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: The Tempest
A/N: Welcome to Chapter Eight The Tempest.
Was a bit of a fan of naming this chapter, literary reference and a fic reference all in one - doesn't get much better than that.
Thanks to everyone who was a part of the recent influx of reviewers, followers and 'favouriters'. Most of whom came from A Simple Act of Vengeance by Frickles who after reading the story, was generous enough to give me a shout out. So I'd go and read his works!
Wasn't the easiest chapter to write, complex dynamics that needed to be pulled off and I can't say for certain whether or not I hit that mark, though you can.
Outside of that, Here's a question for those who do take time to read the A/N's. I'm going to have to ask what your preferred smut system would be. Do you guys want full lemons, do you want half measures or do you want simple allusion to the fact it happened? They're not inbound for some time, but it's best I establish a consensus before I get too far ahead of myself.
World's a dangerous place and as always, stay safe!
Winter was nigh.
Light sleet preceded thicker snow to come, the frost was cold in the air and early. Heralding colder days and darker nights yet. Their surroundings bathed in a dull, white glow, assisted by the full moon's weight bearing down upon them. The sudden cold tempests were slowing their pace to little but a crawl.
Now he was relegated to taking refuge amidst an outcropping of trees, each breath blowing a torrent of frosty air from his cold lips.
Perhaps a sign of things to come.
Flames billowed beneath his feet, a small fire crafted by conjured wood and errant branches. Heating charms were sufficient for their daytime treks, but few things could surpass a warm fire to beat back the cold.
It's not much, but it'll ward off the frostbite.
"Is lighting a fire wise?"
The voice was feminine, declaring an approach from his right side. Peeking from beyond a heavy-set cloak and hood was the ebony hair of Emmeline Vance.
"Say the word lass. You can always freeze."
"Charming." She drawled, "You'd want to hope the smoke doesn't give us away."
"As long as Podmore keeps his wits, the wards will shield us."
She took a seat on a patch of thawed ground, fishing some stew from a pot that rested gently on the fire.
"We've been tracking Yaxley for an age."
"Got a point?" The rough voice of Alastor Moody sounded in return.
"If we haven't caught them now, will we ever?"
The man stoked the fire with a stroke of his wand. "Soon. If we keep pushing them North, those bastards will have their backs against a wall soon enough."
"How many towns and hamlets have to burn before we get them there?"
"North country is quiet. They'll struggle to find one for a hundred miles." The man said, the heat of the fire hot on his face.
"Yaxley's no fool. He'll be hard to catch. Especially with that snake by his side."
The snake was a reminder the old ex-Auror could've done without.
That fucking snake.
Yaxley had been bad enough; they thinned his numbers sufficiently that the man fought a fighting retreat northwards. Their only solace was that the man would receive no further assistance from the Dark Lord.
A captured follower told them as much. This was to be Yaxley's crucible. Recompense for years of faithlessness, years that would be repaid in blood if Voldemort had his way. If he returned without besting them, he'd be bested in turn.
Serves that blonde cunt right.
But the hard-featured man did not worry them as much as he likely should have. He'd been pushed far into Scotland, running low on villages to raze and men to throw at them.
Where there was likely fifteen under his command at first count, he'd lost many. Their numbers had waned towards nothing.
He'd be lucky to boast a third of that now. Moody thought sadistically, taking a swig from his flask.
Aye, but we've suffered too.
A smaller group was needed to avoid detection, hiding from scouting parties that would apparate within hundreds of meters, only for them to go undetected. Numbers would've been good, would've helped them bleed their foes. But numbers would have seen their ruin by now.
We've lost Lupin to the moon; Doge to the snake, and Tonks to duty.
But their numbers didn't matter at all.
All because of that fucking snake.
A snake that's skin couldn't be marred on contact, who did not succumb to the barrage of spellfire. It slowed but never wavered.
"We'll have to find another way to subdue it." The man finally responded after the long pause, the cold spout of his flask burning against his lips.
The fire's good, but so is firewhisky.
"We're at half strength," Emmeline tried. "We can't kill it. That's the sad truth."
The 'Mad-Eye' was never one to cower from a fight, shy from a battle or shirk his duty. But even he had to see sense in the woman's rationale.
I've grown soft in my old age, he mused.
He sloshed the liquid in his mouth, savouring momentary warmth. "Maybe not. If Yaxley heads back south with the beast, we'll have more worries than a few Death Eaters."
"We'll have fewer worries if we're dead." she snarked.
"Aye, too right, lass." Moody said, raising his flask to the sky. "But I'll die before they start razing our towns again."
"Is that what you want?" she asked, her voice softer than her previous snark. "To die? Is that the only thing that'll bring you any joy, Alastor?"
"I want to be young again, to have a nose and two eyes still, to claim some family in this shite world," he admitted - his eyes - both dark and electric blue boring into the flames. "Doesn't matter a whit what I want. This'll be my last war and this, my last winter, by the looks of it. I'll be leaving this world one way or another. Best I do it with my wand in hand than a curse in the back as I cower."
None would ever call the Mad-Eye a craven or a coward.
"You keep pursuing death, it'll find you quicker than you may like," Kingsley said, approaching from behind Moody.
"Better than starving in the cold."
"Not by much," Emmeline said, clutching her hands close to the fire.
"Podmore still on watch?" Moody asked, looking towards the red cloak of Kingsley Shacklebolt.
"Mhm," the man murmured in his baritone. "How he stands the cold is anyone's guess."
The cold couldn't take much from a man that Azkaban hadn't already.
"So is that all life is to you?" Emmeline faced the man again, "There's more to it then death and duty, you know."
"No, that's all life needs to be," the grizzled Auror said simply, taking a final swig of his liquor. "You get the Patronus?"
Kingsley nodded in response. "Diggle and Jones are coming, as will Lupin in a few days."
"We'll wait until we're at full strength, then we'll push them up to Orkney."
"A sound plan," the dark-skinned wizard agreed. "They'll be licking their wounds after the skirmish in Alness."
The old Auror made to speak again, but his words stilled before he could breathe life into them.
War had instilled a battle-born vigilance within Alastor Moody. He'd awaken at sudden sounds in the night, grasp for his wand when another held theirs.
Paranoia, they had called it. But he had viewed it through a different lens.
It was that same vigilance that felt the wards as they tickled his neck and sensed the wind fall still against his face. That saw the stocky form of Sturgis Podmore dash up the hill firing sparks from his wand. Sparks that were cut short by a spell that careened across the dark distance into his back.
The man who couldn't be cowed by the cold of Azkaban fell forward with lifeless eyes, down into ichor-coated snow.
Claimed by the same cold depths he detested.
Motley curses illuminated the darkness, burnt ozone and sulfur sat heavy in the air as vicious cracks sounded around them. Deafening thunderclaps that threatened to split his eardrums in two.
That fucking fire.
The fire had given them away. The billowing smoke that provided warmth had lured them into the clutches of death.
A flick of his wand sent snow over the fire, coating the raging flames and stilling them to mere embers. Enshrouded by darkness, he summoned his staff back to him.
This is not how the Mad-Eye goes, fucked in the rear by cowards too frightened to fight him from the front.
This is not how I go, the man resolved.
Harry had awoken with a headache that threatened to split his head in two. An aching throb that bit at his temples with a hunger that wouldn't abate no matter how hard he dug his fingers into his skin. His first few thoughts were frantic.
Is this another vision?
In his panic, that was the only idea that he breathed life into. The thought that it was another painful gift from Voldemort he'd be submerged within.
A brief moment of realisation washed over him and instead of preparing himself for a mental onslaught, he just laughed.
I'm hungover. That was all he could muster as he chuckled despite himself. And I feel like death.
He turned over on his bed to search for his wand and soon found that was not the ideal course of action. His stomach lurched at the provocation and the telltale signs of vomit appeared to make themselves known, abating shortly after he stopped moving.
Let's not do that again, he advised internally.
He fished his wand from his bedside table with gentle movements as to not provoke his upset stomach any further. He grasped the holly shaft with two fingers before encompassing the handle with his palm.
He flicked his wand and muttered a soft spell.
The misty form of clock hands coalesced from the tip of his wand, imitating any other clock he could find in Hogwarts.
He bared his teeth and put the tip of his wand against them.
A bastardisation of brushing his teeth, but it still felt clean. Erasing the taste of stale mead and morning from his mouth.
His memory had faded. For instance, his return to Gryffindor Tower was beyond his recollection. Hidden behind the fog of sweet-tasting alcohol and waves of ageing men.
While some aspects remained forgotten, some remained clear as day.
A kiss that smouldered against his cheek. He felt he could still feel the warmth if he traced the spot with his fingers. The small contact the corner of their lips made and the feeling that came after.
She's your best mate's brother's fiancé.
A drunk mind might've let him enjoy such, but his sober one protested very much against the idea. Glimpses of bare flesh were discarded from his conscious mind in favour of purer thoughts, but their conversation remained.
Even amidst the haze of mead, he could still hear her laughs and feel his cheeks blister with heat.
'A proper thank you'. He lamented, tossing his head back to his pillow in embarrassment. Real smooth Potter.
Despite the lurching in his stomach, the day would not wait for him to be ready. He threw his legs over the side of his bed and thrust his curtains open. Shielding his unprotected eyes from the sudden light, he blinked back the blindness before his vision returned.
Adjacent to himself, he found Ron by his bed pulling a shirt over his head. The transfiguration on his clothes had worn off and they were back to his standard school robes. Harry rubbed at his eyes groggily, banishing the last remnants of sleep from his eyes. He reached for his glasses off the bedside table and gently placed them on his face. Now seeing more than just outlines, he noticed the amused smirk that had weaseled its way onto Ron's features.
"Big night?" Ron asked, if the amusement wasn't already evident on his face, his voice betrayed the game.
"You could say that." Harry let out a little involuntary groan. "I feel like shit Ron."
He managed to lock eyes with the redhead before a violent coughing fit had him spluttering into his hand.
"Serves you right, like a bloody wrecking ball you are mate."
How the tables have turned. Harry mused, Hermione will be pleased, I'm sure.
Though his words confused Harry - he certainly wasn't privy to any of the events that led him back to the tower.
"What do you mean?"
Ron let out a loud chuckle. "You don't remember?"
"Do I look like I'm in the state to be remembering much?"
"Well first," He raised his arms as if he was about to embark into a grandiose tale.
This can't be good.
"First, you tore through my stash of chocolate frogs."
Harry winced. Ron doesn't like anyone touching his food.
"Then, you polished off the last of the biscuits we got."
His wince turned to a sigh.
"You know those pies Mum made us?"
"Surely I didn't."
"Yep." The redhead confirmed, his broad smile belaying any fears of anger. "They're gone too."
Harry groaned again.
I don't even need to know what else I did.
"I take it Slughorn's Party went well?"
"Gods no. Imagine listening to Binns lecture you but they're all alive, have their own agendas on how the exact width of a vial should be determined, and they all want your opinion."
It was a small lie, subtle enough to pass undetected without much effort. Perhaps he didn't want to tell Ron the truth of why they were there.
Or perhaps I don't want to face it.
"That bad, huh?" Ron questioned.
"That bad," Harry confirmed. "That's why I drank, just to get out of the bloody thing."
And perhaps at the orders of a Veela.
"Harry Potter's become a drunk and a thief. Next time you want to go on an adventure, invite me along."
"You can go in my place next time."
"If it'll get me as pissed as you," Ron said, "Count me in."
Harry winced again, but for a different reason. There was an edge in his voice, a sourness that hadn't been there before.
He feels left out.
It wasn't an edge without reason. The days had merged into weeks, into months and beyond and their time had waned to little but meals, class and the common room...
"Listen, I know I haven't really been spending much time with you."
The words weren't as eloquent as he hoped. But how could they be?
Ron held up his hand to stop him. "I get it. You've got a lot on your plate, just wouldn't mind having my friend back on occasion, you know?"
"Yeah, I know that you mean, I've missed you both a lot. Just feels like I need to be three places at once lately and even then I'm still behind."
"It's a war." Ron shrugged.
It was rare for Ron ever to be understanding, rarer still for him ever to see the larger picture beyond his immediate vision.
He's grown up. Harry thought, and for some indescribable reason, he felt a pang of pain in his chest.
We all have.
War has a penchant for tempering those before their time.
They were Dumbledore's words, said to him offhandedly. He brushed them off as an old man's passing wisdom. Advice that he'd thought would never possess any relevance - hoped would never possess any significance.
Now I'm staring that same penchant in the face.
"How's Hermione, truly?"
"Surprisingly okay." Ron shrugged, "You'd hardly think she knew there was a war going on. It's always 'NEWTs are too important to be playing Quidditch!' or 'Good grades are paramount Ronald!'"
A wide smile crossed Harry's features despite the churning of his stomach. "So, not much has changed?"
"Just the day." Ron sniggered, "You just want to hope she doesn't start using that Liquid Luck to start prying all your secrets out of you."
I've a lot of secrets now too - a lot more than I once had.
"Knowing her, she'll use it to study." Harry said, "Surprised you didn't get it, Prodigy."
"Not this shit again." The boy looked like he was debating closing his curtains at Harry's words.
"You were worse than me with Snape. Now you're 'Merlin's gift to potioneering?'" Harry questioned. "Out with it."
"It does have a nice ring to it, doesn't it?" He said in a mock-serious tone.
"Ron," Harry said, his voice suddenly laced with a serious undertone. "Last year I watched you try and cut a flobberworm with the wrong side of the knife, then proceed to drop said knife into the cauldron."
"Complete accident." Ron said, finding an interesting spot in the roof to begin gazing at.
"You also thought the silver cauldron was the pewter and melted it."
"Common mistake, really." The redhead brushed off.
Harry frowned and decided to change tact.
He tapped his chin with his finger, an exaggerated gesture that brought Ron's eyes back to him. "I suppose Hermione wants to know too. I guess I could ask her."
"Merlin." Ron swore under his breath, "Didn't have to bring that up. You'd think demolishing my food would earn a bloke a bit of sympathy."
"Hurry up, you were gonna tell me how you were so good?" Harry said impatiently.
For the briefest of moments, he seemed indecisive, before he huffed a theatrical sigh and stood up from his bed.
"Alright, wait here a minute."
Ron disappeared beyond the curtains of his bed. Harry heard the latch of his trunk open as the hardwood creaked against the movement.
"Here it is." He exclaimed, returning from the clutches of his curtains.
He brandished a book like a sword, displaying it for all to see. Old and worn, it wore the test of time on its cover. The binding was torn and the pages scattered. The black, billowing cauldron had almost faded into nothingness, though the title remained clear.
'ADVANCED POTION MAKING'
It's just our textbook, Harry frowned.
The book looked like it had definitely seen a few years and not kind ones at that. "Listen, I'll be honest, not really impressing me yet."
"Not the bloody outside of the book you git." He exclaimed, "Here, take a look." He sat next to Harry on the bed and flicked to a random page. "Look here, Draught of Fortitude, but it's got all these handy little tips."
He wasn't wrong; the page seemed to be more a testament to the owner's penmanship than the author's printed script.
Must have a pretty high opinion of himself.
Most of the author's own words were removed, making way for the almost illegible script of whoever owned the book. Ron flicked through the pages en masse to display his helping hand, a mirage of black pen marks and yellow-stained pages.
Ron sounded almost giddy. "See, over here, 'Remove nervous membrane from Billywig wings', but the Prince says to dry them under the cauldron for better effect."
"The Prince?" Harry questioned.
"Yeah, the Half-Blood Prince. That's who owned the book, or so it says." He explained, flicking back to the cover of the book.
'This book is the property of the Half-Blood Prince.'
"I wonder who that is." Harry asked inquisitively.
"Couldn't really give one, but he's good at potions and that's fine with me."
Harry always knew there was some other reason for his success. He was glad something was finally going well for Ron, something of his own.. But he couldn't help but have a nervous feeling gnaw at his stomach.
"The whole book is like this?"
"Pretty much. Even some handy little spells in the margin." He explained, flipping over a few pages and pointing to the margin.
Sectumsempra, for enemies. Harry traced the words with his finger.
"Sounds pretty fierce, have you shown Hermione yet?"
"Nah, you know how she is." Harry did indeed know how she was, given the fiasco with the Firebolt. He could understand his reluctance to invite her into the loop.
"I reckon you should be careful with the book." Harry announced, handing the book back to him.
Ron's eyes found Harry's within an instance. "If I wanted a lecture, I would've told Hermione."
"We've had enough experiences with strange books to last us a lifetime." Harry said, there was defiance hot in his eyes.
He won't listen, but at least I tried.
Instead of a response, silence saturated the air.
"How about you and I go for some flying then?" Harry offered.
Ron shot him an amused smirk. "Sure you're up to that?"
"A bit of mead isn't going to stop me from spending some time with my mate." Harry could see the smile widen on Ron's face.
Harry fished his Firebolt out of his trunk and the pair headed to the Quidditch Pitch. Harry wanted to shake off the effects of the night prior. Before he was due to meet Dumbledore and then Fleur, flying sounded like as good an idea as any to do that.
Ron was a brief bastion of normalcy in his turbulent life. A painful reminder of a life he'd been forced to abandon in favour of more serious pursuits.
But for now, they could enjoy Quidditch. Ron would have his friend back and Harry would have a fleeting moment to be a teenager again.
Even if they both knew it wouldn't last.
They'd broken out into the corridors and beyond. Ron had taken possession of his Firebolt and had been hugging the handle close to his body in the cold morning.
"Bill reckons he was going to buy me a decent broom with his new contract." Ron announced, weighing Harry's broom critically in his hands. "It won't be a Firebolt or anything, but it'll be good to have one of my own."
"New contract? What does that entail?" Harry inquired as Ron seemed entranced by the ash shaft of his broom.
"I don't really know too much. He told me the Goblins reckoned they found some new tombs in Egypt and needed someone on full time to help secure them."
"Full time?" Harry prompted him to continue. "Reckon he'll get time off?"
"Well if he's in Egypt, the Goblins won't let him out unless he breaks the contract and Bill loves his job." Ron simply shrugged, "I'm not sure what's going to happen with the wedding."
"Loves his job more than Fleur?" He asked pointedly.
"Don't know, not my place to ask him. But Mum reckons he thought she'd wait for him. But I'm not so sure. I mean if you looked like her there are probably some better deals out there, you know? Instead of waiting years to marry someone you'll hardly see."
That explains Fleur, I suppose.
"Merlin, when'd you become such a hopeless romantic?" Harry joked. Ron merely shrugged in return.
A forgotten bride.
"I guess being the best looking and all that must come with the territory." He quipped, Harry gave him a little shove, eliciting laughter from the pair of them.
"So Bill's not going to be helping with Order business?" Harry questioned, seemed like a pretty odd choice given the war was coming and his family was in the thick of it.
"I'm not sure," Was the simple response, "Not like I'm in the Order."
"Surely you know something?" Harry said, "He's your brother."
"Maybe." Ron decided, "Last I heard, Charlie sent a letter saying Bill was poking around in Australia and Egypt for more Wizards." Harry shifted past a group of people while still hanging onto the redhead's words, "Though who knows if that's true, Charlie never let the truth get in the way of a good story."
"Australia and Egypt." Harry echoed, "Awfully particular places."
"Nah, not really," Ron replied, "Not a lot of purebloods down in Australia, lots of people still remember Dumbledore from the wars. Lot of them are itching for a fight, reckon there are no better people to fight than the ones that sent them there. Egypt too I 'spose, still under Ministry control, they might pitch it should things go bad."
"Makes sense, I guess, we'll need the help." Harry said, they had drifted into territory he desperately didn't want to talk about.
The pair made it to the pitch in good time and snow had begun to fall early. It explained the deathly cold that bit at exposed flesh. But it was light, enough so that they could fly without impediment.
A quick bit of wand work and an advanced unlocking charm courtesy of his father's handbook and short work was made of the lock that separated them from the brooms. They pulled out another broom and the practice quaffle. Harry decided to try and take a few potshots to get through Ron's defence. A bit of practice for the game to come, the first game Harry wasn't going to be playing of his own accord.
It saddened him, but he would have to make it through.
They'd been practising for a while; Harry had either gotten a fair bit worse with the quaffle or Ron had gotten better. For Harry's sake, he leaned towards the latter, Ron definitely wasn't a terrible Keeper, though his confidence was shaken every time a shot landed.
If he could manage his doubts, he'd be formidable, definitely not as good as Oliver was, but there was time yet.
They soon departed, Harry needed to shower and he didn't want to be late for his meeting with the Headmaster. The hangover had abated a fair bit, but the occasional throb still echoed in his skull, but it was manageable. Ron headed to lunch and Harry quickly detoured to Gryffindor Tower.
He gave the password, but the Fat Lady levelled a harsh glare before opening.
Probably something I can't even remember.
He grabbed a fresh set of robes out of his trunk and stepped into the bathroom, taking one of the many free showers. He peeled his clothes off; they smelt like mead and smoke from the ageing men who couldn't keep their lips off of their elaborate pipes. It was a terrible scent that bit at Harry's nose and made him gag.
They'll need a good wash, he thought, crinkling his nose. I feel sorry for the elf burdened with that job.
The warm shower washed away the final vestiges of his alcohol-induced headache and a fresh set of robes had him feeling far cleaner.
In keeping with the perpetually artless routine, the Headmaster sat at his desk, pouring carefully over one missive or another. Fawkes flew around the room and upon noticing Harry's entrance, sung yet another mournful tune before bursting into flames. Leaving nought but ash and a sorrowful tiding in the air as the Phoenix fled, hopefully to happier ground.
"Harry, please take a seat." He gestured with his good hand.
The other hand rested on his desk. He'd taken to not wearing the glove when Harry was coming, confessing it pained him more wearing it. Sadly, Harry could see the necrosis had been slowly creeping upwards. From when he first saw it, it had encompassed the last three fingers on his wand hand.
From there, it had been far more aggressive, his magic and skin alike relenting under the fierce assault of the curse. Withered flesh cut a blackened trail that enveloped the rest of the man's hand up until his palm.
Snape's potions haven't been working. He thought sadly. It wasn't even half of that two weeks ago.
It sickened Harry to see the man waste away in pain. It certainly didn't get easier to see.
Pride fells even dragons. Fleur had once told him.
Not just dragons, he thought, good men too.
The ornate Pensieve was nowhere to be found, the pale depths of milk glass sequestered back in its cabinet across the room.
"No memory today sir?"
"While we would no doubt find great knowledge within memories, I once cautioned you about the danger of dreaming and forgetting to live. I extend this warning to memories that are not our own. Linger too long where you do not belong and you incite only catastrophe."
"Then what's on the agenda, more books?"
"In time." The man answered, somewhat cryptically, "For now I'm very much interested in how your late-night rendezvous in the office of one Horace Slughorn went."
"You knew about that?"
"Of course." The man assured him with a smile that didn't reach his blue eyes. "It was I that Horace approached to ask permission to have such a gathering. It was I who approved the guests and it was I who did so all the while knowing their true purpose."
"To know if you could defeat Voldemort." Harry declared.
"Yes," Dumbledore answered quickly, somewhat shocked. "How very prescient of you, Harry, I had not expected you to pick up on such."
If only I had.
"Not me, sir." Harry shook his head against the praise, "Fleur had some… choice words about it."
"Ah, I see." The man said, his lips quirking upwards into a half-smile. "I imagine I have much to thank Miss Delacour for, particularly carrying your martial education where I could not."
"I'm still confused about something," Harry said, looking intently at the Headmaster, "Why even bother backing Voldemort? Surely he'd be harder on them than the Ministry."
"In some regards, perhaps." The man idly stroked the knot in his beard as he always did when a thought grabbed his attention. "But every man in that room was not there by chance, whichever side the coin may topple, they stand to gain something."
"Power is more than a desire for these men. It is their very lifeblood. The Ministry may give them stability and peace, but Tom would give them power."
"How?" Harry asked, the point still evading him, "Surely Voldemort wouldn't care for them."
"Apathetic perhaps, they are, for lack of a better excuse, purebloods. Tom seldom wastes a life he could turn to his own. But war fosters dissent, from dissent, hatred and born from hatred - power."
I suppose Voldemort is as good an example of that as any.
"To envision yourself at the apex of the ladder, every rung beneath you needs to be torn away." The man finished.
I should've been more cautious. Harry frowned, Maybe that mead wasn't the best of ideas.
"So they want to get rid of the Ministry?"
"No, nothing near as vulgar as that. There is power in bureaucracy, yes. But there is equal power in wealth. That is truly the folly of our society - war teaches men and women to obey wands and power, not laws. Few men stand to gain as much from such an arrangement than the cohorts and colleagues of Horace Slughorn and hence, wars will carry on into perpetuity."
"Yet you allowed him back here?"
Like you allowed Draco Malfoy.
"Yet I allowed him back here." The older man echoed, "Not only for his account of Tom. But it is far more advantageous to keep a foe in the foreground than the peripheral."
"I had thought you were friends, sir?"
As friendly as one can be with a snake.
The man chuckled, a genuine laugh that seemed to detract from the gravity of the situation.
"I imagine we are." The man smiled, a sight that had become rarer with each day. "But what is a friend against wealth? Having a companion will not fill your stomach nor light your hearth in winters such as these."
"Another question then, sir?"
"Of course, Harry, I'm nothing if not an educator at heart."
"You said Fleur was invaluable, right?
He seemed to stroke his beard in contemplation. "I'll admit Miss Delacour has surprised me with her tenacity. She has made more of her position than I ever intended of it."
"She's been helping me." He admitted. He'd admitted such already in this very conversation no less, giving his confirmation words didn't seem to shock the man.
"I had expected as much." He confessed as Harry had done.
Of course you did.
"Given your close proximity with her and her accompanying you to Horace's party, I had little doubt that you had formed an agreement somewhere along the line."
"She helped me form a plan. I wouldn't have got half as far as I have without her."
"A plan?" The man inquired, leaning forward in interest, "I assume she remains ignorant of the purpose of such?"
"Remedial potions lessons." Harry explained, "She just knows I need to get close to him; she doesn't know what it's about."
"I presume your raising of this issue isn't coincidence. You wish to tell her of such?"
Harry raised his eyes to meet the pale blue of the Headmaster's own. "It'd help. But I won't if you don't want me to."
The man paused for a moment, Harry sat, their eyes still meeting. For a brief instance, Harry feared it might be refusal, rather than acceptance that sprang from the man's lips.
His voice lost some of the fleeting joy it had held, "I trust you've given such the proper thought? That some information may cause us greater harm to know, rather than to be left lying?"
"I have." Harry said simply.
"I would've thought Mister Weasley and Miss Granger would be the subject of this conversation. I daresay you've managed to surprise an old man."
"I'd keep them from the war. If possible, sir."
For as long as I can. Harry thought.
"I respect your wish to do so. I would disallow you from this war alongside them. If only we had that luxury."
"I shall not guide your decision, be it to tell Miss Delacour or withhold the information. You must decide for yourself what the risks of such may be."
"Thank you, Professor." Harry responded gratefully.
"In my observations of her, she seems like a young woman never content to give anything but her utmost to her task. I imagine if she does choose to offer her assistance, you'll find a valuable ally in the young Miss Delacour."
"Of course sir." Harry agreed.
"Alas," He said, spreading his arms wide, "The merits of my staff members, both endearing and nefarious as they may appear to be, are not the sole reason I scheduled a lesson for today."
The man drew a book from his desk, cradling it with his off-hand.
"Another book, sir?" Harry asked, the man had him reading many books as of late, none of them particularly interesting.
"Indeed, while the axioms of magic and our world are seldom page-turners, I give you a book unlike any you shall have ever come across."
And so it was.
The book was black and sleek. The front cover looked more like an artisan's tapestry than it did a front cover. A dark purple ornament rose from the corners in sharp, elegant arcs. The title itself was ensigned both above and below with an argent cross. Silver inlay with what appeared to be pearl. Someone had taken their time to craft the book.
His eyes lingered too long on the title. Small, manicured letters that seemed lost in the grandiose of the cover.
Secrets of the Darkest Art
Seeming to notice his apprehension, he was quick to explain. "I mean not for you to use what you find within these pages. Perhaps some context would be beneficial. Within this book lay almost four millennia of dark magic, from the Westcar Papyrus to the rise of Zhao in the east. A collaborative effort from generations of Dark Wizards to breathe life into the vilest of magics. To give malevolence legacy on the page. It is proscribed in every magical country, but given my old position as Supreme Mugwump, I was able to keep a copy in my possession."
His description already had Harry's stomach rolling over. "So why are you showing it to me?"
The compulsion to push the book back towards the man was strong, suffused through his very being to protest the pages advance. Only the man's words stilled his reaching hands.
"Within these pages, Tom found the specificity of the magic he was looking for. It spoke of Horcruxes but briefly, little more than references and even then, vague. But, it shall give you an understanding of such objects better than I can impart with words alone."
He gingerly took the book, not wanting to touch it more then he had to and placed it on his side of the table.
"Is that all sir?"
"I'm afraid not, I've one more text for you, albeit quite a bit less dark." He procured another book, smaller still and noticeably different in every aspect.
Bound by cracked, worn leather that no longer wore its original colouring. Bound by threadbare twine that seemed to be the only barrier against the pages within spilling out into the air.
"And this one sir?" Harry questioned.
"One I think you'll find much greater use of. My personal notebook." He said, handing Harry the book which he took all the more eagerly than the last one.
"Your notebook, sir?" Harry questioned. "I assume it's not a diary?"
"As interesting as that read might be," He smiled, "No, a compendium of sorts if you wish to define it using words alone. More the ramblings of a young man, but I imagine you'll find some worth amongst its pages."
"Surely it'd be better suited in your hands than mine," Harry said, gently grasping the corner of the dilapidated book.
"I shall not entertain any delusions that my time is infinite. My power wanes and the book serves me no longer." He paused, if only briefly. "There are some things within those pages best forgotten, but not all."
Harry didn't trust himself to speak; he merely nodded, his eyes tracing the cracked leather of the book. Not daring to meet the man's eyes as he had moments ago.
"The Dumbledore line has no legacy - I have no legacy. I've sired no progeny nor has my brother. The world no longer has need of men such as I. That book is my legacy, Harry. You are my legacy."
The world will always have need of you. He wanted to say, to plead for the man to defy his own death and remain in the world against the will of magic.
But he couldn't.
He met his eyes once more before they fell to the unshrouded cover of the book. He swept his thumb across faded quill marks that marred the front cover.
For the Greater Good.
Soon, he found his mark and crossed the threshold thrice. He needed a room large enough to test in without fear of damage.
When the door appeared and he stepped inside, he was greeted to a large room with a black tiled floor that extended far out of his sight. He sat down in the middle and untied the twine binding the book together. He gently opened its pages, careful not to disturb the weak binding or perforate the paper.
For the Greater Good.
It was written again in a tidier, sharper script than the Headmasters. Dumbledore's hand was poor calligraphy, elegant and decorative, yet still somewhat messy.
The unknown writer's script seemed almost as if the page had angered him. The page suffered deep trenches from where the quill was pressed near breaking point.
He tore through the pages with all the decorum of hounds fighting over a kill. It was rapid as if by tearing through the pages, the knowledge would come all the faster.
It read more like the rambles of a madman. Words sat upon the page without explanation, broken English, runes and arithmancy decorated fading pages.
He traced a spell in Dumbledore's writing with a gentle finger.
Procella Mare. Beneath it, a postscript written with an almost illegible word.
The words even tasted powerful as they passed his lips. A foreign sensation, but not unwelcome, one that heralded nothing if not strength.
He palmed his wand. The shaft feeling exceptionally warm in his hand as it beat back the residual coldness born from cold stone walls and winter's first signs outside.
"Procella Mare." He repeated it softly. There was no wand motion, merely an incantation. The words left his lips and his wand shook but soon stilled. His forearm tensed in preparation for the promised tempest, but nothing came.
This time was more forceful.
He felt the magic pool in his arm, a pressure that threatened to burst skin and expose the raw flesh below. It was as if someone had gouged their fingers into his arm, separating muscle fibres individually.
There was a delicate stillness to the world, for just a moment.
Before the heralded tempest arrived and the dark room erupted with the wrath of a coming storm.
He was about halfway to the common room. He'd only just passed the paintings of the three Hags. They began to orchestrate an imperfect symphony with pots and pans that filled the halls with the dissonant clash of steel.
Yet, beyond the deafening orchestra, was another distinct sound. Heated voices from a corridor over that echoed from the stone walls.
A lover's quarrel, perhaps. Harry mused.
His footsteps fell quiet as he walked with gentle steps to the connecting corridor. That, to his chagrin, they now occupied.
Levis Obliqua. He incanted silently, his forearm still protesting at the sudden movement. His body shimmered from view, a more admirable attempt than his first.
He was more than content to let them sort their problems out and head to his dorm. But their voices raised in volume again, a flash of blond had Harry swivelled his head as he caught the first legible voice halfway through its tirade.
"You know fuck all Greengrass." He bit back.
Daphne Greengrass and Draco Malfoy. The former was standing her ground from the latter, who advanced menacingly.
Seamus thought they might've been a couple last year, but they look anything but.
"Do you really think it's going to work? What, you're just going to waltz it in? What a wond-"
She was cut off by Draco, who put his arm across her throat and pushed her into the alcove that a suit of armour occupied, pushing it out of the way with a harsh screech. Harry leapt into action, crossing the short distance quickly to see further what he was doing.
"You'll speak to no one about this, you hear me? Not a soul!" Draco ordered, but his voice betrayed his panic.
The pretty blonde was held up against the wall, she clearly wasn't too shaken up given her composure. Instead, she merely snorted in his face.
"You think I'm scared of you Draco? I've known you since we were children."
"You think it's me who you have to be scared of Greengrass? Think he is going to take kindly to you interrupting his plans?"
"Do you think I really care?"
"I think you're a fool if you don't." He laughed. "You keep your nose down, or I'll put it down."
"You don't have it in you."
"No, but I know some people that do." He said in an oddly shaky voice. He pushed her back into the wall and stalked off.
Daphne freed herself from the position behind the antique armour and brushed her robes off. A quick counter and Harry returned to vision, approaching the blonde girl from against the wall.
The violet-eyed Slytherin peered down her nose at him, as if his very presence was an affront to her.
"Potter, I should've known, I've heard you've got a penchant for listening to conversations that don't concern you." She said, pursing her lips.
"I heard it, all of it." He explained in a tone that clearly demanded more than what he told.
"Very astute of you, to hear a conversation you were eavesdropping on. I'm not going to speak a word to you, Potter. Nothing's worth that backlash."
"He was threatening you, yes?" Harry asked, though he already had the answer, "What do you know that he doesn't want you to?"
"I think I've made that amply clear why that's none of your business."
"Humour me," Harry said dryly.
"It has something to do with his silk bag, doesn't it?" He tried, despite her words.
She took a few long steps towards him. She was mere feet away, enough that he could hear her next words, even as they came out as a whisper.
"You know what I think, Potter?"
"I think you like to believe you have any idea what's going on." Her voice was tantalising, it could almost be construed as seductive, "But I think you're out of your depth. I think you're not as clever as you think you are."
Her words meant little to him, from here he could see what looked conspicuously like fear in the girls' eyes. Her words were false, an illusion to draw him from the truth.
Even her hair wears false colours. He mused, her black roots showing through the pale blond dye at their proximity.
"Remarkably witty for someone who was thrown up against a wall mere minutes ago." Harry snarled, "So be it. I'm sure Draco will be pleasant company."
"Perhaps." She shrugged.
With her final words, the blonde Slytherin disappeared from his side and out of view. He debated attempting to coerce more from the reluctant Slytherin, but was content on letting it go for now.
There's much to be done, the disorderly plots of Draco Malfoy can wait another day.
He waited until she was little but an afterimage in his mind before he followed the same hallway.
The common room awaited and his body ached. The sweet song of slumber called to him desperately. A call he had little choice but to heed.
A short walk found him at the disused classroom that served as their duelling grounds, he was a little early but sure enough, she was inside.
"Early again 'Arry? Got any more last-minute dates?"
"Nope." He chirped happily, "Just had a really good feeling about this one."
She raised an eyebrow. "Become a duelling master overnight have we?"
"Maybe," He shrugged indifferently, "We do live in a magical world." He stepped onto one side of their makeshift duelling platform. He shed his outer robe as did she.
"Care for a wager then?" She smirked, "If you're so confident in your ability, that is."
"Done." He replied quickly.
"If I win, you show me around Hogsmeade tomorrow."
"You've already been to Hogsmeade Fleur." He asked confusedly.
"I went into one shop two years ago 'Arry." She replied dryly.
"And if I win?" He queried.
"I'll teach you some more of my curse-breaking spells."
The thought of new knowledge was still appealing, despite how much he'd recently come into.
"I'd prepare for that lesson." Harry said, "I'll be wanting a good one."
"Perhaps a 'proper thank you'?" She laughed and his cheeks boasted no defence against the raging blush, nor her laughter afterwards.
"If you're so confident, I'll even let you take the first spell." She declared.
He responded not with words, but with a cocky smirk that painted his features. It was prominent enough to draw an identical one from the Veela.
She assumed her stance at the end of the platform. She stood side-on, her wand raised in front of her - a mere slimmer of her full profile. Harry copied her stance, levelling his own wand in front of him.
"You won't get far if you keep trying to beat me at my own game."
"When I've beaten you at your own game, I'll know I've truly gotten better." He smirked.
"Expect to be trying for a good while more."
She flicked her wand and conjured a length of bright silk. Another spell sent it tumbling through the air. Its descent to the platform below would begin the duel, as it always had. He tensed and magic welled within him, eager to be released.
The silk fluttered through the air before finally touching the ground.
Chaos unleashed, as it always did.
She was lithe and experienced. Agile and nimble, far more than him. But he surpassed her in power, even now.
She launched the first spells, a trio of stunners followed by a paralysis hex.
So much for allowing me the first spell.
The thrice cast blue spell was his first opponent as she began to weave more spells to follow. He parried the first two, his wand directing them into the roof above with a series of sharp hisses.
He danced sideways, the pale yellow paralysis hex passing over his left shoulder harmlessly alongside the final stunner.
Billowing black smoke coalesced from his wand, obfuscating her view of him. A barrage of various incapacitation spells shot through the smoke, though none connected. She kept up the salvo of spells, trying to catch him unawares through the dark cloud.
Every spell that came close was parried or shielded, seeing the futility of her efforts, she employed a new tactic. He felt the cold wash over him of the human revealing charm, she brandished her wand like a knight would a blade. Precision slashes with her wand that sent gusts of air barreling towards him.
He crouched low under her renewed salvo of spells that approached with significantly more accuracy than before. He closed his eyes despite his instincts and rolled shifted on his feet.
There was a bright flash of white light through his eyelids that surely would've dazed him had he been staring at it like he imagined she had been. A flash of light of her own telegraphed her response - an ethereal blue barrier shimmered brightly in front of her as she grappled to regain her vision.
Magic thrummed and pooled in his arm and like a muggle riffle, discharged. A pulsing white lance of light crossed the distance in an instant, shattering the shield of the blinded Veela. If his spell hadn't already blinded her, this would've had a similar effect.
The concussive charm sent her off-balance behind her crumbling shield. Despite being blind, her defence remained ironclad. She managed to bat away a stunner by Harry despite her impediment. The disarming charm that followed, however, boasted a different fate. Pulling the Rosewood shaft from her hands into Harry's own.
Beating her at all was a rare occasion, but confidence was on his side today.
She blinked away the remnants of the blinding light in her vision before Harry floated her wand back to her, which she grabbed gratefully.
"Best of three." Was all the French Witch could huff before the salvos of spells began again in an effort to catch him off guard.
This had been the daily routine of their duelling since they began.
The first duel was reminiscent of their conversations. It was elegant, a duel of finesse and tactics. It was a duel with rapiers, either would win by finding the gap, however small it would be and sinking it into flesh.
The second, however, possessed none of the grace of the first. Finesse could not be found, elegance had been shed in favour of brute force. If the first was a duel with rapiers, this was far less refined. Mauls and hammers, teeth and nails.
Bright spells illuminated the dull room with far fiercer intensity than the first. Flashes of reds and yellows flew towards him, born from the apex of a pale wand he now faced.
Bravado rarely served him well. He thought himself capable of weaving through a set of bludgeoners to begin his own offensive. The first was simple, shifting his body in a tight rotation to avoid the red spell.
The second, however, was fired for that exact eventuality. His attempts to snake through the rifts in her spell chain had failed, enunciated by the searing agony in his shoulder and the grinding of bones.
He fell towards the hard floor, her barrage rushing towards him.
The floor took the brunt of the curse, tearing cobbles and wooden floorboards asunder to halt the spells.
Thank Merlin we're in the uninhabited section.
He utilised the concussive charm again, the shockwave sending the scatter debris towards her. Chances were she'd use a simple Immobulus and his offence would be halted in his tracks. But he only needed a short moment.
The words had been at his lips since the first spell was cast. There was a desire to the words, a calling that he struggled to do battle against. The spell begged to be used. The very air that passed through his lips seemed to be more than merely that.
It was almost tangible, a taste he couldn't place. A sweet amalgamation of power that promised reckoning with a lingering bitterness to ensure such a promise wasn't misplaced.
He swung his wand around his head in a long, viscous arc and the tempest came to his command.
Water sprouted from every direction, his wand a rallying cry for the element to form around. The torrents of water were a symphony, a harmonious expression of his magic. Born to smite his foes.
But he did not seek to smite her. She had only just discarded the debris from the platform to begin the duel again in earnest, hence, she was woefully unprepared for the attack to follow.
The water curled around her like the suffocating embrace of a serpent. Its coils barring any attempt to refute her sudden captivity or harm its caster.
He held it for only a few seconds, but it was enough to sap from him his remaining strength. The gouging sensation in his forearm returned, his muscles screaming against the tension, crying out for desperate release.
The taste of copper was warm in his mouth as he released the spell, water fell back towards the earth and drenched Fleur with it's cold embrace. She fell to the floor, wet robes and chattering teeth were no defense against the cold.
Despite the situation and himself, Fleur's wet robes clung to her body as if they were a second skin. He closed his eyes and muttered a drying charm that crossed the distance.
She's your best mate's brother's fiancé.
He dared only open her eyes once he was sure the charms were sure to have taken effect.
The saturated robes had been dried, but the cold didn't seem to leave her. She seemed lethargic, she hadn't raised her wand to dry herself despite her more than ample capacity. She merely sat upon the wet floor.
"You've never beaten me twice in a row." She seemed sullen, her eyes not meeting his own.
She's not as graceful in defeat as she is victory, he thought, a brief glimmer of pride shining through. But she's graceful all the same.
"I've hardly ever beat you once." Harry tried to placate the witch.
"No." She refuted slowly.
The cold's still taking its toll, he mused, even her wit has slowed
"I don't need to be coddled, I lost, you won." She said with an air of finality suffused within her words.
"So about those spells then?" He asked with a cheeky tone.
"I'll teach you my spells," Fleur said, "But only when you tell me where you found yours."
"You know, here, there." He replied in an attempt to be purposefully irritating. "A bit of everywhere really, I suppose I've had a few teachers."
"You'll be teaching me them."
"Will I?" He laughed, "I don't remember that being part of the wager."
Changing the rules afterwards, why does this conversation feel familiar?
"Consider it payment for last night."
"I thought the payment was telling you what we needed Slughorn for?" He queried.
"I suppose I can have that too." She decided.
"Beggars can't be choosers." He joked. "It's one or the other."
"Now you've evaded the question, where did you get those spells?"
"Dumbledore taught them to me." He gave her the half-truth, he wanted to keep the book a secret for now, if only to surprise her again.
It's still the truth, I suppose.
"What was that last one? I've never seen anything like it."
Her tone had a sense of amazement in it that he wouldn't associate with her. Hermione was usually the perpetrator of such at the helm of one book or another.
"Trade secret. Might teach it to you one day."
"Or right now."
"I'd rather not, we're both wet and tired." He rationalised, "It's hard enough without either of those.
"Next time then?" She said. It was phrased like a question, but Harry knew better.
"They're hard," He said mockingly, "Sure you're up to it?"
"My, my" She smiled, though it lacked the energy, "Success has made you cocky, you've only bested me once."
"A sign of things to come, perhaps?" He smirked at her.
"One win doesn't make you a master 'Arry."
"Better than one defeat, I suppose." He jibed.
She laid back onto the wet ground, clearly not perturbed at getting her clothes wet again. He laid back against the cold and damp floor, their faces were inches away, facing upwards, towards the ceiling.
It was oddly intimate, given the circumstance.
She's your best mate's brother's fiancé.
"But now you've reminded me, What did you need Slughorn for?" She asked, her tone thick with interest and intrigue.
He paused for a brief moment; Dumbledore's warning hadn't left his ears.
"Are you sure you want to know?"
They were simple words that he hoped would convey the danger hidden beneath. The danger he didn't wish to speak of. Maybe, if he didn't give life to the words, they'd die out themselves. A terrible mirage, but nothing more.
How very optimistic of me. He pondered, Or perhaps naive is a better word.
Maybe his words had their intended effect. She stilled and seemed to mull over the idea and the world seemed much quieter for it.
Then, she nodded.
I owe her the truth.
So he spoke before indecisiveness got the better of him.
"Slughorn used to teach here, years ago."
"I know, he boasts about it often."
"No…" He grappled with finding words to fit his thoughts, "Not just teach here, he taught Voldemort."
"Something in particular, I assume?"
"Something important, essential to the war."
"And you know what it is."
It was no question, a mere statement of facts that seemed to reverberate in the empty classroom.
"Yes." He confirmed succinctly, "But you don't want to know. It'll paint you as a target for the rest of your days. I can bear that burden without dragging you into it."
Their faces were less than a foot away. Her ocean-blue eyes seemed to possess a depth in that instance that he'd never seen before.
She had taken the leap in learning his purpose. Now, he just hoped she wouldn't insist on falling with him.
The words he didn't want to hear came out almost mockingly. Ridiculing him for ever daring to believe Fleur Delacour was a coward.
His resolve crumbled and the secrets spilled from his lips.
Even with her knowledge as a Curse Breaker, the truth was as the Headmaster described - hidden, by all with any morals. Proscribed for the safety of all.
So, against his better judgement, he told her what the Headmaster had once told him.
Of the power of loss and the sacrifice of innocence.
Of what the man could sacrifice to become less of one.
To become something else.
By the time he was finished, she seemed to depart from the conversation for a moment. More content to mull the words over herself, then with company.
"We should get going, it's late," Harry advised, the hour had waned past the night and dallying in the room would change little.
"Give me a while, that water spell affected me quite a lot."
She had placed her weakness on display, she scarcely did so ever. But the few times such truths came from her mouth, she seemed like a very different witch.
"I didn't know water affected you that much," Harry asked. "I'm sorry if I hurt you."
"Do you truly know nothing about Veela?" She returned. Her sideways gaze made him feel inadequate as if he still had much to learn.
Only she could turn her defeat into my own somehow.
"Other than being strikingly beautiful and throwing the occasional fireball? Not much."
"I would've researched it straight away if I knew I was to be duelling a Veela foe."
He simply shook his head. "You've never been a foe Fleur, only a friend."
She rolled her eyes but Harry could see she was flattered to some degree. "Would you like to hear our story?"
He obliged, perhaps out of interest or maybe for the need to separate himself from the discussion that came earlier.
"We were born in Mesopotamia, along with Succubus and Sirens. We're said to be descendants from Enlil, the Chief God. Sirens were descended Enki, the God of the Ocean and Succubus, Ama-arhus."
I've never heard of Sirens or Succubus, he thought. Hermione would've been sure to mention them.
"Three races of supreme beauty. Veela are avian, born to the sky - of air and flames. Sirens are of the sea and Succubus, the land. Once the earliest of sorcerers learnt of our talents, the races were hunted for slavery. The succubus had it the worst initially. The land was the domain of man - the wizard. They were sold into slavery en masse and when they fought back, they were made extinct. Once man had greater dominion of the seas, they hunted the Sirens who followed the same fate."
"And the Veela?"
"We had dominion over the sky, long before any man. We could flee without fear, we spread out, into the Caucasus Mountains, to the Tibetan Plateau. Our story spans millennia, of fierce warriors, their beauty unparalleled. Today, We have twenty-six covens across the world that convene at the Covens Majeure, every solstice."
"Are you a part of a Coven? Your family that is."
She gave a hum of affirmation. "Every Veela is. My grand-mère was the assistant to the leader of the French Coven before she passed."
"Any more weaknesses you're hiding there?"
"That would be telling, wouldn't it?"
And she's back.
"You could always save me the study."
"One taste of victory and you've envisioned yourself as the Conqueror." She chuckled, "I shall make you work for those victories."
"Thank you, for telling me." Harry said sincerely.
"You're welcome." She said, her voice held an odd tone that he couldn't decipher. "You should come with me one day, to the Covens, it's fascinating."
"When this is all over, I might just." He promised, standing up.
He waited for her to dry her robes and offered her a hand up. She flattened out her robes, though it was clear they were in need of good ironing.
"Remember to be up early tomorrow." She ordered.
"Why's that?" He asked, confused.
"You're taking me to Hogsmeade." She explained, a broad smile split her face despite the events of the day.
"I don't remember agreeing to that."
She certainly has a liking for changing the rules.
"It's your prize for winning." She said with a mock haughtiness in her voice.
Maybe I would've preferred this prize anyways.