A Different Kind of War @ajjax
Fleeting Normalcy

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: Fleeting Normalcy

PAIRINGS: Harry/Fleur

RATING: M

A/N: Seems I'm riding high off of my previous inspiration, three days and a 10k chapter, suffice to say, I'm a bit tired.

Massive thanks to x102reddragon and NerdDragonVoid as always. In my quest to be expeditious, I tend to misspell far too many words. They helped clean it up greatly.

Had a great time writing the 'Mad-Eye' POV, that was enough to launch me forward, alongside reading some of my old work.

Please be sure to review, I'm fairly new to the whole writing gig, or at least, relatively new. I thrive for feedback, so please review if you have the time.

The world, as always, is a crazy place. So stay safe, happy and enjoy!

THE 'MAD-EYE'

With a crack that imitated a muggle gunshot, Alastor Moody apparated into the desolate valley. A clangorous percussion followed his arrival, heralding his allies' appearance.

The small valley was smoke-filled, errant flames licked at destroyed rooftops, their orange-hued light bathing the surroundings in a sickly glow.

They apparated some distance away from the houses in a thicket of foliage and tall, imposing trees. Most of which were felled, cracked at head height and splintered into shards. The forest itself bore the scars of battle, but judging by the ruined hamlet, a battle lost.

"They approached from the trees." A feminine voice noted from his right, the shimmering ebony hair of Emmeline Vance.

"Must've known about them then." Sturgis Podmore added, the stocky man perched on higher ground. "We're a fair way off, too far for spells to be very effective."

Sturgis was wrapped in a thick cloak, despite the relative heat. The man had been released from Azkaban some months ago, but the cold never left him.

"Could've been a sortie." Emmeline guessed, "Might've reckoned they could take them in the open field."

"Hogwash." Moody growled, his deep voice cutting through the air harshly. "They would've needed to have known an attack was coming."

"Could've had wards." Kingsley Shacklebolt noted, approaching from the rear.

Mad-Eye gave the air a harsh sniff, "Air's still, if wards were up, they haven't been taken down."

"Find anything Shack?" Podmore asked, clutching his cloak.

"Apparition site." He said with a shrug, barely visible in the twilight, "No casualties or signs of magic."

"I dislike this." Emmeline grumbled.

"We all bloody dislike it." Moody said harshly, "We've got no choice but to investigate."

"What's the plan?" Kingsley asked.

"Kingsley, you and Podmore will approach from the opposite side - search for survivors. Vance can linger on the hills, await the signal and send a patronus should those bastards try an ambush."

"You're sure of this?" Emmeline asked, trying to steel herself against the nervousness, but some still crept into her voice.

"Aye, I like it no more than you lass." The scarred man said, "Pray to Merlin if that'll help you see dawn, but keep your vigilance about you for the moment."

"Out of the frying pan I suppose." Sturgis said dryly, standing up from his position.

They dispersed, Emmeline to the left and Kingsley and Sturgis to the right. Moody instead, grabbed his staff and set forward across the dry ground.

His staff was long and gnarled, wrought from old oak. A woven braid of heartstrings ran down the center of the shaft. It was ungodly to wield, heavy and unyielding. It lacked finesse but righted it's deficits easily with its power output. He'd mastered whatever few spells staffs could use that were useful and wielded them to deadly effect.

He hobbled across the open field and was soon close enough that the raging fire's heat felt rough on his skin, smoke and ashen wind staining his lungs, but his advance did not falter. Of all the many activities Voldemort and his ilk committed, razing was what Alastor Moody hated most.

The McKinnon's Manor had been razed and with it the last few relatives he could claim that weren't lost to the pox and age. Their halls set alight and the family trapped within. He'd been there that night with the Ministry. His eye gouged from its socket by Evan Rosier's wand, who's throat was slit in turn. He begged to save them, to beat back the fiendfyre.

'Not today Alastor,' Bagnold's words to this day seemed mocking, even if that was never intended, 'They're gone, my condolences.'

The Healers at Saint Mungo's, the Aurors in the corps, they all claimed they'd seen hell. Skirmishes and dead bodies, broken bones and prisoners of the war.

What did they know of hell? He lamented angrily, Only a man who's seen family consumed by flames truly knows hell.

McKinnon Manor had been his finest hour, he'd felled near a dozen Death Eaters, put Rosier and Wilkes in cold, hard ground. Yet, his failures tasted bitter on his tongue while he lay in the bed of St. Mungo's. Skin marred crimson with blood and scar tissue, his single eye haunted by those same flames and the words that came after.

Not today.

That was the day Alastor Moody ceased to be a member of the Auror Corps. That was the day Alastor Moody truly died. From the same crucible that bore the flames that murdered his family bore something different for the man.

He was the Mad-Eye.

Ministry Malcontent.

From that day onwards, his wand was no longer the Ministry's, it never would be again. Albus Dumbledore extended a hand, an offer to try and make a real difference. From that day, he found out who would have his wand for as long as he breathed. Even on odd requests such as these.

Even in the harsh gaze of the flames the area was still dark, the lack of moon offering no guidance to the scarred ex-Auror. But even without visibility, he could hear it as if they were right next to him. The gleeful cheers of men and women, the intoxicating high that came with the dark arts.

His wooden leg clacked hard against hard cobbles when he began his journey towards the square, their cries echoing in his ears as cruelly as those words did.

Not today.

He rounded the corner as he saw them all, or as many as he could in the low light. There were seven, maybe eight in total, herding wizards and witches into a small circle. He'd fought against worse odds, but loathe as he was to admit it, he was older, slower. But no less ardent in his hatred. They'd be slow themselves, high on courage and victory, but exhausted. The Dark Arts may have been powerful, but power had its toll.

He thumped his staff onto the hard stone ground, the echo reverberating harshly in the small square.

Not today. He echoed again, but this time, it felt different.

"τυφλό φως." The man hissed, a ball of bright light forming at the apex of the old oak, and shooting skywards. Bathing the surroundings in a bright alabaster-hued glow that removed any uncertainty of their numbers or activities.

The signal was fired. Emmeline's patronus fled across the hills at breakneck pace to alert their reinforcements. Sturgis and Kingsley sprung a trap of their own, bursting from the other side of the square.

"It's the Mad-Eye!" One cried in fear, brandishing his wand towards the man.

And for the first time in a long time, Alastor Moody was happy.

This is what I was made for. He thought, Not the politicking of Grimmauld Place, not the bureaucracy of the Ministry - this.

Then, battle erupted. The smell of ozone was hot in the air and the night was further illuminated by motley coloured spells.

"Tarian Pridd." The man chanted, thumping his staff again. An earthen barrier rose to protect him from the curses that careened across the short distance. He threw the staff aside, it had served its purpose, he drew his long, dark wand and began the butcher's work in earnest.

Half of the Death Eaters would be engaging Kingsley and Sturgis, but his foes still approached, hoping to be the one to down the Mad-Eye.

He caught his first lingering on the flank, trying to use market stalls to hide his advance.

'Sagitta.'

An arrow sped across the distance and buried itself in the shoulder of the advancing foe, hard enough to send him sprawling. Another connected with their calf, enough that he wouldn't be mobile for some time.

'Contusio.' Shook the earthen barrier free, scattering the distance between him and the rest of his enemies with dirt and stone.

He found his second with debris, chunks of cobblestone showering one who made an attempt to rush through the breach. The Death Eater stumbled through, a hastily erected shield to stop the barrage of stones that seemed to work.

He was, however, woefully unprepared for the spells that would follow. A newfound salvo of curses careened into the already waning shield and sent the cloaked man stumbling backwards over uneven ground.

'Secare.' Moody swung his wand in a vicious arc, a pale spell shot from his wand and his retreating foe stumbled over backwards, clutching his torn throat. His silver mask flying from his face, the man tried desperately to apply healing spells to the wound that sapped his lifeblood. But the man soon succumbed and fell still.

His second had been claimed.

He was caught in the open now, the dust from his attacks had cleared, leaving only open ground between him and the remaining two adversaries he faced. A lesser wizard would've been perturbed, a lesser wizard might've fled.

But the Mad-Eye was no lesser Wizard.

Two spells arced across the gap between them, he was no longer nimble enough to dodge as effectively as he once did. Although that didn't seem to be an issue as a dark curse of some manner flew towards him. He didn't even do the man the service of shielding, he flicked his wand and parried the curse skyward, sending it beyond view. The second shot forward a gout of blistering flames that seemed to fail to make the distance, although it did obscure his view of the pair. It may have worked too, if not for the electric blue eye that swivelled in it's socket eagerly.

He retook the initiative as a new volley of curses flew towards him. A transfigured steel spike crossed the gap and the cry that rang out signified it must've found flesh somewhere. A trio of various incapacitation spells flew afterwards. The ropes succumbed to the flames that still tried to obfuscate his vision, his bonebreaker flew wide as the man repositioned himself. His bludgeoner came too fast and struck the man head-on.

Probably shattered every rib he has. The man thought grimly as his enemy crumpled under the force of his spell.

The other Death Eater started blistering heat grew in intensity as he looked for a way to circumvent the raging flames.

'Accio.'

A brick came loose from one of the few standing houses and flew towards the man from behind. He stumbled forward, the flames wavering. Moody flicked his wand again and the earth rose to meet the stumbling man, flinging him backwards.

He seemed to struggle to retake his feet, but his inability to stand mattered little. A banished wooden beam removed the ability in perpetuity.

Butcher's work indeed. He mused, taking sight of the carnage.

He summoned his staff and hobbled over broken bodies and shattered earth to the center of the square to where the Death Eaters herded their quarry. A quick flick of his wand tore the containment charm apart and bodies began a fervoured scamper to escape.

Some remained, the injured ones, he assumed. The rest seemed more than eager to flee, cracks of apparition securing their safety. A flash of ebony hair that ran past him, babe in arms sent a pang of pain through his heart. Memories of a young girl who still would've been there had he been that much quicker.

She's got Marlene's hair. He mused wistfully as babe and mother tore away from view with a loud crack.

He'd cleared his section before the beaten form of Kingsley Shacklebolt and company arrived.

"You look like Goblin shite." The scarred man noted dryly.

"Yeah you're a fucking ray of sunshine yourself Mad-Eye." Sturgis Podmore said, limping with the assistance of Kingsley.

He likely did look terrible, although it would take time for the adrenaline to subside and the aches to rise.

"Was it here?" Moody asked gruffly, thoughts of the past left where they laid.

"It was." The broad shouldered Wizard said in a deep voice, "We missed it though, slipped through our fingers when we attacked by the looks of it."

"We'll get the snake." Nymphadora Tonks assured from his right side, "Our group got a good look at it too. Remus got a spell off on it."

"I assume you got Vance's patronus?"

"No, I came to see you old shites for the fun of it." The Metamorphagus drawled, "Our section cleared out quicker than usual. Patronus came during clean up."

"Did the spell do anything to it?" Moody asked.

"Not that we could see, did a number on Doge though, before it took off."

"A snake that we can't harm." Podmore said, seeming to shiver without his cloak despite the fires that still raged. "Wouldn't mind knowing why we've hunted a sodding snake halfway across the countryside. Or is that too much for a bloke to ask?"

"Not our place to question Albus." Moody reminded the man gruffly, "Find the wounded and get to clean up. You hear anything from Diggle's team?"

"North country was quiet tonight." Tonks said, "Seems he wants them to remember neither side is safe after the last set of raids."

"Capture whatever scum they left behind." Mad-Eye ordered, "Get them to a safehouse before we give them to the Ministry and put out those fucking fires." His voice was demanding and without room to question. Even the usually impertinent Nymphadora Tonks ran to follow his order and soon, rooftops became sodden with water and ash.

Albus might not have disclosed why they needed the snake, but he knew better than to question the man, he had his reason.

Death and destruction followed that snake, like day followed night, ending every raid in grief, fire and ichor. But they were close, the noose was tightening, they'd seen it thrice in as many raids.

The day was close, he could feel it.

But not today. He thought, but this time, without malice.

Harry had been consulting the Marauders Map for some time, searching the animated piece of parchment for Fleur and her office. However, he wasn't able to find it yet. That might've been a result of his haphazard searching, or the fact his eyes were locked onto another name. Draco Malfoy was lingering around Filch's office, pacing back and forth. The name itself didn't confuse him, although his nose still twinged in pain from the chance meeting with the sole of his boot. If he was candid, the urge to seek him out was strong, although he was firmly shackled and chastised for his actions by both Fleur and Dumbledore. He wasn't eager to repeat that bad decision, even if he had reservations about their judgements.

No, it was not the name that caught his attention, but rather the map's reaction itself. Every time he lingered over the footprints of Draco, the map seemed to almost flicker. The lines would shift and the map would go askew and his name shimmered out of existence for a moment, before returning. His name jumped between floors, enough so that Harry couldn't accurately discern what floor the boy was on. He'd never seen the map react in such a fashion.

Harry was far beyond the portrait of the Fat Lady when he found Fleur. She was pacing in one of the corridors in the disused quarter of the Castle. He assumed that must've been where her office was located. Loathe as he was to admit it, her allure might attract some unsavoury visitors should they know where she stayed. He knew she certainly had trouble during the Tournament in that regard, but he also knew she was more than able in dispatching such suitors. But he was sure the hassle still wouldn't be worth it.

He began his second trek through the castle, in as many hours, in earnest. The throbbing pain in his head dimmed to a dull ache and flexing his jaw no longer carried the same twinge of discomfort as it once did. He supposed he owed one of those remedies to Fleur, although he was sure once he found her he'd be doing his utmost to add to that list.

He trekked through to the other side of the castle. Some of the paintings had awoken and greeted him as he passed by. He passed Sir Cadogan somewhere on the fifth floor instructing a group of eunuchs on the art of the longsword again, to no avail Harry imagined. The familiar morning light shone through the shutters of the castle and gave Harry a rough estimation of how long he had to talk to Fleur before morning schedules were handed out, which suffice to say, wasn't long.

Another few long glances at the map was all he needed before he located Fleur. She was only a few corridors over in a section of the castle he wasn't too familiar with. However, he was intimately familiar with the map and the group of names that seemed to be between him and Fleur.

Daphne Greengrass, Tracey Davis, Blaise Zabini, Millicent Bulstrode.

He swore quietly under his breath. The last thing he needed was another confrontation and Slytherins always had a penchant for starting them and their numbers emboldened them greatly in his experience. Well, so did he, if he was honest. He'd neglected to bring his cloak and while he was surely interested in what a group of Slytherins were doing in the deserted sector of the castle, he remembered his promises. He thought not of conspiracies, but of a book he'd only been reading a short time ago.

"Levis Obliqua.'' Harry incanted softly, waving the length of his wand from his head to toes, then back again. Repeating the action enough that his body shimmered from existence, the only indication of his existence being distorted sunlight. He certainly had no mastery of the charm, far from it being the first time he'd tried it, but it would work. He hoped.

The Disillusionment Charm was definitely not as formidable as his cloak, though he doubted many things were. For lack of a better word, his father's cloak was a masterpiece. He'd seen Moody's Invisibility Cloak once at an Order meeting, it was rough hewn from the skin of a demiguise and felt terribly coarse. Moody often complained how it was due for a replacement in a few years and he didn't have the money. Harry's, on the other hand, was smoother than silk and large enough to cover two with no sign of degradation after all the years he had it. Though he was unsure if his opinion was born from the cloak's quality or his sentimentality of it.

Still, the Disillusionment Charm held a versatility the cloak didn't. He couldn't accidentally step on the hem of the cloak and lose it, it truly did seem like a good spell in a pinch. Still, Harry's wasn't perfect, if he moved too quickly the light would bounce more than usual, contrasting heavily against the stone wall.

He tiptoed down the length of the corridor and took refuge behind the rusted plate-armour that dorned an alcove. The four in question passed without question, little but idle chat passing between them. They left without incident and Harry stepped from his hiding place.

"Homenum Revelio," A voice sounded. A short pause followed, maybe half a second before another word came, "Incarcerous."

Harry swivelled from his hiding spot, but couldn't find his assailant in time. Hard ropes bound him around the midsection and the disillusionment charm dispelled. The breath was knocked from him by the hard force but thankfully, the static knight's sword took the brunt of the ropes' force , tearing them apart.

He quickly made to counter-attack, but was brought face-to-face with familiar, angelic features.

"Creeping on Veela now 'Arry?" Fleur said, momentarily shocked as his face came into view. "That's a headline your papers would run with, I'm sure of it."

Hogwarts hasn't dulled her wit. Harry thought, lowering his wand. Now how to explain this.

"It's not what it looks like." He assured lamely, she merely arched an elegant eyebrow.

Yep. That's what we're going with. He cursed internally.

"I'm sure." She drawled, her disbelief evident in her ocean eyes and tone.

"I did come to see you." Harry said, "Just not, you know, like this."

"So you didn't decide to creep up on someone while disillusioned?" She said, "I'm flattered."

"I had to ask a question." Harry defended, "I saw you a few corridors over and then-"

"Saw me a few corridors over?" She probed, "Pray tell exactly how and why you found me?"

"As for how? That's a trade secret." Harry said, "As for why? I need your help."

"A trade secret?" She laughed lightly, "You're remarkably non-compliant for a person at my mercy."

"We've both got out wands." He pointed out, "I'm not sure I'm at your mercy."

"For all your merit Harry, I'm still better."

"I'm too valuable for you to injure."

She raised an eyebrow at that, "I told you I could just as easily train Ron or Hermione to carry out my bidding."

"Yes, what great conversations you'll have, I'm sure."

"What they may lack in social skills they may redeem in not preying on innocent witches, non?" She said pointedly, "Be it either at the mercy of my wand or my mind, you seem to want my help."

No, Harry reiterated internally. Hogwarts hadn't dulled her wit at all.

Seeing the argument clearly was not in his favour, he relented. He'd learned over his many attempts that arguing with Fleur was a bit like duelling. It was a quick affair, if he forgot to shield or dodge, she'd strike. Never in a way that was overtly rude or callous, but she seldom let an advantage lie. It was a quick and clean affair where one got the upper hand within seconds and rarely, if ever, was it Harry.

"I'm sorry." He relented, "This," He said gesturing to himself as if the charm was still active, "Really wasn't for you, I was avoiding people I'd rather not see."

She seemed to ponder his words for a moment,

"I really do need your help with something." He said again and the French witch relented.

"I suppose I could, this once." She said.

"How'd you know I was there anyways?" Harry queried.

"Outside of the fact your charm was mediocre at best?" She said, a smirk of superiority reigning across her beautiful features, "I was a Curse Breaker, Harry, seeing through eyes alone is a poor way to perceive the world." The latter half of her explanation carried a mystifying tone that made Harry laugh.

"Now you're here amongst us plebs." He laughed, "Oh, how the mighty have fallen."

"Careful." She warned with a small smile, "It's my help you need. I could easily just tie you up again."

"Try." He amended with a superior smirk of his own, "Did your colleagues at Gringotts experience your wonderful hospitality?" Even as the words left his mouth, he knew he'd misspoke.

She shook her, "Sadly, no." She sounded wistful, almost angry, given the place and time Harry didn't really feel like pushing her on the point.

"So anyways," Harry said, trying to change topics as eloquently as possible. "My arrival aside, I really do need your help."

"What with?" She asked succinctly, her attention drawn to the wall in front of her.

"I need to... ask someone about something." He said, floundering in his attempt to phrase it.

"You shouldn't struggle so much." She laughed with her infectious melody, "It gives away the game."

"It's something they've never told anyone." He tried with a bit more confidence, "Something I really need to know."

She turned her attention from wherever her vision was affixed, "Would it perhaps be a certain red-haired witch you were looking to coerce information from?"

Harry flushed brightly at it. "I have absolutely no clue what you're insinuating." He said meekly, eliciting another laugh.

"Bill's seen the both of you together once." She said, "Only once. Even then he was sure of her infatuation with you."

"Ginny's my best mate's sister." He defended, "She's a good friend, but nothing more."

"Good." Fleur announced to his shock, "You could do far better than the scheming of Ginevra." Her name came out almost mockingly.

No love lost between those pair. He thought with a grimace.

"You make her sound evil." Harry pointed out with the same grimace lining his features.

"Of course." Fleur began in a tone that made Harry already feel like he wouldn't enjoy her words, "I'm sure her flaunting her boyfriends to you, stealing away kisses in your sight, making sure you're always near are all coincidental."

"You haven't seen half of that." He argued.

"But it's happened?" She said, placing a hand on her hip, "Hasn't it? Trust me Harry, there's nothing half as wicked in this world as a teenage girl."

"What does it matter?" He argued, "What is she supposed to do, shout it in the Great Hall?"

"Of course not." She snorted, "There's an elegance to love that neither you, nor Ginerva have mastered."

"Of course, you're the Mistress of Elegance."

"See?" She said, patting him on the shoulder, "I may have to keep you around should you be such a quick study."

"What a study that'll be." He said dryly

"Study with me, Harry Potter." She said in a tone that almost seemed seductive, "And you shall learn all about elegance and love."

If it was possible, Harry's crimson cheeks darkened a shade. Women weren't exactly his strong point, definitely not if you counted that his only experience was sloppy kisses reminiscing about the girl's dead boyfriend, which he'd rather not count. Fleur merely let out yet another laugh at the colour of his face, that was enough to assure him it was a joke.

"Anyways, if we could get back to the point," Harry pleaded, his cheeks losing some of their colour. "Maybe its elegance I need, could you suggest anything?"

"Who are you trying to pry information from?" She asked.

Harry had a similar internal battle as before. But where he could say that he didn't want neither Ron nor Hermione hurt, Fleur had just soundly bested him and her tone sounded like her assistance was contingent on knowing the whole plan.

"I can't tell you," Harry admitted.

"Why?" Harry didn't know if it was the hour or her workload, but she seemed more prone to dropping witty comments in favour of being blunt. More so than usual, anyways.

"Dumbledore's orders." He said, "I really can't tell anyone."

She seemed to ponder for a little, brushing a wisp of her silver hair behind her ear.

"Tell me about them." She asked.

"It's a 'he'," Harry began vaguely, "He likes… 'collecting people'. Professor Dumbledore told me he was a socialite, I suppose that's as good a word as any."

"If they like to collect names." She said, "Simply get collected."

"That's vague." Harry commented, it was the exact same assistance the Headmaster gave him.

Fleur merely shrugged. "You asked, I delivered. If I can't know him, that's what I'd say. You could try and get them drunk, I suppose."

"That seems oddly manipulative." Harry commented. "Messy too."

"The storybooks are pretty." She lectured, although not as condescendingly as he would've assumed. "Reality is less so. History is messy and history is written by men like that. I think you'll find socialites and sorrows go hand-in-hand."

"Now that sounds melodramatic." Harry said lightly. She sounded like there was a foul taste in her mouth.

"I wish it was. Pretty gowns and sweet drinks are conducive to few things, Harry, none of them good. In times like these they do little if not barter about how best to divide the world between them."

"And they say elegance is dead." Harry said, slightly perturbed at her words. But she seemed fervent in her belief. He didn't feel it wise to test that same belief.

"No one says that." She laughed. "Though if elegance was easy, it would hardly be worth the effort. That aside, I do have some good news for you."

That piqued his interest.

"That's rare, what is it?" He asked eagerly.

"I thought you'd be happy to know that Potions is now open to those who received 'Exceeds Expectations'."

"Really?" Harry asked shocked, he sorely hoped this wasn't her attempt at a joke.

"Yes, There was somewhat of an impromptu staff meeting. Slughorn and Snape were arguing about it, though Slughorn didn't seem that perturbed about his displeasure."

"That's great news." He smiled widely.

Despite this week's events, hell, even the past years events, that news that his dreams as an auror weren't completely shattered. A modicum of light in what looked to be a year of darkness.

"So what would you do if you were in my situation?" Harry wondered, although far more cheerful than he was before.

"Appeal to his hedonism, offer him something no other person could and he'll inevitably play into your hand." She said, "They're invariably going to play the fool to lure you in, but they rarely expect you to follow suit.

"So be an idiot?" Harry scoffed.

"Look," She said in wonder, "You've already mastered it!"

"Why are we friends again?" Harry said, sullenly.

"I'm charming." She said simply in a tone that was decidedly 'Fleur Delacour.'

Harry didn't respond, merely pondered.

She made it sound easy and to her it likely was. Harry began to concoct the beginning of a plan in his head. Given the fact his last two plans ended rather humiliatingly, he might think on this one a bit more than usual.

"So, what exactly are you doing up this early anyways?" He asked, taking a look at her face.

Confusion marred her angelic features and he followed her line of sight to the wall. She'd been staring at a painting on the wall.

It depicted a Centaur reaching upwards towards the stars, it would gallop but lean back as if struck and the canvas flickered for a moment, before it morphed back into the original picture. It then began playing out the scene again as if the centaur was forever stuck repeating it's events under its varnished prison.

It's like the map. Harry thought, remembering the charmed parchment. Something was wrong.

"It's… broken?" Harry guessed, he could see what the issue was, but he couldn't really surmise what the issue was.

"Not exactly. A ward stone is placed in the cobblestones behind the painting. Usually they're not a disruptive force unless they're actively being tested. But it's making the ambient magic surrounding the area to atrophy."

"Well, that sounds morbid." Harry admitted "Do you have any idea what is causing it?"

"Maybe, something cursed could be trying to pass in and out of the wards." She theorized, "Could be a magical animal. I can't know yet."

"An item?" Harry thought, thinking back to hidden silk bags

"No," She said, feigning confidence though some consternation seeped into her voice "I don't think it is." Harry empathised with her, her first day and problems already began to present themselves, he knew the feeling well.

"Are you able to help me map the castle tonight? Or do you plan on losing any more skirmishes?" She broke away from talking about the painting, her statement made Harry wince a little.

"Should I start winning them?" She raised an eyebrow and shot him a dangerous look. "Nevermind, I can help, in fact, I've got the perfect tool for the job."

That same eyebrow seemed to raise higher in disbelief.

"Trust me." He replied to her expression. "I think you'll like it as much as I do."

"Very well then, I imagine breakfast is soon. The last thing we want is a habitual truant, no? After almost missing last night, best you make an appearance before they think I've stolen you away."

"I think I'd be the one doing the stealing." Harry said.

She turned her head and looked at him with a gaze that seemed to penetrate him. She looked him up, and then down, before looking in his eyes.

"I'm not sure about that." She said, her lips curling in a half smirk.

"My proclivity for stealing witches aside," Harry asked. "Are you coming to breakfast?"

She shook her head, "No, I think I'd best unravel this mystery first." She said, enunciating her meaning by jabbing her rosewood wand towards the painting.

Harry shrugged, "Well, if you need my help I'm always around."

He got a small smile as she began concentrating again. Harry set off towards the Great Hall, to fill his stomach and start his day. Learning that he could take Potions set a spring in his step he felt wouldn't dampen.

Harry found his way into the Great Hall, it was sparsely populated given the early hour but like always it would soon be filled to the breaking point. Everyone would soon pile in to start their year fresh. If only for the fact that it was one of the only mandatory feasts to dispense class schedules.

Professor McGonagall was already present, handing out timetables to the few Gryffindors present. The other three Heads of House were doing similar, there was only one other professor in the hall outside of theml. Slughorn sat at the head table shoveling food into his mouth in a way that would make Ron envious. Unlike Ron however, he had decorum whilst doing it.

Harry began to pile sausages and bacon onto his plate along with pouring himself a tall glass of pumpkin juice. He dug into his plate with all the fervour of a starving man, which given the fact he hadn't had a proper meal in almost a day, that was somewhat true.

McGonagall slowly made her rounds, handing out pieces of parchment to each of the students present. She eventually made her way to Harry after discussing something with a group of first years that had arrived with one of the fifth year Prefects.

"Mister Potter." She said handing the parchment to him over his shoulders.

"I was impressed by your studies and your performance in the O.W.L exams last year." She said with a smile, but he was sure he knew what she was insinuating. "Please do try and keep your studies up to similar levels, lest you sink into mediocrity. That would be a true disservice to your abilities indeed." She commented before walking away to another student a few seats down.

First up was a double free period, but Harry supposed it could be Potions, he'd have to wait until Hermione got hers to make sure.

Soon enough, both Ron and Hermione entered the Hall, making a beeline for Harry, during their course they were intercepted and given their schedules before taking a seat on either side of Harry.

"Where were you?" Hermione demanded.

'Hey Harry, how are you?' He mused, That could've worked.

"At… Breakfast?" He replied, feigning confusion to try and evade the conversation.

"No." She shot back harshly. "I meant before the feast, last night, or even this morning!"

Harry supposed bending the truth couldn't hurt too much. "I was helping Dumbledore with something."

"For the whole night? You expect us to believe that?" She reiterated Ron's point from earlier and he was shot a look of 'I told you so' from the redhead.

"He swore me to secrecy Hermione, you know if I could tell you, I would." She let out a loud huff and crossed her arms.

"Why would I not tell you if I could?"

"You didn't tell us you were helping Fleur."

"That's different." He said, "That wasn't anyone' business but mine and hers."

"If it affects you, it affects us." She said, her voice hard.

"In regular times, it would." He tried, his tone diplomatic, "But you'll be worse off by knowing some things. If Dumbledore wants me to keep it close to my chest, I'll have to listen to him."

She glared, but relented. Ordinarily, it may have been cause for relief, but letting topics go was never a skill Hermione possessed. She'd no doubt prod him again before long, but for now, he was free. Rather than trying to push any contentious issues further, he made an effort to leave the topic behind them.

"What do you have first, Hermione?" Harry questioned after swallowing a piece of sausage skewered on his fork. She glanced briefly down at her piece of parchment.

"Potions, why's that?" She questioned skeptically.

"Because me and Ron are coming along." He said matter-of-factly.

Ron let out a choke on his food while Hermione's brow furrowed.

"Potions are only for students that had an Outstanding, Harry, you and Ron didn't get one."

"Snape's Potions Class was for students that got Outstandings, Slughorn has a different approach." Hermione looked happy for him, Ron on the other hand looked rather displeased.

"Come on mate, you know how much I hate potions, surely you wouldn't make me come?" He pleaded.

"I thought you wanted to become an Auror too?" Harry asked. He already knew the answer. Ron had always longed to step out of the shadow of his older siblings, becoming an Auror was a sure-fire way to complete that.

"I could settle for less." He said simply, "If less means no potions, I'll take two."

"What would your mother say?" Hermione asked pointedly.

"She'd huff and puff, but she's not the one dealing with being in the dungeons for hours." The ginger-haired boy defended.

"What if it's better without Snape?" Harry asked innocently to a betrayed expression.

"What if you did really well?" Hermione joined in, sensing the plan, "Wouldn't that be a way to prove Snape wrong."

"Fine." He said sourly, but without much thought "I'll come to bloody potions, but you owe me."

"I'll let you use my Firebolt for Keeper Tryouts?" Harry offered.

"Suddenly, I think the dungeons look pretty good, don't you?" He said cheerfully. For whatever could be said about the world, Ronald Weasly was always an easy man to please.

The trio began to finish their breakfast in silence as the remainder of the school flooded in, Harry noticed Fleur was conspicuously absent.

It must be more difficult than I imagined, Harry thought.

Soon, the three of them had concluded their breakfast and headed down to the Dungeons.

Slughorn had changed from Snape's classroom to presumably to the one he had run his classes from. It was a bit further along in the dungeons and Harry could say with some certainty he'd never ventured this deep into this side of the castle. Not too far past their old classroom they ascended a short staircase and came to a room, opening the door the three walked in. Some students had already taken their place inside, to Harry's chagrin, one of them was Draco Malfoy. Harry hadn't the foresight to predict that he'd be there as well, though he supposed it was another chance to keep his eye on him, not that Harry thought that he was bold enough to try something under the watchful gaze of the Professor.

The room was well-lit and homely, which was already a far cry from Snape's darkened abode. The half of the room closest to them had a series of chalkboards running down the length, the far half had numerous rows of shelves that had various ingredients sat upon the shelves.

"Come in!" A jovial voice cried, "Please, come in!" Slughorn beckoned them in to take a seat, they sat near the front of the room.

"Sir?" Harry got the plump man's attention. "We don't have our textbooks. Until this morning we didn't know you'd be accepting students without Outstandings."

"Not to worry Harry!" The man gave him a wide smile. "Today, we won't be following our text books, but there will be some books in the back cabinet for you and your friend's next lesson." By the time they'd finished, most of the class had already taken their seats. With a quick flourish of his wand a roll of parchment flew from his desk and he began to mark the roll, making sure to thoroughly observe every person that answered. Once he had finished calling the roll, he crossed his arms behind his back and walked to the centre of the room.

"My name is Professor Horace Slughorn, I headed House Slytherin of Hogwarts for over fifty years, I am a Potions Master and have served as a member of the Potions Guild for decades. This year I will instruct you into the extensive art of Potions and give you a comprehensive introduction into the esoterica that is advanced potioneering. Traditionally, I would've started my sixth years with the Draught of the Living Death, however, given the circumstances the Headmaster has persuaded me to adapt our curriculum to provide a more defensive insight to the possibilities of potions." He flicked his wand and a series of complex instructions appeared on the chalkboards.

"Today, we will be brewing the Entwurf ohne Schaden, a German potion created in the late seventeen hundreds by Potions Master Eric von Hoffmen. Through a long, convoluted process of which I won't attempt to describe, this solution is used in the revitalization of dormant protective enchantments and is integral in the creation of many newly engineered wards. However, in keeping with tradition there will be a prize for the best potion." Slughorn flicked his wand and an apparatus on his desk appeared, two claws grasped a small vial and kept it suspended." Could anyone hazard a guess to what this is?" Instantly, Hermione's hand shot upwards.

"Miss Granger?" Slughorn chose.

"Felix Felicis sir." She made like she was going to give her obligatory explanation but was quickly cut off by Slughorn.

"Quite right Ms. Granger!" The class seemed to perk up at that. "Before you stands Felix Felicis, better known as Liquid Luck. A notoriously hard concoction to brew but a worthwhile one. Bottled good fortune that ensures one of the best days of your life. Though I would dissuade you from attempting to brew this potion, many prospective potioneers have perished in pursuit of the prosperity this particular brew presents." He said, the final line made Harry think the old man had clearly reheasered the speech.

"The instructions are written upon the board along with the list of ingredients, please raise your hand if you require assistance. Given the corrosive nature of this potion at particular stages, we will be providing wrought iron cauldrons for you today. Very well, get to work!" Slughorn clasped his hands together and returned to his desk.

It was certainly a change from Snape's autocratic barking of orders followed by harsh glares, not an unwelcome one of course. Slughorn went to help a Hufflepuff measure ingredients, Harry went to gather the needed ingredients, Hermione had already got her ingredients and diligently began working on her potion. Ron looked thoroughly confused and Harry would be lying if he said he wasn't feeling something similar. It was far beyond anything they'd done before.

He must sorely overestimate Snape's ability to teach. Harry thought sourly. It's going to be a hard year.

Harry lit the fire beneath his cauldron and cast a quick Aguamenti inside, filling it near halfway. He began to prepare his ingredients. The canine tooth of a Quintaped, crushed and sprinkled with four clockwise stirs, shavings from the head jewel of a Shaanxi Horned Serpent. A piece of a silver occamy shell no bigger than one's palm stirred twelve times clockwise, alternating directions every three stirs.

A litany of other ingredients and extensive preparation instructions followed. Harry had been at it for close to two hours before he had completed the potion. He slumped in his chair defeated, his potion was a full four shades darker and viscous, where it was meant to be watery. Hermione's was of perfect consistency and colour and the only one even remotely close was surprisingly, Draco. He put in an odd amount of effort, furiously ensuring every aspect of the potion was correct even down to the smallest minutia, though to no avail apparently.

Still, his surprising amount of effort piqued Harry's curiosity. If he wanted the prize so bad, it definitely wasn't for anything good.

Maybe to finally get into Daphne Greengrass' robes Harry joked internally though he severely doubted it would be anything as mundane.

Slughorn began to make his rounds, inspecting each potion with a silver ladle that got darker with every potion he tested. He'd take the better attempts and bottle them into an individual flask each, presumably for future use. By the time he'd gotten to Harry the utensil was definitely thinner and especially darker, Harry supposed the Professor wasn't entirely wrong on the potion being corrosive. By the time he got to Harry, he winced at the contents of the cauldron before giving a reassuring smile. Harry already knew it was terrible but it was certainly an insult to injury.

As Harry had predicted, he was astounded by the time he reached Hermione's work, after he collected the last few samples, he dragged her to the front.

"And to Ms. Granger goes the vial of Felix Felicis! Use it wisely." He cautioned before giving the class a beaming smile. Hermione looked amazed. Harry felt slightly sour that he didn't win, the vial would've been invaluable to prying the information out of the same man that had bestowed it. Harry supposed he could ask her if he could use it, but he wouldn't unless the situation was dire, she did win after all and he didn't want to deprive her of her victory. Still, his loss presented a different opportunity that Harry would try and exploit at some point.

The class began to file out and Hermione seemed too thrilled to speak, Harry was happy for her, not only because her excellence was recognised but also because this would be a sufficient distraction from her prodding him about his whereabouts, for the moment at least. They all filed out of the potions classroom. Lunch was upon them and afterwards was Defense with the newly minted teacher, Snape. Harry was sad to see his best class perverted by the dank and dark bat that was Snape, but he resolved he couldn't dampen his marks given. Unlike Potions, Harry far exceeded the course materials.

They trekked their way back to the Great Hall, lunch was to be served and Harry still hadn't sated his appetite. He felt like Ron with the amount he was eating. Even at the Burrow he consumed food at an alarming rate, enough to keep up with the best of them, or as the best of them liked to be called, Ginny and Ron. Hermione was still beaming, she kept the vial of Liquid Luck on her, too scared to leave it in her room for fear of one of her roommates spiriting it away. Whilst Harry's appetite was abnormally large and definitely uncharacteristic of the skinny youth, he thought it best not to overindulge given that Snape was next on the list and knowing him, in one way or another he had some perverted method to embarrass Harry or take him down a peg. The Great Hall was definitely less subdued than the opening feast or the first morning but the undercurrent of tension still remained. The boisterous conversations that onced boomed were substituted in favour of harsh whispers and huddled chatting. The atmosphere of Hogwarts had become rigid, restrained in its ability to provide the safety and assurance it once had. It gave off an air of darkness that Harry doubted they would overcome anytime soon. Hogwarts was shifting to a war footing and everyone could see it.

He'd quickly finished his plate and the trio began making their way to the Defense Classroom. Their best bet was to be early given they'd all experienced Snape's temperament. It was entirely possible it would be an entire shift from his usual approach of overwhelming vitriol and stern, fast paced teaching methods that amounted to little actual teaching but Harry thought it was wishful thinking more than anything.

They quickly huddled into the Defense Classroom, he'd not bothered changing it from the one that had been in use for all their years at Hogwarts. They took their seats in the middle of the class as the conglomeration of the rest of the houses filed in. To Harry's dismay, Draco Malfoy was among them again. But for someone who'd always received blatant favouritism from the Professor, he surprisingly seemed to detest the thought of being in the classroom.

As the last few members of the class shuffled in, the door slammed open and Professor Snape charged through the middle column to his desk, slamming the shutters closed with his wand as he went forward, darkening the room and its climate dramatically. Once he reached his desk, he swivelled about and faced them, his arms behind his back.

"The Dark Arts are an ever evolving system of complex and arcane pieces of magic far beyond the comprehension of any Wizard alive. From ritualistic sacrifices and blood magic of Ancient Aztec and Mayan society to the murderous divination of Mesopotamian Seers, Dark Magic has forever coexisted with magical society as far back as written history records. Thucydides claimed that Spartan War Mages unleashed pestilence on Athens, Thiers claimed Robespierre bewitched the masses with cursed artifacts. The Dark Arts are timeless, your previous tutelage in this subject has been lackluster and limited in its capacity to provide any tangible defense should the need arise. That will now change. It is my solemn duty to induct you into a magical arms race that spans aeons - you will adapt, you will overcome or you will perish. To that end, anyone who fails to remain with the turbulent pace of the class will be removed without warning."

As much as Harry disliked the man, he begrudgingly conceded the man could weave words like no other. He supposed he'd have prepared relentlessly given the fact he was poised for this position for years. If he taught as well as his speech went, it may not be such a terrible class though Harry still had his reservations. He looked around briefly and saw that the majority of the class was enraptured in his speech, save Draco who was doing his utmost to not make eye contact with anyone. His behaviour was an anomaly that Harry was sure would unravel with time, given the fact he swore not to do anything, he had little choice.

"Magic itself is dangerous, the Dark Arts chiefly so. They are addictive, intoxicating, orgasmic. The euphoria felt when using them is second to few things in life, that is where the true danger lurks. To use them is to invite an addiction few can escape, a stranglehold so fierce even the hardiest fall to its embrace. They are slippery, without a definition that is not arbitrary. They are the evils, both lesser and greater, but it is my opinion that only one explanation will truly suffice."

Snape turned and flicked his wand to the board, the word 'INTENT' appeared on the board in blockly letters written in chalk.

"Intent is paramount. It remains the only barrier to stop wizards and witches casting magic during every instance an incantation is uttered. Intent is what separates a child's accidental magic from your own. To truly use the dark arts is to intend for malevolence to reign free, to truly wish to enact a harmful reaction against another. Many spells themselves fail to be inherently categorized as dark or mundane, lest the defence against such would be a far easier study. The definitions are illusions. Intent is all there is."

He flicked his wand again and below the first word 'DUELLING' was written.

"But intent matters little against the face of the issue." He began his drawl again that enraptured the class. "While much of your previous tutelage relied on theoretical work, you shall conduct your own study, in your own time. I shall impart you with the skills of which you can wield to survive, or use to quicken your own demise. That choice remains yours."

He took two large steps towards the class and stared down his hooked nose at them.

"Providing a comprehensive guide into the ways to remove Boggarts or nullify Kappa dwellings will not assist you in the crucible to come. You will learn to adequately defend yourself in order to evade and escape should the need arise." He drawled in his usual tone.

He flourished his wand again and a platform rose in the large space between the front row of desks and the stairs that led to Snape's Desk. It was reminiscent of the duelling platform in Harry's Second Year, sans the colourful and ornate pattern on the top, this one was stark grey.

"Given the seriousness of the subject matter, our first unit of the course will be learning defensive spells in order to retreat from any foe that may present themselves." He began to walk around the platform and to the rows of desks. "Though before we begin our unit, I find myself quite curious as to the prowess of some of the 'prestigious' members of our classroom, mayhaps it would be prudent for an example of your peers' ability or lack thereof." He smirked dangerously and looked quite fear inspiring.

Harry could see it already, the attempt to establish hierarchy. For him to show Harry no matter what happened he was beneath him. The inflection on his speech already told Harry he was the target.

"Potter, on the Platform, Now." He ordered, snarling at him.

There it is.

Harry took off his outer robe. If he was being forced to perform he'd do his best to ensure Snape thought twice about using him as an example. He had hoped the man had changed, but it appeared he was too optimistic. He drew his holly wand from his belt, the warmth seeping from its core of eternalized inferno up his arm into his chest.

"We will assume the position, though I assure you, no foe you fight outside of the arena will follow protocol." Snape assured icily.

Harry thought he sounded oddly like Lockhart in his second year, but with the power to back up his statements. He'd watched Snape duel Lupin and Sirius to defeat, a small amount of his bravado disappeared when Snape stepped onto the platform but his resolve remained ironclad. He'd duelled Death Eaters and Voldemort but this wasn't life or death. Whatever the outcome it wouldn't be favourable for Harry, that thought alone was disparaging.

"First, we bow." Snape announced.

They bowed, more a slight incline of the head, neither willing to take the eyes of the other. Tradition dictated, or at least his father's handbook said that it was to be from the waist, but he doubted tradition was at the forefront of either of their minds.

"Then, we assume positions."

They took their positions, Snape held his wand straight ahead, minimizing his profile, Harry followed suit.

"Begin!" Cried Snape, casting a yellow spell at Harry a moment before he started. The spell connected with his ribs, a pain hex that sent out a brief flare of white-hot pain through his nerve endings.

"Pitiful Potter, I expected better from the prodigal wizard of Britain." He snarled, clearly amused. Though something lingered behind the man's dark eyes.

But it was not his words that angered him, nor the pain that echoed through his chest. It reminded him of that night. Of crackling spellfire and flying debris, of opening curtains and lifeless eyes. Of sickly green curses and crimson eyes. Every fibre of muscle tensed into action, his tendons became taut and his mind was no longer his own.

The reaction Harry was anticipating was unexpected. Blood began to pound in his ears, like war drums reaching a crescendo. They beat to a tune only Harry could hear.

Rend.

Maim.

Tear.

A voice sounding in his head not unlike how he heard the Basilisk all those years ago. Although, while the words were similar, the voice was not. It was uncharacteristically gentle, almost soothing. They sounded like suggestions, despite being phrased otherwise. They sounded soothing, but they were forceful. They sounded sweet, but they were bitter.

If his mind was rational, he would've sensed the change. The air felt tangible, permeated with something hot and foul. Enough so that the front row that had been eager to observe the duel stepped back.

The war drums reached their fever pitch inside his ears and Harry levelled his wand, their apex heralding nought but darkness. Magic flared out his arms in dangerous bursts. He'd read enough spells from his Father's handbook and he was now eager to test them.

"Contusio, Ossula Fragmen, Foraminis, Potentia Vis!" Harry cried out, spells shot out of his wand faster then he could comprehend, Snape flung his wand upwards, drawing the floor of the platform up to stop the Concussive Charm. Equally as fast as Harry, he parried the Bone Breaker away but was forced to shield the Piercing Curse. Fortunately for Harry in the state he was in, the piercing curse punctured Snape's hasty golden shield that Harry couldn't identify, it tore a wide hole but nothing more. The men merely sidestepped the curse as it careened backwards into the duelling wards.

A lesser man would have succumbed to the barrage, undone by the sudden offensive.

But Harry was forced to concede, grudgingly, that Severus Snape was not a man to be so easily undone.

Some deep recess of his mind acknowledged that his advantage over Snape was the surprise of his response, but the majority of his brain wanted the battle to last forever. The magic boiled within him like a cauldron of primordial power, begging to be released and singing at the chance to be used in battle.

The piercing curse left a whole wide enough for the last spell in the chain to follow. A Carving Charm, it was originally used to carve sculptures by using immense pressure but after seeing Voldemort use it in the Graveyard, Harry had found it in the manual. Whereas the Aurors used it to carve efficient holes in walls and similar applications, Harry's plan was all the more darker. The grey charm hit the unprepared Snape who did his best to dodge out of its path. The pressure struck Snape's spine and forced him to a kneeling position, one of servitude, almost as if he was acknowledging Harry's power.

"Pitiful!" Harry snarled in a voice not all too dissimilar to the one Snape used earlier, unbeknownst to Harry, the class was yelling and screaming but the noise was drowned out, the war drums continued their song of passion and power.

The realisation hit Harry like a freight train. His wand fell loose in his hand.

The war drums stopped their beat abruptly, leaving only a loud silence in his ears as the Professor rose unsteadily to his feet.

"Leave."

The man didn't yell, nor enter a rage like he usually would. His words were soft, almost inaudible. But they carried more malice then any of the words the man had yelled or spoken before. It was full of wrath, yet too calm.

Harry couldn't even muster a response, the anger had taken its toll, the building rage had extracted it's price. Harry quickly pocketed his wand, leaving his bag and book behind he shot from the room at record pace.

His mind was in a flurry. The toll was too great, he was unsure of what had happened, why it happened now or even how to fix it.

He fled, leaving his friends calling at his retreating form.

He needed help.

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