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: Casual Affair
A/N: Hey all, welcome to Chapter 19, the chapter that finally pushes us over the 200k mark, and what a ride it's been. Thank you all for coming along on my little journey.
I wrote the chapter in virtually a night, I've had a lot on my plate so it was both therapeutic and mind-numbing to be able to write something like 8k in a night, which I wouldn't recommend. So any mistakes that slipped in are definitely my fault and not those of my betas, x102reddragon or NerdDragonVoid.
Writing connective tissue for the plot is a bit monotonous, but hopefully, you like it and the return of some old characters.
For those looking for updates for when chapters should be done, my discord is always open eN5ZtpN.
Otherwise, I always appreciate reads and reviews, stay safe and enjoy!
The air in Grimmauld Place was perpetually stale, in the moments of silence in the old townhouse Harry could find no truth more universally known.
His hand held tightly to the door handle, twisting it open with a gentle vigilance befitting an act far more exotic than opening a door. A cold draught hit him head-on as he stepped out into the hall, his destination already known. He pulled the door behind him closed with a faintly audible click.
Then the act of espionage began.
His feet moved deftly if perhaps a bit too quickly to keep the dull footfalls from ringing in the empty hall. Too slow and the deliberate steps would seem to anger the house itself, groaning and creaking floorboards desperate to loudly herald his efforts. Too fast, on the other hand, and someone would peek their head out of their respective room to search for the disturbance.
Harry had adopted the middle ground, and within a matter of short seconds, he found a familiar door, knocking twice.
It was almost vaguely reminiscent of their time at Hogwarts. Though the sense of urgency was far, far greater.
Fleur opened the door from the other side, quickly glancing to ensure it was him before seizing his hand, pulling him inside. When he stepped past her, she drew her wand from her pocket, flicking it towards the door with a murmured incantation.
"Eicio Sana," The frame shimmered gently with a pale orange glow before she stowed it away, turning back to him.
A silencing ward, Harry recognised.
"The Horcruxes," Harry said, almost breathlessly for having to speak the word.
"The Horcruxes," Fleur echoed, nodding ever so slightly, "His snake was one? Are we sure?"
He'd scarcely mentioned it, save for the short discussion the night before and there had been far more pressing matters to tend to there.
Harry nodded in return, "Positive," he said, "I saw it — felt it even."
Fleur looked taken aback, "Felt it?"
Harry's eyes flickered upwards as if to look at his scar, despite not being able to see it. Fleur got the message clear enough.
"So it's still alive?" Fleur asked, "Why?"
Harry shrugged, "I don't know," he said, "Neither did Moody, so he seemed to think Dumbledore had a good enough idea. He said, well, he said I'd have a good enough idea in time too."
"Do you have any idea? Any idea at all?"
"No, none at all." Harry said, "We talked about possible Horcruxes, but nothing else."
"Do you think you could get into contact with him?"
"I don't think so." Harry said, "I… since I lost Hedwig," he stopped to swallow against the painful memory, "Well, I don't have an owl, and if the letter got lost I don't know what would happen. Not that it matters, if the way he explained it to me what he was doing was anything to go off, I think he's too busy to worry at the moment."
"I still don't understand, if he had an idea, why not just use the Horcrux from Hogwarts?" Fleur asked.
Harry furrowed his brow, "Nagini has a… connection to Voldemort, I suppose. I don't know how to explain it. When she attacked Mr Weasley, I could see it happening through her eyes."
"Maybe…" Fleur trailed off in thought, gently grazing her teeth against her bottom lip. An act that, despite the subject matter, made his heart beat ever so faster.
"What?" Harry prompted gently, not too loud as to break her thought.
"Maybe that's how he thinks we can find the other Horcruxes."
Her words hang in the air for longer than he would've liked, every possibility doing its best to cross his mind in the seconds that felt more akin to hours.
"What do you mean?"
"Like you said, the snake and Voldemort have a greater connection with each other than he does with the diadem, it's alive."
"From what I can tell, yeah," Harry nodded, "But I'm no expert on the subject."
"Obviously Voldemort didn't mean to make whatever connection you two have, but what if it goes both ways?" Fleur asked, "What if that's what Dumbledore thinks is different between them, the connection being greater, then he surely must want to use it."
"As a way to get into Voldemort's mind," Harry surmised, "Or maybe to try and throw him off the scent of our hunt."
"Exactly," Fleur agreed, "But whatever it is, only he knows. I doubt we'll find whatever he knew before he gets back."
If he gets back, part of Harry's mind reminded him that the man was dying — a piece that was quickly quashed.
"We'll have to prepare for it if that isn't the case though," Harry frowned, "If we're wrong we can't waste time assuming we're right."
"That makes how many we've found then? The one at Hogwarts —"
"The diadem," Harry cut in.
"The diadem," Fleur corrected, "The snake?"
"His diary and his family's ring."
"Four," Fleur declared, and when the words were said aloud, it filled Harry with a healthy degree of confidence.
More than halfway there, just a little longer.
"Dumbledore seemed to think there were some artefacts that he took from Hufflepuff and Slytherin left. A dagger or a locket for Slytherin, A Wizengamot book or a cup for Hufflepuff."
Fleur nodded, "I imagine the Wizengamot book would be with the Wizengamot," she said, "If it is, then I don't think it would be a Horcrux."
"Or he hid it there, expecting us to think that." Harry shrugged, "Though we still know where one might have been."
"Borgin and Burkes," Fleur said.
"Right, maybe we should rethink our plan," Harry agreed, "If Caractus Burke knew something and now can't talk about it, maybe it extends past vows of silence."
"It's not impossible, I suppose, as we said before." Fleur said, her voice uncharacteristically unsure, "But the story we keep hearing is that he betrayed Burke. I get the feeling there might have been more than greed behind that decision."
"Burke did something to anger Voldemort, maybe Borgin betrayed him to save himself? Or maybe it's all a lie." Harry shrugged, "All I know is we can't discount anything, we need to make a move against them."
Two steps ahead, Moody's fresh advice echoed in his mind.
"It's our best bet, only bet really."
Harry disagreed "There are others, other leads from my visions."
"Have you entertained the possibility that maybe you're seeing these things for a reason?" Fleur asked, "But not one that'll be beneficial to us."
It was a thought he'd pondered countless times though he was no closer to an answer.
"If Voldemort possessed you and came off worse, I wouldn't put him past it to try something more subtle."
"That would mean he knew we were on the trail of the Horcruxes."
"Or he wants us to think something else entirely, we can't know. But like you said it yourself, we can't discount anything." Fleur said.
"Then whatever Nagini's purpose is…"
"Might be a chance to go on the offensive." Fleur continued, "And we need to attack, desperately."
"We'll have to figure something out then," Harry agreed, "But…"
"But you need to meet with Moody," Fleur continued for him.
Harry disliked leaving her alone in the house. If he could avoid it, he would have. But learning from Moody was a chance too important to pass up.
"I'll be back as quick as I can." Harry promised, "I don't know how long I'll be though."
"I'll be fine," Fleur promised, "I'll try and figure out a plan for everything before the meeting, we can talk about it later."
"Have you heard if Scrimgeour is coming?" Harry said, wondering if the man who imitated a lion so well still seemed so after all that had happened.
"Could be, I heard Kingsley talk about it briefly. No communication between anyone makes it difficult, no one is even sure when they'll arrive — if they'll arrive."
"I'll see if Moody says anything," Harry promised, "If they're not here by the time I get back, that is."
There was a pleasant awkwardness between them born from unsure love. Even after kisses and nights in the same bed, it had still only been days.
Love was still frightening.
And he hadn't stopped thinking about it, just as she asked.
Harry pushed his head forward, mirroring Fleur's actions a millisecond behind her. Their lips met in the middle, lost in the silver-hued dream he could still scarcely believe.
It was quick and tentative, but it was enough.
"I'll see you soon," Fleur said, their foreheads leant against each other.
"I hope so," Harry smiled, and Fleur let out a giggle. The small, infectious melody made separating an action all the more lamented.
Though forced to do so by duty, he abandoned the contact and with a final glance backwards, he disappeared out of the door—the pale orange flickering as he passed through the opening.
Closing the door behind him quietly as to not disturb the other residents, Harry stepped out into the early morning air once more.
The path towards the stairs seemed momentarily clear, he made to tackle them quickly and be out of Grimmauld Place before he could be stopped.
"Harry!" A voice hissed behind him, and Harry knew within an instant he was destined to be late for his meeting.
His wish to be out on time was just that — a wish.
"Harry!" The voice hissed again, careful not to rouse anyone else that may have been sleeping.
Harry turned his head to look behind him, taking note of the familiar face.
She was clad in her regular attire, either a testament to the fact she'd been too busy to get changed.
Or she'd planned this.
Judging by the look on her face, Harry assumed the latter.
"We need to talk." She said, simple words that echoed down the corridor despite the low volume, stepping ever closer to him.
"We talked last night," Harry replied gently, slowly backing towards the stairs, "It's going to have to wait, I have to be somewhere."
"Wait?" Hermione scoffed, "We've been distant all year, Harry, and now I've barely said a word to you since before you went to the Hospital Wing. It can't wait."
"Do we… do we have to do this now?" Harry sighed, letting out a gusty breath.
She peered across at him with her characteristic scrutinising gaze, desperately trying to figure out the enigma that had only grown bigger.
"Ron's been reading that book again," Hermione said, letting her words hang in the air.
"The potions book," She clarified, "He's been learning spells from it all year, you know about it as well as I do."
"Clearly not as well as you do," Harry said, "Did this really require you stopping me?"
"He's… he's not in a good place, we both know that." Hermione tried, the confidence in her voice substituted for wringing her hands, "I've seen the things in that book, and I'm scared what'll happen if he gets angry enough to use them."
Harry pushed his tongue against his teeth and struggled to find an answer to placate her.
"We can't take it from him," Harry decided after a moment, the chance to placate her clearly lost.
"Of course we can — we have to!" Hermione declared, "What if he decides he's learned enough and thinks it's time to take the fight to them?"
"You're asking me to take away something that means something to him, that's teaching him spells in a war, because you're afraid he's going to use them?" Harry asked, "I'm scared he'll have to use them too, but it's better he knows them than knows nothing."
"That's not my point, and you know it," Hermione refuted, "What he's learning? It's what they use, I've seen it. What if the urge finally gets too much and he decides he'd rather take his anger out on something else?"
"What's the alternative, Hermione?" Harry shot back, exasperated, "We take the book away and leave him nothing? Then how angry will he be with absolutely nothing to do? At least he has something to do with the book, something to take his mind off this."
"You know that won't go well," Hermione said, crossing her arms as if to make her presence more stalwart.
"Maybe it will, maybe it won't — I don't know," Harry shook his head, "What I do know is that we're his family and he hasn't got a lot of that left. That book means something to him, if we take that book away, if it's even a danger to him, he'll be just as angry, just as dangerous and have two fewer family members for us having tried."
"What do you propose we do then?" Hermione said expectantly, "Because, from my point of view, it seems like we're letting him hurt himself worse because we're too scared we'll hurt him instead."
"I don't have the answers, Hermione, I really don't."
"We need them."
"Just leave him be, please." Harry begged, "We can talk to him when he hasn't just lost half his family. Sometimes doing something, anything is better than doing nothing. Maybe this isn't one of those times, we can watch him and tell him if he heads that way but just… leave him be for now."
"Harry…" Hermione said, her voice losing even more volume as it finally relented, meeting resistance where she assumed she'd find acquiescence had finally taken the wind from beneath her wings.
"I have to go, truly," Harry offered gently, "We can talk later, but not now."
Harry managed to descend to the next landing before her small voice called after him.
"Harry… what happened to you, to us, to… to… everything?"
Had it been louder, more powerful it would have been accusatory. But in her sullen state, fighting her own thoughts as she tried to fight Ron's it seemed dull.
He had promised to tell them the truth once upon a time, but now that seemed a lifetime ago and exposing them to the true troubles at hand seemed a poor choice.
"I don't know," Was all he could offer, and he meant it.
The harsh gale that raced across the uneven ground of the unfamiliar area was enough to put him on the backfoot. Deafening silence hurt his ears almost as much as the howling wind, speaking uneasy volumes about the early morning mist surrounding him.
"Block!" An oaken voice called through the mist.
A haphazard shield wove itself into existence at the end of his wand, barely stopping an arc of red light that tore across the unknown distance between them. The impact sending a shockwave back through his aching arm that had not yet fully healed.
"Parry!" It yelled again, although this time from the opposite direction.
This time, a rapier of green light careened through the mist, the briefest window of opportunity allowing him to flick his wrist and send it skywards, illuminating the mist as it fizzled out above.
An apparition of smoke flew at him from behind, the following motion of his wand, allowing him to bisect it with relative ease, only for the smoke to obscure his vision.
It had been only minutes, ten perhaps, fifteen at most. Yet, he ached with each movement like he'd been fighting for far, far longer.
There had been a sense of familiarity in his practice duels with Fleur, she was elegant and graceful, lithe and precise.
Moody was her antithesis in every way; If she was the rapier, Moody was a warhammer. He tore through the mist with ease, firing spell after spell in an effort to catch him off guard.
Every so often he'd catch a glimpse of an electric blue eye peering at him, swivelling out of existence silently before another spell came to snuff out his resistance.
Harry waved his wand around his head in a wide arc, the mist circling as he whipped it around in circles, forming a vortex around him. With a final flick, he attempted to dispel the fog.
It vanished for but a moment before it returned, permeating the air even thicker than before.
A cruel laugh mocked him from afar.
"I know tricks too, lad." Moody called out. Harry took the brief detente as a moment to catch his breath.
Before he could fully prepare himself, a trio of spells flew at him. He made a brief attempt to shield himself, rolling out of the way to little avail. The first two knocked his roll off balance, turning it into a sudden stumble.
The third sailed directly into his stomach, knocking the wind from him as he scattered across the dew-soaked ground.
" Tricks might help you from time-to-time, they won't save you forever."
Moody finally emerged only feet from him, both eyes peering downwards.
"There's a reason we almost lost the first war — there's more to duelling than tricks, and there's more to war than showmanship and fancy footwork."
Harry struggled to get to his feet, but he eventually made it.
His body wrought with aches and pains, Harry walked through the front door of Grimmauld Place, Alastor Moody hobbling far ahead. Harry did his best to mask the limp he'd acquired, awkward shuffle steps leading him into the dining room.
The scent of faint ozone lingered in the air when he opened the door, wafting outwards to greet him as he stepped inside. His eyes were immediately drawn to the corners of the room, expansion charms had enlargened the room yet again and flickered in dull pulses.
It'd be a short meeting — magic had decreed it so.
Most of the occupants were red-robed and packed together tightly enough that the remainder of the occupants were lost amongst the small sea of crimson.
Aurors, Harry recognised and to their rear an oddly welcome sight.
Rufus Scrimgeour, Minister for Magic.
He was ushered to the back of the room, and surrounded by his own men though still visible. His posture had slumped, and the attrition of war had taken its toll on his face, but he was alive.
Harry's eyes continued to scan the room, looking for faces he wanted to find and those he sorely didn't.
No Bill, no Mr Weasley, Harry noted. In fact, there were multiple absences from the first meetings. Missions, he presumed, the Order likely couldn't afford to stay static, even when gaining their bearings.
Then his eyes caught the glitter of silver, and the familiar breathless sensation arrived as he laid his eyes upon Fleur. Weaving through the small crowd to find the seat by her side.
"Hey," Harry whispered, pulling the seat beside out to sit on.
Her blue eyes gazed upwards to spot the intruder before a small smile graced her lips, "How was training?"
"Sore and hard," Harry winced, plopping unceremoniously onto the seat.
"I think so," Harry nodded, "Moody knows what he's talking about."
"You'd want to hope so," Fleur said, her eyes tracking over to the pair of scarred men at the front of the room - Remus and Moody. "The way people around here talk about him he might as well be Merlin come again."
Harry snorted lightly, "After what he did today, I'm inclined to agree with them. The way Ron told it, half the cells in Azkaban are occupied by his handiwork, he was something else in the Department of Mysteries too, but this was..."
"Painful?" Fleur laughed.
"Sounds like a decent enough word," Harry agreed, "How long has Scrimgeour been here?"
"Twenty minutes, maybe more," she guessed, "They came in waves, tried to make sure they wouldn't draw any more attention than a crowd of Aurors usually would."
"How'd that go for them?"
Fleur shrugged, "They haven't talked much, a few whispered in his ear, intelligence maybe, counsel? I can't be sure. But they've been silent, trying to get a measure of the Order, I suppose."
"Reckon we're satisfactory?" Harry asked, peering around to gaze upon the 'Old Lion'.
"What choice does he have?" Fleur said, "We're the only option left, satisfactory or not. It's either the Order or they fight alone."
Harry nodded absentmindedly, "Scrimgeour's full of pride, though, chances are fighting alone is exactly what he wants."
"Remus looks like he's going to talk," Fleur said, nodding towards the man as he stepped up to the mark, "We might just have an answer."
Remus continued until he was at the head of the table, the excess of members huddling around to hear what he had to say.
"The risk you all took in coming here today was… significant to say the least," Remus began, hands stiff at his side, "I appreciate the collective trust we've mustered, and although we might have once worked against one another or at the very least, certainly without knowledge of one another, war makes for strange bedfellows."
Most of the people in the room nodded attentively though Harry kept his eyes on Scrimgeour's own pale gaze which seemed to hold contempt and disinterest in equal parts.
"Alone, we can do little, together, however, presents a unique opportunity to strike while the iron is hot. Voldemort and his followers are high on victory, assured a beaten dog won't bite back. If we want to make use of our newfound footing, we must strike in the interim."
Order members and Aurors alike banged their hands stridently, clearly eager for a fight.
"How do we plan to do that?" Griffiths, the old Warden of Azkaban, said, clearly not sold by Remus's speech.
"We use their own tactics against them," Remus said, and out of the corner of his eye, Harry watched Scrimgeour lean in.
They were the first words Scrimgeour had spoken, the man's voice coarse and grating but still held the predatory glimmer Harry once saw.
Remus, to his credit, had the ghost of a smile on his face.
Maybe this is exactly what he planned, Harry thought offhandedly.
"He's more cunning than Scrimgeour gives him credit for," Fleur whispered, and Harry found confirmation of his suspicion in her words.
"Between the two wars we've fought against one another, we've always had more ground to protect — stretched thin across the country. Now, the roles are reversed, and they're ill-prepared to defend against such tactics. For instance, Minister, who do you believe will replace you under Voldemort's reign?"
Scrimgeour contemplated for a moment, "Thicknesse most likely, he'll want a sycophant and a pureblood figurehead. He knows using one of his fanatics won't end well, he'll find a new breed."
"And Pius was the Head of which department?" Remus prompted,
"Before whatever he's become now? Magical Transportation."
"Precisely my point." Remus smiled, "No skill in Administration and he's left the Department of Magical Transport without proper guidance."
"So we're free to move around for a while," Harry interjected, remembering Moody's lesson.
"Exactly, Harry." Remus nodded energetically, almost looking out of place on his tired frame, "We're free to move, we strike where we can, as quick as we can. We gather intelligence and more wands, and then we can take the Ministry back."
Scrimgeour, as hard to please as he seemed to be, straightened up at the final words.
"We'll need a plan." Was all he offered in response.
"Aye, we do." Moody agreed from behind Remus.
"And we have one," Remus assured them, "Individually, you will all have a role to play in the collective. But security has already made itself a thorn in our sides, you will each operate independently from Grimmauld Place. You'll have a team, but you will not meet here."
The Order's splitting up.
"The Fidelius isn't infallible, the final moments of the last war taught us as much." Remus offered a sidelong glance to Harry that seemed mournful, even after all this time. "In order to minimise the risk of unorthodox behaviour being located, you'll be provided a safe house and a mission that only you and your team shall know."
"Reckon it's a good plan?" Harry whispered to Fleur, "The Order splitting up, that is."
"Anything is better than staying still," Fleur said, "At least this way we'll be harder to find."
Remus seemed to pause to allow reprieve for everyone to ruminate on the plan, hushed whispers filled the room. Scrimgeour nodded idly while an Auror whispered in his ear.
It didn't take much to fully confirm this is precisely what Remus had planned if the subtle but present pleased look on his face was any barometer.
"Think Scrimgeour will agree to help?" Harry whispered again, Fleur swivelled her head to look at the man. "I suppose he could still disagree, but he looks… interested."
"He needs something avant-garde, something new." Fleur said, drumming her fingers on the table in random patterns, "His little 'army' will only stay with him as long as they feel like they've got a fighting chance — this is the only way for him to get one."
He remembered what the man said all those days ago in Diagon Alley.
To put it in the simplest terms, you need the Ministry, and we need you.
Harry didn't think the statement could be any truer than at this moment.
"Potter, Delacour," Moody barked, from across the room, breaking Harry from his thoughts.
Remus began marshalling the rest of the occupants, dividing them into groups with a loud voice that echoed through the kitchen, no doubt audible to the occupants in the rooms above.
Fleur shot Harry a quizzical look, but Harry merely shrugged in response, unsure of why he'd need the both of them. Moody limped out the door, followed closely by both Harry and Fleur.
He stepped into an empty room, an old storage cupboard Harry assumed, but large enough to fit the three. Moody flicked his wand to silence the room, his spell a different colour and carrying a different effect than the one he'd learnt from Fleur.
"Right," Moody barked, "I've got no clue whatever mission Albus has set you upon and as we've covered, I don't particularly care to know either. Whatever your plans, I received a message from a Phoenix this morning."
"A message from Dumbledore?" Harry said, his mouth becoming conspicuously dry, "And you didn't think to tell me before?"
"I must've missed the meeting where my mail became your business, Potter." Moody growled, his tone conveying a warning against any further outburst, "Whatever your feelings on the matter are, I've been told to let you pursue your mission on your own, and to let Delacour help you."
Harry swallowed the ball of anxiety rising in his throat, "Does he know about… well, everything?"
"No," Moody shook his head, "I've told him about our losses but nothing else. From the way he talks, he'll be back soon enough to take the reins."
If he's alive, Harry couldn't stop the bitter thought.
"I don't need to know what you're doing, but I do need to know where you're going." Moody said, "Not specifics, but an area."
Harry's eyes flickered across to Fleur, and she nodded, "Diagon Alley," She said.
"Have you got a plan?"
Harry nodded, "The makings of one," he said, trusting Fleur had something, "We'll refine it when we've got better information on what's going on."
"We don't have a safe house in Diagon or anywhere even close to that, Apparition points will be monitored." Moody looked blank for a second, before nodding to Fleur, "You worked at Gringotts, yes?"
"Curse Breaker," Was Fleur's simple reply.
"Good, get inside, get to Potter's Vaults and try and rent somewhere, anywhere in the Alley. It'll be far safer than trying to apparate to the Alley every day."
"Do you think that's wise?" Fleur asked, "What if Voldemort has Goblins on his side?"
"Work it out, make it seem like a casual affair —he outlandish draws eyes." was all the advice he could offer, "Whatever happens, you'll need to go soon. Don't try and contact anyone at Grimmauld for the time being.
Hermione and Ron will have to fare, I suppose. Harry sighed inaudibly.
"And if we need to contact you?" Fleur asked, her eyes squinting ever so slightly in concentration.
"Potter, remember the train station from yesterday?" Moody asked.
"Of course," Harry replied easily, it was only yesterday, "Essex Road Station."
"I'll put an ad on a platform, the one with the train to Hertford North. It'll have the date on it if you need to contact us, raise the day. The higher the date, the more urgently you need to speak with us."
"And if you need to speak with us?" Fleur asked,
"I'll raise the month, the same system," Moody explained, "I'll check it in the evening, I suggest you do the same." Moody glanced down at a worn pocket watch, clearly taking stock of the time, "You'll need to go, and quickly. Good luck, Potter, Delacour."
Moody stalked off abruptly, likely off to help Remus.
"Well, that wasn't much," Fleur said softly, letting her words hang in the air.
Harry snorted in return, "That's saying something."
"We best be going," Fleur said, "I'll pack whatever we need and take it with us."
It wasn't saying much, the majority of their belongings had burnt with the Burrow. But they had something, at the very least.
"I'll stay down here…" Harry said, his voice lightening as he spoke, "I want to see Scrimgeour."
"What purpose does seeing him serve?" Fleur queried, her perfectly sculpted brow marred in confusion.
Harry shrugged, "I'm... I'm not completely sure, curiosity maybe."
"They said curiosity killed the Kneazle." Fleur returned, smirking.
"I reckon I might just survive this one," Harry said, "See you soon."
With his parting words, Harry left the storage cupboard with Fleur following shortly behind. She departed to head up the stairs where Harry moved towards the lounge room.
Scrimgeour was sitting in one of the chairs, his back straight although his posture spoke of a man tired. Aurors dotted the room, presumably for protection.
Harry approached, his footsteps light as not to disturb the man from his thoughts — Harry was sure that would happen soon enough. An Auror from the corner stepped forward, signal enough for Scrimgeour to raise his head towards Harry.
A hard nod sent the Auror walking backwards.
"Have you come here to gloat, Potter?" Scrimgeour spat, his voice still grating. "Come to jockey your rights over my wrongs?"
He seemed oddly defensive; clearly he wasn't well acquainted with failure.
"No," Harry offered, "Just...talk."
"So you say, but I've been seeing that same look in different faces since I took this job. You might as well just say it, boy, the Old Lion lost."
"I haven't come here to mock you." Harry repeated.
"Oh? Forgive me then, I was so eager to make conversation." Scrimgeour spat.
Rufus Scrimgeour seemed a man broken, the old lion looked sorrowful in defeat.
"If you want the cold, hard truth? You can have it. We're fucked. There's no one this side of the channel that can stand against him. This is what defeat tastes like, might as well get used to it the way we're all going."
"Thank you for standing up to him." Harry hadn't intended to say anything, not really. He'd only come to get a measure of the man who had seemed so stalwart all those months ago.
Scrimgeour gave a harsh nod in return though his eyes softened ever so slightly, they certainly weren't destined to be friends.
But maybe he could help them become allies.
With a crack that mimicked a muggle gunshot, Harry Potter and Fleur Delacour appeared at the apparition point of Diagon Alley.
The glamour on his face itched, wearing the visage of an older, brunette man with acne scars that hadn't fully healed. The Alley was still desolate, distant shufflings of suburbia sounding in the background, contrasting with the barren street.
In front of them sat a marble-white building, an askew set of pillars flanked by Goblins in ornate, gilded golden armour. Alongside them, spears that rose a considerable distance above their diminutive size, their lengths pulsing with runes that Harry didn't recognise. As they walked towards the doors, the Goblins turned inwards, eyeing them carefully.
"Just like you remember it?" Harry whispered, doing his best to watch the Goblins without making himself seem overtly suspicious.
"I've never seen them on such high alert," Fleur said, "I doubt the glamour charms will hold up against the Tellers."
"And if they don't?"
"I didn't think they'd get us much further than the front door. Goblins are fickle, but if they're intrigued with why we're here, they'll hear us out."
Harry frowned, "So we're risking our lives on intuition?"
Fleur let out a humourless laugh, "You've risked your life on far worse."
"I'll concede that, but I'm not filled with confidence," Harry said.
"Have I ever led you astray?"
"Not yet, though there's always a first time." Harry joked.
"Do you trust me?" Fleur asked as the static Goblin Warriors seemed to become all the more menacing with the distance closed.
The main doors parted, opening in a gesture that seemed almost inviting, beckoning them in. They stepped through the burnished bronze doors before a second, newly minted set of silver ones led them into the main atrium of the bank.
Then, they were flanked yet again by Goblins although this time, tellers, rather than guards. They sat at tables that towered over even the tallest wizard, letting them stare down menacingly at those they believed lesser.
Harry couldn't say he was ever particularly partial to Goblins. He'd met amicable ones, and on the other hand, he'd heard more than enough stories of how the less-amicable treated Wizards and Witches, especially Veela.
Maybe they weren't all bad, maybe they weren't all good. But the one constant was the vein of cunning and greed that ran through them all, emphasised by the black, beady-eyed scrutiny they were subjected to.
Harry had learned enough of them from Binns, biased as he may have been. It wasn't as if the attempts hadn't been made to bridge the gap, but centuries of wrongdoing on both sides of the coin seemed to eradicate any possibility of a peaceful conclusion. Now, they were relegated to hoarding Wizards gold in the event that every so many decades, a charismatic goblin would lead them into rebellion only to be crushed by Wizards.
Now, in those exact circumstances, Harry needed to pull his gold out of their bank.
He doubted the day was destined to go well.
With careful eyes the pair deliberated as they walked, slowing their pace to barely above a sedate stroll, careful not to make it seem purposeful.
They chose a teller after a brief moment, one that didn't seem as frightening as his colleagues. Heading through the empty queues and peering up into the gnarled peach-coloured visage of a goblin.
"Yes?" The Goblin growled, toying with the golden scales sitting upon his desk.
"May the seven blessings of Ug shine upon your coffers." Harry tried after a brief moment of silence befell them all, angering the Goblin.
He read it in a history book, though he couldn't remember the context. Maybe it was a saying, or a mantra or an… insult.
"Empty platitudes." The Goblin growled again, emptying a bag of assorted coins onto the teller desk with a harsh, clangorous percussion that indicated there was some force behind it, "What do you want?"
Well, there goes that chance to diffuse the tension, Harry thought.
They'd rehearsed this plan moments before they arrived, but Harry knew it well enough.
"Shiverbane," Harry said, his voice clipped as to now give the Goblin any reason to doubt his intentions.
Shiverbane was the only Goblin he really knew, Fleur knew none that worked with Accounts.
You can always count on having allies within this bank. However few we may be.
Their gambit surrounded a phrase that could have very well been lip-service or platitudes given to ease a grieving mind. But they were here now, and it was time to see what his words were worth.
"You don't need to see Shiverbane, little wizard." The goblin snorted in derision, weighing coins out on the scale.
"Here, I was under the impression I was allowed to see my Account Manager?"
This was the first time the Goblin had even deigned to look at him, peering down a set of half-spectacles to fix his person with an icy stare.
"Do you need to be explained the implications of lying about your accounts?"
"No more than you need to be lectured about the dangers of keeping Wizards from their accounts." Fleur interjected though it was a bluff and in truth, a particularly poor one. There was nothing left to enforce the Goblin Treaties but goodwill, something the Goblins weren't renowned for.
The Goblin searched for Harry's eyes, he only hoped the average teller wouldn't be so interested in his features or know them from the posters well enough to divine the fact he was indeed, Harry Potter.
Beady black eyes met his magically altered brown as he tried to discern something from his newly forged brunette visage.
Then, the teller rang a bell, a high pitch melody that seemed to rouse his counterpart from across the bank, who began a little huddle over to the request.
This one looked very much identical with the appearance of a patchy white beard that covered his thick skin, they seemed to converse with guttural noises and clicking tongues. It was what he could only assume was Gobbledegook before the teller seemed to shrug and gave the seat to the other goblin before stalking off to another counter, continuing the measuring of coins.
"I need to see Shiverbane," Harry tried again, willing to see if this Goblin was a little more amicable then his predecessor.
"I care little for what you want, Wizard," The Goblin growled, and Fleur bristled in anger beside him.
Yep, entirely amicable.
"What I wish to know," He continued, "Is why a wizard under glamour charms is requesting an Account Manager that's been out of the job for months. An Azkaban escapee, perhaps?"
The Goblin seemed furious, and one of his guarding brethren seemed to be marching lengthways down the bank's foyer directly towards them, his spear rebounding off the manicured marble with each step.
Fuck, was the only thought Harry could muster.
Goblins were fierce fighters in close quarters, or so Harry assumed. Arming themselves with a spear and shield led him to believe they must know how to use it. Harry shook his leg to ensure his wand was still there, a small action that reaffirmed the fact they may have to fight their way out.
"A thousand galleons," Fleur blurted out and the Goblin, who had adopted a menacing look, seemed taken aback.
"Two thousand." The Goblin wagered back.
They're bartering my money to not kill us, Harry thought, dumbfounded. This wasn't how he expected the day to go.
"Three and a half and you take us to see Shiverbane." Fleur declared, staring off against the Goblin.
"Deal," The Goblin declared, and Harry let out the stubborn breath that refused to leave out of his lungs. The spear-wielding Goblin continued his approach, now beckoned by the teller to come closer.
"Take these two to Shiverbane, and be mindful of them, they're glamoured." The Goblin grinned with greed, showing a mouthful of pointed, dagger-like teeth, "I expect my coins in full."
The guard grunted and stalked off, motioning the pair to follow him.
"You almost had us killed," Harry hissed at Fleur, quiet enough to go unnoticed by the Goblin leading them.
Fleur grinned impishly, "But did I get us killed?"
"Well that's a bit self-explanatory, I'd think."
"Precisely, Harry, I know Goblins," Fleur said, "We would have been fine anyways until you insulted their deities."
"Is that what that means?" Harry sighed, exasperated, "I blame Binns."
"You listened to a ghost that hates Goblins, who's really at fault?"
The conversation trailed off as they followed the guard deeper into the bank.
The bank was startlingly akin to a labyrinth, twisting corridors that seemed to stretch into the distance meshed with sudden, tight twists that had Harry lost for directions.
Eventually, hidden amidst dusty marble pillars and rough flooring, they met their mark.
Likely former, after today. Shiverbane's words seem to ring true, an Account Manager with a prestigious office no longer, instead relegated to a derelict office in the bowels of the bank.
"Shiverbane," the Guard grunted as if they couldn't read the plaque on the door.
Harry nodded to him and opened the door, stepping inside with Fleur close behind. Shiverbane clearly wasn't accustomed to guests in his new office, tracking them with beady, blackened eyes.
"Who are you?" The Goblin demanded, his small-stature straightening in his chair to greet them.
With a flick of Fleur's wand that caught Shiverbane off guard, enough so that he shot up in response, she dispelled the charms surrounding them.
The persistent itch of magic that covered his face dissipated and his features became his own, morphing back with jarringly soft motions.
Shiverbane looked taken aback, his diminutive form rocking back into his chair at the sight of them.
"Gods above…" The Goblin whispered, pale green-hued cheeks became paler and dark eyes that were nigh indecipherable seemed to be laid bare before them in shock. "Harry Potter."
"Sorry to drop in unannounced," Harry offered meekly, stepping forward slowly, "It's just… well, we didn't have anywhere else to go for this."
"So you came to me?" Shiverbane asked, his tone questioning and his face still betraying shock.
Harry nodded lightly, "You said we'd always have allies in the bank, I need to know if you were telling the truth."
"There might be, there might not be." Shiverbane replied cautiously, "I told you that in a different time and," he took a moment to take in his new office as if it was the first time he'd seen it "a different place."
"And what about you?" Fleur asked, stepping towards him just behind Harry.
Shiverbane shrugged, "What about me?" he said, clearly feigning ignorance to draw them closer.
"Are you an ally?" Harry prompted, "If not, we can be going."
"I'm afraid if you had delusions of grandeur when you walked through the door and into my office," the final word uttered with disdain, "then you should have left them there. I have nothing to offer you. No clandestine meetings with council members, no secret vaults to be unearthed. I'm simply an Accountant of Gringotts, disgraced as I may be, and I am still a Goblin."
"Disgraced?" Harry asked, "Because Sirius died?"
Shiverbane nodded, fingers topped with vicious claws meeting below his chin, "To lose a family is a terrible thing, to lose an Ancient family? Even more so. Had I been able to keep the Black Family Assets undivided I might have clung to my title and simply moved to a newer vault. But divided as it was the Directors felt I was no longer suited to my position."
The Goblin sounded bitter, though Harry supposed he had a right to. Last he saw, Shiverbane had an office thrice the size as this, displayed and guarded proudly for all to see. Now he was almost destitute, hidden away in the innards of Gringotts to hide their shame.
Ripe for an alliance, at least, Harry mused.
"We don't need anything outlandish," Fleur interjected in an attempt to assuage the Goblin's evident fears, "We need to purchase a house, and quietly. Or at the very least, as quietly as possible."
"Is property truly the primary concern in these times?" Shiverbane asked, almost flabbergasted.
"We need it for something," Harry explained, "We don't intend to sell it, if that's what you're worried about, can you help us?"
"That depends, Mister Potter, on if you remember the contents of the conversation we had not so long ago, albeit in a vastly different setting to our current one."
Harry racked his brain to remember the odd interaction while Fleur stared on from behind him, attempting to discern meaning through vague words.
He nodded after a pregnant pause, "You talked about my coin…" Harry said, searching the Goblin's face for an indicator of where the conversation might go.
"And?" Shiverbane prompted.
"And what?" Harry said.
"Which way did that coin land?"
That was a question Harry was ill-prepared to answer.
Which way did my coin land?
It had been a year of many things, triumphs and failures, losses and wins.
Malevolence and benevolence are merely adjacent sides of a single Galleon.
He'd destroyed Horcruxes, he'd saved a life, he'd come so far.
And yet, on the other hand, he'd killed, he'd manipulated and lied. He cast an errant glance to Fleur to take in her features.
And he loved an engaged woman.
Maybe there was justification for it all, maybe it was in pursuit of a greater good, to end the war or to finally be happy. Or perhaps it had been anger and greed that led him to where he was, sometimes it felt both and other times, neither.
Which way did my coin land?
Harry Potter did not know.
"Maybe it's landed," Harry said, his voice shaky from being thrown from his thoughts back to the situation at hand, "Maybe it's still in the air — or maybe I'll never know. I… I can't say."
Shiverbane nodded absentmindedly as his eyes trailed off to the roof, clawed fingers clashing together that filled the silent room with a soft 'clacking' noise.
"Goblins are not cheap fiends," Shiverbane said after a moment, "Quite the contrary actually, I've lost count of how many times I've heard us referred to as nought but greed incarnate."
"Your point being?" Fleur asked, "We didn't come to be lectured on societal views."
"I'll help you," Shiverbane nodded, "But in return, I expect a sizable gratuity in exchange for services rendered."
Harry scoffed, "What happened to allies? I don't remember paying any before."
"An offer made when I was on a higher rung, now I find myself secreted away in squalor." Shiverbane said, "It is only the promise that I once made and a desperate hope that I even entertain the notions you put forth to me. The best alliances, however, are those forged in gold — alliances are about mutual benefit."
It sounded very much like a lecture Harry had already heard once before.
"Two per cent," Fleur offered, taking the reins as she bartered with his money.
"Three." Shiverbane demanded, "I'll have to pay off Tellers, the sellers, the Goblins working the carts. Secrets can be measured with coins, and there is no Goblin who doesn't know the weight of the right word in the right ear."
"Two and a half or we risk the tellers again."
Shiverbane laughed aloud, an almost guttural screech that sent the hairs on Harry's neck standing to attention. "You have no room to bluff here, no cards not laid bare. Though I'm generous, as a token of goodwill, two and three quarters."
"Done." Fleur declared, and Harry watched more of his money slip down the drain. "We need something in Diagon Alley, discrete and small, preferably something that overlooks the Alley."
"A particular hard ask, even more difficult on short notice with secrecy being paramount."
"Can you do it?" Harry asked.
"I am a Goblin." Was all Shiverbane deigned to give them in response.
By the time they finally escaped the labyrinth of Gringotts's accounting section, they did so in search of a new flat that had sapped more than a decent portion of Harry's bank vault. Another decent portion tied up in bottomless bags that weighed the pockets of his robe down.
All-in-all, a successful endeavour.
They crossed the alley and tapped a series of patterns on the drain pipe, exposing a new path to walk. Ascending stairs and passing deftly through cramped corridors, they eventually found their quarry.
A set of old keys let them into the flat proper, closing the door swiftly behind them to shield from any prying eyes.
It was bare, nought in there but walls, floor and a roof. Furniture could be bought or transfigured as needed, not that they were there for leisure.
It was empty, but despite the circumstances that had led them there, it was theirs. Their first home together.
"Don't you think it's a bit early to get a house together?" Harry joked, breathing life into a thought that made his heart thump and tumble in turmoil.
"Harry Potter, vanquisher of Dark Lords, scared of home life." Fleur chortled, the mirthful noise filling their new home with something far more valuable than furniture, "I'd never expected this."
"If you're that eager to trap me, just say so." Harry replied, "One look at my vaults and you're eager to stick around."
"My, if only you had such wit when dealing with the Goblins."
"I was perfectly capable of dealing with the Goblins," Harry said, murmuring dramatically.
"Oh yes, the parts where you insulted their gods and almost had us impaled notwithstanding," Fleur smirked in return, her eyes alight with victory.
Harry snorted good-naturedly, "Any time you wanted to jump in, that would've been alright with me — for future reference, of course."
"Did I not save us?" Fleur said.
"By bartering my gold away?" Harry answered, "Quite the save."
Fleur laughed again, "You're being moody,"
Harry stilled in the memory of ecstasy, they were the same words that had delivered him to their first kiss and led them down this current path.
"I'm not being moody," Harry replied, the scene was almost identical save for the fact their feelings had already been laid bare.
Fleur stepped closer to him, almost a saunter in the light of passion, pushing her forehead into his.
"We make quite the team, don't we?" Fleur asked as Harry found himself slowly falling into the depths of ocean-hued irises.
"I think we do," Harry agreed eagerly.
"Ready for another victory?" She asked.
"Always," was Harry's hoarse reply.
The griseous-hue of the moon above painted the world in the dull gaze of the twilight, highlighting displacements in the cobbles and two, robe-clad figures that made their way down the Alley.
They'd watched the Alley for the few hours until night fell, a single window allowing an unadulterated glimpse of the comings and goings of Knockturn Alley's mouth. Not the most eloquent of solutions to their problem, but enough to gather knowledge about Death Eaters in the Alley.
Or possible resistance when they finally struck. Voldemort's forces were bold now, saturated with a feeling of invincibility that only loss would dull.
And Harry swore to deliver just that loss.
Now they walked down the winding roads of Knockturn in hopes of gathering intelligence. Glamours and transfigured robes donned in order to best meld into the small crowd that wasn't cowed by the new status quo but welcomed it.
Even with a glamour, Fleur's beauty could not be fully dulled. A man blocked their path, leaning over an alcove with shaky legs. They made an attempt to pass him without any trouble.
The man slurred something unintelligible and reached forward, a mutt with a dirty paw trying to grasp with his double vision. Fleur seemed to be familiar with such an event, a practiced ease saw her wand knock the man back into the alcove before he could even reach her, nursing a sore stomach.
The alcohol makes them weaker, Harry realised, doesn't bode well for where we're going.
Progressing past him and around other small nuisances, they found themselves at their destination.
The pub seemed derelict, a crude image of a man at the gallows hanging from a wooden board. The smell of pipe smoke and firewhisky was strong, even from such a distance.
The Inn of the Hanging Man, the sign read proudly.
Harry pushed open the door with Fleur close behind, entering the boisterous atmosphere of the pub, laden with cheers and loud chatter. A sedate pace led them towards the bar, Fleur separating from him so they could try to maximise whatever effectiveness they could find.
Two seats were open to the right-hand side of the bar, the only other occupant a middle-aged man, or so he looked. A wiry frame crossed with dirt and small scars.
Harry took the far seat, leaving one open between the two of them. He didn't want to seem too eager.
"Firewhisky," Harry demanded when the pretty bar-witch walked past, trying desperately to make his voice seem deeper than it was.
A glass with amber liquid found his hands and the man's gaze drifted slightly sideways to get a measure of him. Curiosity getting the better of him.
"Couldn't get this in Azkaban," Harry commented lightly, swirling the alcohol as he looked down into it. His voice loud enough so only the other man could hear him.
He scoffed loudly into his own drink "I reckon you look a bit too small for prison, Dementors would've eaten you alive and spat out what they didn't want, seen it happen before."
Harry struggled to find the words to continue the lie, he merely lifted the glass of amber liquid towards the roof.
"We're all small after Azkaban," The last word mustered with a contempt that clearly shocked the man into assuming it wasn't a deception.
The wizard smiled and raised his own glass.
"Isn't that the truth," The man chuckled humorlessly, "Haven't seen you around here, you get out in the breakout?"
"Months before, been busy," Harry shrugged nonchalantly, "You?"
"Year back, got done for assaulting a Hitwizard, you?"
"Trying to make a quick galleon."
"That'll get ya," The man laughed into his glass, "Bailey."
An introduction that heralded a deal to come, Harry raised his own glass again though careful not to seem too eager to make the man's acquaintance.
"Dursley," Harry introduced, the fake name passing seamlessly into the air.
The plan had worked. Now Harry could only hope the man knew something worth knowing.