subtle yet noticeable.

Ginny, Fred, Bill, Mr Weasley, Mrs Weasley.

It was a sombre mantra in his head, there were faces new and old in the fray, though it was the absences that sung a song louder than the rest.

Had Harry entertained optimism, searched for other avenues of thought, his mind could have yielded a plethora of different results. Perhaps they had been injured and sent to Saint Mungo's or off helping to douse the flames of a country alight.

Then, another face emerged from the mix.

Remus Lupin.

The last time Harry had seen the man, there had been a rift between them, one beneath the surface, Harry could sense it all the same.

He had sulked out of the Burrow as Harry had arrived with Professor Dumbledore, Tonks in tow, sparing him nary a second glance.

Harry couldn't blame him, not truthfully - not anymore. Harry had killed Sirius, it was the bitter truth, but the truth all the same. He had been responsible for the man losing the last remnant of a time beyond his own.

A happier time, maybe, Harry thought.

Though, Harry could forgive; he had to.

There were enough foes outside the walls, he did not need another enemy within.

"It's good to see you again, Harry," Remus said, the first words they had spoken to one another in an age. "We're glad to have you returned to us safely."

"If it's anything, I'm glad too." Harry joked, or rather, tried to.

He succeeded in raising the corners of the man's lips ever so slightly, though he could feel the tension remain.

"Are you injured?" Remus asked, looking over Harry's shoulder to address Fleur as well.

"Nothing that hasn't already been fixed," Harry answered, "I was a bit bad for a while there."

"We've managed to muster some healers, should that change, you need only ask," Remus said, finishing the short exchange of pleasantries. "A mind healer too, should you — well, should you need it."

The implication was clear enough.

"I think we'll be fine for now." Fleur added politely, "Though we'd like answers on what's happened since Christmas."

The scars on Remus's face lengthened and bristled with the man's expression, clearly weighing his next words with care.

"Truth and answers seem a complicated beast in these times." Remus confessed, "I'm afraid I wouldn't even begin to know how to tackle it."

"By the horns, perhaps," Fleur suggested.

"I'm afraid life is rarely so simple." Remus offered softly in return.

If there was ever an understatement, that was it.

"Try and make it simple." Fleur implored, "We deserve answers at the very least."

"You'll get them," Remus promised, his reticence seeming out of character. "Just bear with us for the moment, there are pressing matters to deal with. When the Order meets, you will have your answers, Harry, that I promise."

If there was one thing Harry had come to loathe over the years, it was being treated as if he was an aside to the conversation - as if age alone made him little more than decoration when dealing with such business.

Harry swallowed the dreaded ball of anxiety that seemed to lurch up his throat at the mere thought of the questions forming.

I shouldn't.

And yet, his mouth moved of its own accord.

"Stop it." Harry demanded, "What is going on? Where is everyone?"

The flurry of questions fled his mouth, seeking safety in the open air. Even Harry had to cringe at how the words sounded, hoping facial expressions alone would dull their impact.

It was callous, perhaps cruel with all that had seemed to happen, but it was not without a reaction of its own.

The flame-atrophied muscle in Ron's cheek clenched, fibres becoming visible in an act that was no doubt painful. Charlie's full stature shook with sudden tension, Hermione's eyes began to glisten under the low-light of the candelabra.

They were signs that heralded terrible news yet to come.

Yet, it was staved off for the moment.

"Perhaps it would be best for you to rest first." Remus offered, his tone soft as if a louder voice might frighten him. "The both of you should, the past few days have been long and arduous, take what time you can to recuperate."

He's avoiding the question, was his only thought.

It was yet another piece in the puzzle, an image he wasn't sure he should finish.

Maybe stalwart adamance had been the wrong approach. All their reactions had been telling, but Remus had remained impassive, tight-faced and tighter-lipped in the face of a barrage of difficult questions.

For the first time since they had reunited, it was not Remus that came to Harry's assistance with an answer.

It was Ron.

"They're dead."

And the world spiralled forever further downwards.

The simple act of walking to the dining room seemed anything but. Now a sullen affair more akin to a funeral march had led them into the lengthy room. Ron, Charlie and Hermione had parted ways with them at Remus's behest, off to get the rest he'd begged of Harry moments ago.

Even the very room told a tale of what had already happened in days past. Dust motes hung precariously in the air, the last vestiges of flickering daylight highlighting them as it died a gruesome death, forced to flee over the horizon and leave them to bloody business.

And with the last vestiges fleeing, the remnants of the Order had arrived.

They were a sorry bunch indeed, in truth, Harry supposed they all were.

We'll all be sorrier before it's all said and done.

Faces, old and new, scarred and fresh, familiar and unknown filed through the empty door and with their ranks filled and the last body through, the door made to close behind them.

And with the door shut, a truth already known was exacerbated.

The Order was missing too many, the days prior had taken more from them than any cared to admit. They had gained some, at least, in the form of new faces, but not nearly enough to offset the deathly deficit.

Soon chairs were pulled out and seats taken, a poor council forming around the stained mahogany table. Though Harry could not take full note of the faces that sat on the side that Fleur did not occupy, instead, he was left to dance with a dangerous thought.

They're dead.

Harry had known who Ron had spoken of, or at the very least, he assumed he did - their absences once again spoke to what words could not.

He had remained optimistic, perhaps naively, that the flames had been little more than a mirage, fooled himself into believing that while dry, the ink was not what he thought it was.

At some point we're going to have to confront the truth, Fleur had told him, We can't run forever.

And she was right, as she always is, Harry thought grimly.

Yet, he had thought to run still, and his legs faltered beneath him, and he landed in something altogether different.

And now this was his reality.

In such a time, Harry could only think of one other.

He wondered if the strings the man claimed to tie were worth it - in times like this, he wanted to know if whatever the continent held for Albus Dumbledore was more important than this.

More important than saving the lives of those he left behind.

While people finished their shuffling in and taking seats, Remus once again moved to the foreground, taking prominence as the de facto leader of whatever remnants they had mustered.

He had hoped his first Order meeting, if any, would be under kinder circumstances.

"Now that we're all present, we may begin." Remus stood from his position at the end of the table, "I know many of you are confused, questioning our — your position in all of this, of the war."

All is a poor choice of phrase, Harry remarked sadly.

"Truth be told," Remus continued, "I don't have an answer to all your questions and I likely never will. The lack of faces around the table should speak to the exact toll the past few days has enacted."

Murmurs seemed to erupt at Remus's words, quiet and morose at first until they coalesced into a single, braver voice.

"And just how high is that toll?" A vaguely familiar man asked, blonde hair fell to below his chin and a short beard patched with what seemed to be whiter spots. He wore something conspicuously similar to Auror robes. Harry struggled to place his face.

Remus bit his top lip with his bottom teeth, seeming to weigh the next words carefully. An action that seemed to age the already worn man considerably at that moment.

"As most have already heard and helped with the matter, the Ministry's fall is common knowledge," Remus said, the room remaining silent as a crypt. "Voldemort and his forces drew out the Aurors with a series of fast-paced raids to lure their full might from the Ministry. While the majority of his followers kept the forces of the Ministry occupied, he led a sortie against the Hitwizards remaining in reserve at the Ministry, defeating the token force left to protect the Ministry."

"And we lost our own forces trying to protect the Ministry?" A feminine voice called from down the table, though Harry couldn't see its source.

"No." Remus shook his head, "Order forces made an attempt to try and learn of Voldemort's plans beforehand, we believe the raids were limited to believed members of the Order or possible sympathisers."

"Such as?" The voice prompted once more.

Remus seemed to debate the merits of speaking of their losses but eventually relented under the weight of a room full of glares.

"Safehouses in Bedford, Cambridge and Ipswich were razed, perishing alongside those we were housing inside." Remus said, "Podmore House in Laburnum Gardens, which was understandably empty, likewise with Diggle Manor in Tutshill."

Words seemed to linger at Remus's lips before he continued.

"The Burrow." Remus said, "Resulting in the deaths of Ginny, Molly and Fred Weasley."

Remus continued listing unfamiliar places and fallen names, but they were lost in the white noise of loss.

Ron's words began to make all the sense they needed to.

Ginny, Fred, Mrs Weasley Harry repeated internally, scared to utter the names as if thought alone would shatter the facade of denial.

It had been only days ago he had seen the pair of them, Ginny joyful despite her dislike of Fleur for having Bill to herself at the Burrow. Fred perpetually joyful, making it his goal alongside George to spread cheer despite the war that raged. Mrs Weasley worked deftly in the kitchen and outside to ensure the night had both food and love.

And now they were gone.

Fleur's hand sought his own beneath the table, snaking her fingers into his grip to squeeze his hand softly, bringing him back to reality.

He turned his eyes to Fleur, her ocean irises shining with what he could only assume to be unshed tears.

"It's a simple question, I suppose." The blonde man said, "What do we do next?"

"We concede." A man said, closer to Remus than Harry was.

Dedalus Diggle, Harry recognised, One of the members that took me from Privet Drive.

"You're a fucking coward, Diggle." A heckling voice called as Harry peered at the familiar man, his violet top hat static in his lap.

"Have some wits about you, for Merlin's sake" Diggle returned, his excitable attitude that had once been easily recognisable was dropped. "Voldemort sought us out at our best, between us and the Ministry he outsmarted us both and struck us where it hurts, despite our efforts."

Harry could understand the lack of hope, the sentiment was likely more common than he hoped.

"You'd have us lie down instead?" Elphias Doge wheezed from further down the table, "You'd have us muzzled in the hopes he might step over us gently?"

"I'd have us live." Diggle argued, "Resistance will make a good story on a tombstone, I'd prefer to stay out of the ground."

"Different words, same message." The familiar man in Auror robes said. Harry still struggled to place him. "You're scared, and all you've got is ideas of turning tail."

"You were at Azkaban, weren't you Griffiths?" Diggle posed, and the members looked on, Harry couldn't say as to why no one stopped the man's tirade.

Maybe more than a few of them agree with him.

"You already know I was." Griffiths said, "Stop the run around, get to the point."

And it was there, Harry finally placed him.

The man from Azkaban, from the vision. Harry recognised, the man that Voldemort let live.

"Do you think we could have stopped the Dark Lord? Even with a hundred men?"

Griffiths, if Harry heard correctly, looked taken aback even if only for a moment. He seemed pained as if the mere mention of Azkaban split the seams and exposed raw flesh once more.

Sometimes a name was all the provocation needed to send you reeling back, Harry knew the feeling well enough.

"This isn't Azkaban, Diggle." Griffiths spat, his voice now alight with rage. "Don't you dare raise that ghost with me."

"Aye, you're right." Diggle conceded, "It isn't Azkaban. But if we're so keen to jump back into hot water and not learn from what we've already lost, it'll just be Azkaban after Azkaban."

Harry felt himself speaking up despite wishes to do otherwise.

"Voldemort already knows who we all are, we're targets no matter what we do," Harry said.

Like the Weasleys were, his mind seemed to taunt. Pushing down the thought, he soldiered on against his wishes.

"When Professor Dumbledore returns, we'll be more than able to fight back then."

Diggle levelled a finger at Harry, bolstered by an exclamation of affirmation.

"Exactly!" Diggle said, "When. For all we know that should be if. I'm as much a supporter of Albus as any one of us, but at some point, we've got to be realistic about our chances."

"Have some faith."

"Don't tell me to have faith!" Diggle exclaimed, banging his fist on the table in an act that made the short-statured man seem far larger than he was. "I was as faithful as any, stood by our cause through the first war. Now Sturgis is dead, Emmeline is dead and for what? We've got nothing to show for our efforts but bodies and scorched earth."

"Need I remind you of all we've done over the past years, Dedalus?" Remus asked, "We've saved a great amount that would've been lost otherwise."

"I'm not saying the cause isn't just." Diggle sighed exasperatedly. "Or that we haven't done any good. But Albus is gone, and we're on the back foot, what's the point in fighting a losing battle any longer?"

Harry would be lying if he said the question didn't have merit, indicated by the silence that followed. A room mulling over the words as if their lives depended on the matter - because they did.

Remus himself seemed to struggle with an answer, bristling as eyes looked to him for an answer. As decent an orator as he was, the man was no Albus Dumbledore, though they looked to the chair he occupied as if he was.

Harry did not envy him.

But luckily, Remus was saved from making a response. The grating percussion of wood scraping against wood filled their ears as the room remained silent. Eventually, the door to the room swung inwards, hinges squealing in sudden protest.

Behind it emerged a scarred visage and a single, electric blue eye.

Alastor Moody, the Mad Eye.

His arrival heralded silence still, observing the man as he hobbled towards the seat across from Harry.

"You can quit rousing the rabble, Diggle." Moody ordered gruffly as he reached the other side of the table, "You've spewed enough shite for the day."

"I had thought your hearing had abandoned you, Moody." Remus joked, "It's good to have you with us."

Moody grunted in response, offering nothing in return.

"It's not shite, Alastor." Diggle argued, "We're useless without Albus."

"You? Maybe." Moody shrugged, "You remember the vow you made, as well as I do."

"A vow made -"

"A vow." Moody stressed, "A fucking vow."

"And what would you have us do then?"

Moody didn't seem to be one so easily outdone by Dedalus Diggle.

"Albus Dumbledore isn't here, but the world he built still is, and we'll defend her to the last." Moody said, taking the seat across from Harry finally, the legs screeching against the floor."The door is the same place it's always been, run if you want, see how well that works out for you."

When the old, grizzled man leant back in the wooden chair proper silence reigned once more. Uneasy and indicative of Diggle's acquiescence, the short man turned red but said nothing more.

Harry, now allowed an unadulterated glimpse at the old Auror, drank in his new appearance.

Alastor Moody had somehow returned to them even more scarred than before, which was certainly no small feat.

Moody rested his hands on the table, his signature staff conspicuously absent. The smallest finger of his left hand was absent, a gangrenous stump that extended only a few short centimetres above the first knuckle.

Even Mad-Eye Moody had gone against Voldemort and didn't come off unscathed. Part of him relished in that fact as if it absolved him of blame.

Moody's electric blue eye whirled to Harry, then to Fleur, before focusing on him again. It whirled and whistled softly in its socket as if it could sense his thoughts. Harry broke his gaze before the eye's dissection of his person could continue.

Where Remus seemed more content with letting voices be heard and decisions made, Moody had no such compunction.

"No?" Moody mocked, even if Diggle wanted to leave, Harry doubted he would under the gaze of the entire room.

"Now if you pisspots want to quit wallowing, we've got a war." Moody growled, "Aye, we lost. We'll lose a good few more times before it's all said and done. You'll gain nothing from rolling over."

His words seemed to embolden some and saw the opposition wallow in yet another defeat.

"Chances are when the lads we've sent to assist Scrimgeour are done, we'll have enough wands to make a counter-attack," Moody said.

"But they'll never be enough." A woman spoke from down the table, unfamiliar with short-cropped hair, "Dedalus makes a valid point, we had all them and more and still failed."

"Aye. You're right." Moody conceded, "We got complacent, let ourselves get comfortable with our feet rooted to the ground. Azkaban meant fuck all for us because we learned nothing from it. Tried to make our approach from the first war fit the second, not any longer. "

"I take it you've got a plan then, Alastor?" Hestia Jones asked with a hope-laden voice.

"I have." Moody nodded, "Mercenaries - Sell Spells, Free Wands; whatever title you want to call them. Snag what's left before Voldemort starts setting his eyes on them."

"What's to say the Malfoy money didn't buy them already?" Remus asked, "They had full access for a year before the accounts were seized by the Ministry."

"They were trying to avoid detection." Moody pointed out, "Moving masses of men and galleons draws more attention then they would've liked."

Harry turned his head ever so slightly to Fleur to glimpse her reaction. Rather than the observing scrutiny like he'd have expected, the telltale drinking in of words to search for weakness, she just stared.

Fleur's gaze drifted to and fro slightly, a rocking ship in the waves, but her eyes did not seem to focus on much, staring at the wall and thousands of miles beyond.

She was trapped in her own thoughts.

Harry returned the squeeze of the hand, shaking her from her stupor and back into the land of the living.

Though it was likely little better than wherever she was.

"How can you listen to this?" Diggle broke back in, "Is that what you think we need? More marauders running amuck in the countryside, do you think we need men bound only to gold, of which we sorely lack, to be the ones to protect the Isles?"

"That's goblin piss, and you know it." Moody all but shouted, "Strong wands and harsh spells rule this world; you're a fool to believe any different."

"Mercenaries are nobody's men." Remus pointed out diplomatically.

"So they're potentially everybody's men." Another voice supported Diggle. The table seemed to lengthen every time a face, both familiar and unknown chimed in with their own opinion. "Chances are we'd just get stabbed in the back soon as the tides looked like turning."

"The high road is pretty to walk, but down here on the ground, there isn't much of a choice." Moody spat. "We either make the leap, do some things that mean we won't sleep so easy at night or we lose. Then none of it matters, ever mattered."

If Diggle's argument hadn't been enough to convince him, the murmur of agreements and disagreements, the lingering tension in the air did.

The world isn't the only thing fractured, Harry realised, the Order is too.

Everyone had their own ideas of how the insurmountable should be tackled, dreams of fear and grandeur, war and death were all that ruled now.

"Alastor's point has merit." Remus said softly, "Despite it being somewhat crass. This is not the first war, we can't go back. We need to adapt to survive, and survive to overcome."

The silence that followed did not lure Harry into thinking an accord was reached, the fissure was clear even if the future was not.

"I think that's enough for the moment." Remus interjected, "We'll have a greater accounting of our possibilities moving forward once Arthur and the rest return with whoever they could save."

"What would you have us do now?" Griffiths asked.

"Return to your safe houses; guard your charges." Remus said, "A meeting will likely take place tonight, if not, tomorrow. Until then contact no one, we'll devise a stronger method to ensure we're not infiltrated in the meantime."

And with a dull alacrity, most slipped quietly from their seats, desperate to flee from the hostilities that warred within the dining room of Grimmauld Place.

Harry would've liked to do the same, had he anywhere to flee.

His hand remained joined with Fleur's, though it was not destined to stay that way for long. Duty assaulted them from both sides and soon dragged them away from one another.

Charlie came from one side, Moody the other and in the pursuit of more noble efforts, they were forced to separate.

Moody reached them first, crossing the short distance to stand before Harry.

"Potter." Moody said, "Up now, with me."

"Professor? What do you need me for?" Harry questioned.

"Never have been, nor ever will be your Professor, Potter." Moody snorted contemptuously as if he abhorred the very thought.

"Present from the Headmaster." Moody snorted, "Less talking, more following."

Harry quickly turned back to Fleur, "You'll be okay until I get back?"

"I'll be fine, Harry." Fleur said, "I'm not made of glass, I haven't shattered yet."

Despite her saying that, Harry wasn't so sure.

I'm not even sure about myself, he frowned, let alone others.

"Alright then," Harry said, not knowing what else to say as Charlie began to make his way to them. "I'll find you later then?"

"Always." She promised.

Where Harry was being taken, he couldn't say.

They walked, or rather, walked and hobbled through the bustling streets of London. Caught amidst the exodus of workers making their way home after their day, Christmas Day seemed to be nothing but a mirage behind them.

A cold wind blew through the Borough of Islington, forcing Harry to tuck his neck into his chest in an effort to shield his face from the biting gale. Although the light snow had stopped falling for the moment, the frigid breeze was a persistent reminder of colder days yet to come.

Though the soft howling of wind dulled the deafening cacophony of humming suburbia, drawing more attention away from the harsh clack of Moody's wooden prosthesis.

Moody had taken off his electric blue eye, stowing away the apparatus in his top pocket. With a deft, almost unnoticeable flick of his wand, he conjured a patch. Black and minimalistic, inoffensive even. The Auror's darkened robes changed to a more muggle appropriate coat.

He looked almost inconspicuous, if not for the scarred face and persistent hobble.

"Where are we going?" Harry asked beneath his breath, trying to avoid drawing any further errant glances.

"Somewhere important," Moody growled in return, "You best have your wand on you, lad, where is it?"

"Of course I have it." Harry replied indignantly, "It's in my pocket."

"Move it to the front of your belt." Moody ordered, "Better wizards than you have lost a duel for reaching too far."

I usually do. Harry thought. He had moved it so it wouldn't dig into flesh. Now, he felt like a chastised child in the presence of a strict teacher as he moved his wand where he was told.

"That's a good lad." Moody praised roughly, "Head down, keep up."

Suffice to say, Harry was at wit's end, ushered into the cold outdoors with vague orders and no explanation.

Nothing that day had been simple, no answer had been straight, and no problem had been solved easily. Even now, despite it all, he was forced to shift the guilt and loss to a recess of his mind, not even allowing him the luxury of mourning in peace.

With more rounded corners and stalwart advances against wind and people alike, they seemed to reach their destination.

Essex Road Station, Harry read.

"We're catching a train?" Harry asked, confused, "As opposed to apparating?"

"Oh, we'll be apparating alright," Moody replied succinctly.

"At a train station?" Harry asked, still puzzled, "Could we not do that from outside of Grimmauld?"

"Albus has been spewing praises about you for the better part of a year," Moody grumbled, "Figure out this riddle then."

Harry wasn't sure how learning magic and deciphering odd actions went hand-in-hand, but he tried all the same.

There were enough pieces to outline the puzzle but not grasp the image. Moody has tried to remain inconspicuous, but from who? Why trek across streets to reach a train station they weren't going to use?

"We're losing someone?" Harry guessed, "Or something, maybe."

Moody snorted, "Closer than I would've thought, you'll learn yet lad," The Auror nodded his head towards the station, "Fair few people, wouldn't you say?"

"I guess so."

"Exactly so." Moody corrected, "We could apparate wherever we wanted before they took the Ministry."

"And now?"

"Department of Magical Transportation's probably fucked by now." Moody swore, "With the Ministry under control, Voldemort has access to things he didn't have last time, old magic. Detecting accidental magic, portkeys and apparition, unorthodoxy sensors they call them, monitor the comings and goings."

Harry's brow furrowed in confusion, letting it take the full brunt of the winter air. "And wizards coming and going in big groups isn't a good thing?" he guessed.

"Aye, one or two in a muggle area are a regular occurrence, Voldemort will write it off. But a pattern of people apparating where there's no registered wizard dwelling? That'll draw eyes. The Fidelius isn't infallible, and those bastards aren't stupid."

"But a train station?"

Moody sped up his hobble, closing in on the station, "A train station sees hundreds of people go through it a day, thousands even. Hard to track someone from there."

"We'll have to walk here every time we want to leave?" Harry asked.

"Some will apparate, some will fly brooms and apparate, some will walk a mile and apparate, some will use a floo. Hundred different ways to achieve the same thing."

"For how long?" Harry said.

"For as long as it takes." Moody answered quickly, "Constant Vigilance isn't just a saying any more, lad, it's a lifestyle now. Think two steps ahead because we're racing against the clock now."

Wordlessly they entered Essex Road Station and located the nearest bathroom. Leaving it behind them with a soft crack.

Their feet touched fell on unfamiliar ground bereft of snow, they were far away indeed. However, the wind persisted, and although it was lesser than that of London's, it whistled sharply across the broken edges of a house upon the hill. The distant rumble of the sea was faint but recognisable.

It was derelict, windows little more than shards of broken glass and wood rotted by time. Though not strong, the wind still rocked it to and fro as if it was nothing more than a leaf on a branch.

Harry's hand fell immediately to the wand in his belt, unsure of his new surroundings.

Harry rounded on the man as he began to walk up the hill, "Where are we?" he said, his voice demanding.

"For your sake, lad, it'd be best if you learned nothing of the sort." Mood said, continuing towards the house.

"You've been leading me around by the nose this whole time." Harry said, "I have a right to know what we're doing."

"Aye, you do." Moody agreed, "We're going to that house."

"You know what I mean."

Moody nodded slightly, "Now there's that vigilance you need, should've planted your feet sooner. Now, there's something in that house, something Albus wanted you to see."

"Alright," Harry nodded, "Then where are we?"

"The way I've heard it, you've still got Voldemort rooting around inside that head of yours," Moody said.


"And if he decides to take a look, he'd find this place." The grizzled Auror said, starting to walk away.

"But you can show me what's inside?" Harry said, confusion marring his features.

"Trust me, Potter, he already knows what's inside." Moody laughed, a noise that sounded as if it grated against his vocal cords, "But if he decides to look inside that mind of yours, you make sure he looks elsewhere, you hear me?"

With that, the man trudged up the hill without another word, leaving Harry little choice but to follow him, though he kept a firm hand on his wand.

They approached the door that looked ready to tumble off the hinges and with a muttered incantation, the time-tarnished handle turned, and it swung inwards inaudibly.

The room was ordinary, mundane even. Filled with broken furniture, water stains and dust, it spoke of no great secret, certainly nothing to trek across the country for.

"There's nothing here," Harry said, his voice laden with suspicion.

Though there was something, the taste of ozone that fell softly on his tongue and a heat greater than the broken room had any right to be. Moody stepped in front of him, and in a swift motion, tore his wand downwards as if he was tearing down a curtain,

And he did.

Furniture shifted, and the wall in front of him shot back though only by a couple metres, a simple deception and one that didn't take much magic.

It was not the sudden widening of the space that caught their attention but a piece of malformed steel.

A cage, Harry realised.

Harry took a tentative step forward to get a better look, peering downwards into the inexplicably dark confines only to pivot back when the thing inside lashed out. There was a brief glimmer of ivory before runes flared to life, glowing all manners of colours carved into the twisted steel of the cage.

A sharp hiss of pain accompanied the motion, both from the creature and Harry, who's scar lanced in pain at the sight. Fangs bared once more to try and bite her perceived attacker, to quash the common pain they both felt.

Harry staggered backwards a few feet, "That's… that's…"

"Voldemort's familiar," Moody completed for him, a flick of his wand flared the rune again, and the snake slinked backwards.

"How.." Harry said, stumbling to put his momentary shock into words, "How did you catch it?"

"Voldemort gave him to Yaxley, along with a handful of Death Eaters," Moody said, flicking another spell at the snake though this time, out of anger. "Tracked them for months and now? Well, now we're just about all that's left."

Yaxley, Harry thought, the name was vaguely familiar. It wasn't on a wanted poster from Azkaban, so he'd hadn't been captured.

"And Yaxley?" Harry asked, a question that allowed reprieve while he sorted out the sight in front of him.

"Cold." Was all Moody offered in return.

"I don't understand," Harry said, taking a step closer to get a better glimpse of the snake in the hopes it would bring clarity, "Why not just kill it? Why go to the trouble of capturing it?"

"Because Albus told me to," Moody said, "Said you'd know what to do with it, or you would, eventually. But that fucking snake—:

"Nagini," Harry corrected absentmindedly.

"Cunt's a more apt name I reckon." Moody spat, "You wonder why that table seemed a few faces short? Here's one of your reasons and I think I have a right to know why."

The Horcrux.

Dumbledore had thrown the idea out the night they had discussed Horcruxes, and now the proof stared him directly in the face. Headed by two serpentine eyes filled with a rage that did not look its own.

"Nothing," Harry answered quickly, the lie slipping easily off his tongue "I don't know… Maybe Professor Dumbledore was wrong, maybe he didn't teach me something yet."

The mechanical whirl of Moody's eye was audible in the silent shack, Harry dared not to meet his eyes for fear the magical scrutiny might be his undoing. Instead, his eyes remained locked on the snake, acutely aware of the soft prickle of pain.

"I've chased that snake around the country, I lost good witches and wizards trying to get that thing. On second thought, maybe I don't need to know, maybe I don't particularly want to either. But don't look at me, Potter, and tell me a lie."

Harry turned to him and nodded.

"So why not just kill it?"

"Albus wants something with it," Moody shrugged. "And by the way he talked, you'll figure out the why soon enough. Or wait until he comes back — I don't have the answer to everything."

"Why show me?" Harry said, finally meeting the man's eyes, "If you're worried he'll look into my head, there's a good chance he might see this."

"Try and make sure he doesn't," Moody replied gruffly, "You're a risk, Potter, but a calculated one. Or as calculated as this shit business can get. If we keep you around doing nothing, you're a liability, if you learn too much, you're a risk."

"Then what am I supposed to do?"

"If he looks into your head, try looking back." Moody suggested, before walking to the door, "The snake'll keep for now, but don't take too long or I'll kill the fucking thing myself."

Moody stalked towards the exit before firing a spell backwards at the snake, the illusion rushing back into place. Harry cast a final glance to the now empty space before he followed them out.

Harry tried to catch up with quick steps while the man barked back, "You'll be with me again when I call you, Potter."

"Why?" Harry said, shivering as he met cold air once more.

"You're a risk or a liability, and despite what I told Albus, he wants me to train you to be less of one."


"You can connect the dots, I'm sure," Moody said before stepping down towards their apparition point. "You'll come when I say, for as long as I say."

His mind was a whirlwind. The day had been far too long already, and too much information to process for any person had found its way into his mind.

The nights not over yet, Harry lamented, taking Moody's outstretched arm.

"And for what it's worth, lad." Moody added before they were destined to disappear, "Condolences where they're due, war is bloody work."

With a mind that flew backwards to the sudden announcement to mourn, they vanished with the same soft crack.

It was a different story for Fleur Delacour.

Harry vanished through the door with Alastor Moody, leaving her momentarily to her thoughts. But only for a moment, as Charlie approached from the opposite side, clearly hoping to make conversation.

"Hello, Charlie." Fleur offered, her voice soft against the fear her regular tone might scare him away.

"Hey, Fleur." Charlie offered meekly in return.

The man who wrangled Dragons for a living seemed small before her, courage abandoning him in the throes of loss.

"Bill… Is he-"

Charlie shook his head, "He's fine, at least he was the last time I saw him."

"Where is he?" Fleur whispered, her voice hoarse, "Where did you go?"

"Me, Dad and Bill got called off to help with the raids, the ones we knew about, anyway." Charlie answered, "But by the time we got back, well, you know how that went."

"Yeah, I do." Fleur said simply, "And Bill?"

"With Dad out searching."

"Searching?" Fleur asked, "For survivors?"

Charlie shook his head again, "For them." he said.

Fleur couldn't muster words to answer for a moment, letting an uneasy silence befall them.

"I should see him," Fleur resolved, breaking the pregnant pause, "Will he be back?"

"I don't know," Charlie shrugged lightly, "But, well… I'm not sure…"

Concern lit up her features, "What? Charlie?"

"It's nothing, not really anyway, just a thought." He brushed off, but she could still see he clearly wanted to say it.

"Not if it means something," Fleur refuted.

"Well, he gave me this," Charlie said, procuring a piece of parchment from the pocket of his robes.

"He wrote a letter?"

"I suppose he didn't think he'd be back for a while, or maybe he didn't expect to come back. Maybe he doesn't want to, I don't know. It's just…" Charlie trailed off.

"Yes?" Fleur said, prompting him to continue.

"He was angry when he wrote it," Charlie sighed, a breath of grating, hot air that seemed to make him deflate even further. "We all were, are, I guess.

"You have a right to be," Fleur said, her hand resting gently on his knee.

"I think so," Charlie agreed, "Sad, angry, silent, I guess we've got a right to feel any way we want, we all do." he said, nodding to Fleur, "But it might not make what he wrote any easier."

"Did you read it?" She asked gently.

"Of course not." Charlie refuted, though without any heat, "But he's my brother, and well, you know him."

As the days progressed, Fleur doubted both herself and the last statement more and more.

"You should read it," Charlie said, "We left the room you stayed in how it was."

She hid a wince, hoping they did not realise she had shared a bed with someone else.

"Yeah, I should" Fleur agreed, "You'll be okay?"

"No, I probably won't," Charlie smiled, though it lacked any joy, "But I'll hold for now."

Fleur retracted her hand from his knee before standing, "Call me if you need something, even if it's just to talk." she said.

"Will do," He smiled again, though only for appearances.

She made it as far as the door, her hand quickly pulling it open to leave Charlie with his thoughts for the moment.

"Fleur," Charlie called to her retreating form, she turned her head to lay eyes on him once again. "They would have loved you."

"They didn't though, did they?"

"No," He admitted, "But they didn't know you, they would have eventually."

"I think…" Fleur struggled with the words, "I think I would have loved them too."

"I reckon Mum would've liked to hear that."

Fleur swivelled her head and closed her eyes to shield them from view, the sudden sting of salty tears creeping at the corners of her eyes. She found the stairs and ascended them with languid steps, clutching the piece of parchment tight enough to crumple in her fist.

Opening the door to the room she had occupied the night before and closing it quietly behind her, she made her way to sit on the bed. Still gripping the message with an iron grip.

Open it, her mind willed.

Her body, on the other hand, seemed less eager to do her bidding. Her thumb nursed white knuckles gently as if to coax it from her grip and she grazed her teeth persistently against her bottom lip.

Open it.

She released her grip and plucked the parchment, swallowing the rising tickle of anxiety in her throat. Their correspondence had already been shaky enough while they'd been separated but this she could not ignore.

I owe him that much.

With a brief burst of gallantry, she unfolded it to read the words. The words were coarse and angular, the quillmanship deliberate and furious in its sharp strokes.

And as Charlie had prepared her, the words were little different.

Her eyes lingered on the last two lines.

You never cared for them, I see that now.

I'll be back soon, I need time.

Bill had a right to be angry, to be furious at the world and all that it had cost him. That did not dull the word's impact. She brushed her finger over the ink, hoping that it would reveal it as a mirage, that kinder words would be written underneath.

They were not.

There, in the old room of Regulus Black, Fleur Delacour came into conflict with herself once again.

He had chosen revenge over her, just as he had chosen Gringotts over her and his family over her. The revenge she could understand, sympathise even.

I'd do the same if they hurt Gabrielle, Fleur assured herself.

Or Harry, her mind mocked with a distant thought.

Fleur glanced down at the letter again. Too much had passed between them, too much had happened to the both of them. He was mourning a lost family, she was preparing to fell a Dark Lord, entrusted with secrets she'd be forced to take to her grave.

And she had kissed another man.

It had been right, she had been scorned and yet she had never quite hated herself as much as she did at that moment. Fleur Delacour was caught in the crossfire with her heart laid bare.

She wanted to scream, to tear the letter to pieces and throw furniture around until she felt something other than this. It wouldn't work though, it never worked.

Especially when she already knew what she had to do.

But having the strength to do just that was a different story.

Harry tiptoed down the hallway, eager not to disturb those who had taken refuge at Grimmauld Place as the night had grown late and houses still sat alight and ashen.

Moody had taken him back to a new location, New Islington and walked him back with nary a word and certainly no fanfare. Only a haphazard piece of advice from a source he'd never expect it from.

Talk, you'll feel like shite for ages, we all do. Won't feel like it'll do much good either, but it will.

So he talked, knocking on doors as he went down the hallway. First had been Hermione, the easiest of the lot. She was too shellshocked to try and decipher the mystery of where he was or what he had been doing. Making sure she was okay had been easy enough.

George was less so and hardly talked, it was a quick affair. He did what he could, and while that wasn't much, he left the room with the hopes that he did more good than harm.

Save for Fleur, Ron was the last. From the outset, he knew it was not destined to be so easy.

It'll be alright.

No, that didn't sound right. Despite two previous attempts, the rehearsal did not give him the right words or a sense of where to start.

My condolences.

That sounded too formal, it all sounded too formal. Words alone couldn't convey what he wanted them to, and his feet lagged behind in an effort to try and give him the time to make them.

The words never came, and soon enough he reached the door to Ron's room. He could still walk away and have the time to think.

Don't, was all the counsel his mind could offer him.

Harry raised his fist to the door and let it stay there, swaying in the invisible wind as he tried to gather courage he didn't quite have. Eventually, he let his hand fall against the door, knocks that seemed far louder than they had any right to be echoed down the hall.

Nothing. Nothing roused beyond the door, no footfalls or moving covers.

Harry tried for the handle, twisting it slightly only for it to meet the stalwart metal of the lock.

Tomorrow, Harry decided, moving to return to his room. He swivelled on his feet and made to step away as the door opened.

Ron peered down at him, eyes red-ringed and the burn marks on his jaw flaring with tensed muscles.

All his words had abandoned him.

"I'm sorry," Harry blurted.

You idiot, he cursed himself.

Ron neglected to respond.

"I… I know I'm a bit late," Harry tried, "But...well, I guess it'd be good to have someone to talk to if you want."

Ron was silent still but moved aside to allow him access into the room.

The floor was littered with trinkets and pieces of furniture that had once decorated the walls now adorned the floor as shards and splinters.

"Sorry about the mess," Ron offered, walking back over to his bed, his voice was hoarse and scratchy as it tore into the open air and set the tone for words yet to be born.

Harry shook his head, "It's fine," he said, "Sirius would've liked them better now anyways."

Harry followed Ron over to the bed, drifting slowly as if he was on the wind. Once again, Harry was at a loss for words.

"Are you okay?" Was all he could think to say.

Ron snorted aloud, it seemed almost derisive. "People keep asking me that. Were you fine after Sirius?"

"No, I wasn't," Harry admitted, "I guess people are telling you it'll go away."

Ron nodded, the burnt muscles in his jaw rippling in anger.

"It doesn't, not really," Harry said, a sigh bursting from his lips. "It gets easier, sure. You'll stop thinking about it as much, you'll remember the world didn't end. But…"


"Well, sometimes you'll wish it did," Harry said, cringing at how terrible the words sounded.

'I'm just... " Ron tried, but couldn't finish as he battled with his words for what felt like minutes, "I don't know what I am, what this is."

"You can be angry," Harry said, "Or sad, you can scream if you want too. No one will care if you do."

"I think I've done my fair share of that already," Ron said, his eyes looking around the room.

"There's still some walls and some odds and ends," Harry said, "You can have another round if you want."

"Will it help?" Ron asked, "Because it hasn't so far."

"I don't think so," Harry shook his head, "I tore Dumbledore's office apart, and that didn't do much for me. I… I guess feeling something, anything is better than feeling nothing."

Silence befell them, and Harry stepped back and forth on his feet, searching for platitudes and helpful advice by gazing at the roof.

"Where were you?" Ron asked suddenly, Harry's gaze snapped back to him.

"I…" Harry stilled, it was a simple question, but the accusatory lacing was clear, "I went to clear my head, Fleur came with me after a little while. By the time we came back, well…"

"And after that?"

"I fought them," Harry said, glimpses of spells still alight behind his eyes, "Got them pretty good too." His mouth felt dry as he came to the last words, "Killed some too. Greyback came, and I got him good too, broke my wand doing it. Then we had to hide, you?"

"A safe house for most of it," Ron shrugged, "We couldn't do much."

"I… you know I loved them like my own," Harry said, closing his eyes, so he didn't have to see Ron's reaction, "They were a family when I didn't have my own."

"Now I don't have one either," Ron spat, his voice bitter.

Though not at Harry, he was bitter at the world.

"No," Harry shook his head, "You've always got a family."

Ron exhaled a rough breath, and then, finally, the emotions came.

Midnight was upon him by the time he finally made his way back to his or rather, their room.

The door creaked open, and he slipped himself inside, careful not to alert anyone else to his movements. Fleur was sat upon the bed, dim lamplight illuminating the silver strands of her hair that covered her face.

Now, he could finally share the piece of news that would be a benefit to them. He moved to the other side of the bed and sat down, shimmying across to be close enough to whisper.

"We've caught a Horcrux," Harry said, his voice almost lost in the gap between them.

"Which one?" Fleur whispered back, though her own voice was smaller than he expected.

"His familiar, the snake — Nagini."

"Is it dead?"

"Not yet," Harry confirmed, "Dumbledore needs it for something."

There was no answer.

"Fleur?" Harry probed gently.

Her face moved up, and the artisan-crafted silver strands parted to reveal puffy eyes and reddened cheeks.

"Fleur…" He repeated, his words sounded more a gasp.

She looked more vulnerable than he had ever seen her, a sight that broke his heart more than he cared to admit. There was no wit in her eyes, no fire that he'd come to love: just sullen defeat and quiet acceptance.

With a sudden movement, Fleur fell into his chest and wept quietly. Arms moved to gently embrace her, unable to stop errant tears of his own. It was not the stolen kisses and scorned brides, it was love of a different kind now as they battled with shared tragedies.

They wept for what had happened, for who they had lost and those they had left behind.

And they wept for each other and the life they could have had if only it had all been so very different.

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