A Different Kind of War @ajjax
For Whom the Bell Tolls

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: For Whom the Bell Tolls

PAIRINGS: Harry/Fleur


A/N: As always, massive thanks to x102reddragon and NerdDragonVoid for beta-reading at such short notice.

As a fun fact, it was stumbling over this chapter of the old version that made me so desperately want to return to the rewrite and hopefully I did it the justice it deserves.

What can I say other than thank you? For all the reviews, favourites and follows, you've been outstandingly generous in that regard and I am very thankful for it.

Until next time, stay safe and enjoy!

Like the ever-present clockwork, dusk shifted to dawn and the first Hogsmeade visit of the year arrived alongside it.

Along with the fresh dawn was a frost that possessed a far fiercer intensity than it had the day prior. A cold that permeated the air so densely that the furthest reaches of the Forbidden Forest were obscured from view. Towering sycamores, yews and pines hid beneath layers of bright snow that shimmered like porcelain against the obfuscated sunlight.

Still, there was an aspect of predictability - familiarity, during this time of year, even if the snow had come thicker and quicker than it ever had during his time at Hogwarts.

The snow would begin its descent, covering the ground and magnifying the bucolic atmosphere of Hogwarts and Hogsmeade. The children of the village would craft sculptures of the fresh snow, fires would be roaring and men and women retreated to the pubs in search of mulled wine, firewhisky and conversation.

Despite what happened beyond the walls, beyond the village, there would still be smiling faces and open shop fronts.

There were always those who kept their head held high, who still had hope.

That fact alone gave Harry a faith of his own, no matter how sedated the atmosphere of Hogwarts would become. Even though it had far fewer stores and far fewer people, in some ways that fact endeared Hogsmeade to Harry in a way Diagon Alley could never.

He now, however, found himself headed to the village with Fleur in one of the early carriages that ferried students to and fro.

It had been a hectic morning. The haphazard plan conceived only the night before soon made its impact apparent when the morning came. It was desperately frantic, if only as a last act of recompense for springing his need for Fleur at Slughorn's gathering only mere hours beforehand.

We reap what we sow, I suppose.

Harry dashed around the castle. He'd conveniently left the Marauder's Map in her office the night before, high on his victory. Hence, he was consigned to the task of dashing around aimlessly to locate the silver-haired Veela.

After finding her a few corridors away from her office, he then had to dash back to the Tower to retrieve his coat after he was greeted to the morning's colder winds. But in good time, a slightly exhausted Harry and an overwhelmingly amused Fleur made their way to the Hogsmeade carriages.

The wagons bumped along the rocky road, displacing the snow with the slow trot of the Thestrals. Fleur had opted for quite a few layers, given the turn the weather had taken and her lack of prowess when dealing with colder weather. She had also doused herself with warming charms, but as adept as she was with charms of all manners they could only go so far. She spent the ride complaining about the dreadful British weather.

"How you stand this pitiful snow is anyone's guess." She complained, rubbing her arms gingerly as if to trap the heat in.

She had wrapped herself in a thick coat on top of her already significant amount of layers. Her thickened form enshrouded by a baby-blue cloak that closely resembled her old school robes may have detracted from her form had she been anyone else.

But she was Fleur Delacour, beauty incarnate.

Even when she's bundled up like a newborn, Harry mused.

"I quite like it," Harry replied, gazing out the charmed glass so he could see the snow falling through the trees outside the carriages as it continued at its leisurely pace. Flecks of white trickling through the dark green pine needles. "I think it makes for a nice setting." He said, turning to face her again.

"I must be the only one of my countrymen to be stupid enough to debase myself by living here." She muttered bitterly.

"Not this cold in France?" He quipped.

"Definitely nothing like this awful winter." Fleur shivered, "Beauxbatons was in Southern France, the days were pleasant and the nights warm. Nothing like this godforsaken island."

"Here I thought you enjoyed your job here." Harry drawled, "Here debasing yourself amongst us plebeians for nothing, I suppose."

She gave a little laugh. "It was an option, but it's a big world and I'm going to see more of it."

"Only to end up here," Harry quipped. "Is that why you became a Curse Breaker? To see the world?"

"In a way," The silver-haired witch shrugged, "I originally wanted to be an Enchanter."

"An Enchanter? Never really heard of them." Harry confessed. "Though I suppose you're enchanting enough."

"Quite the womaniser Harry?" She arched a perfectly sculpted eyebrow. "It's very much what they sound like, binding enchantments onto magical objects permanently - like Brooms for instance. It was my favourite class. Professor Bisset was an excellent teacher."

"I don't think Hogwarts offers an Enchanting class." Harry said, "Though it does sound interesting."

"No account for lack of taste." She jibed, "Nor lack of intelligence if this country is any barometer."

Forever the patriot.

"What made you change your mind?" It sounded to Harry like she was fairly passionate about the idea of becoming one.

If I've learned one thing about her, it's that her passions rarely go unacted upon.

"To become an Enchanter of any notoriety you need to be certified by the Enchanter's Guild and they're not exactly partial to Veela, or non-humans at all." She said somewhat wistfully.

"But the Goblins were?" Harry asked, confused, as far as he understood they weren't too partial of Veela either.

Not too partial to anyone, I suppose. He mused I don't think beauty is on their job requirements.

"Definitely not, but they've got the uncanny ability to spy talent. Mine was enough for them to overlook my 'genetic disadvantages' as they'd taken to calling them." She said sourly.

"But the Enchanter's Guild didn't?"

"The Veela Covens and the Guilds don't get along very often. Centuries of bad blood that are far too obscure and monotonous for polite company." She explained.

"Odd you'd call it polite company when you've insulted my country every chance you've had."

"It's the jabs that land closest to home that sting the greatest." She chuckled, "There's many a better place in the world than the freezing depths of Britain."

Having never been outside of Britain, Harry lacked the ability to make a comparison or rather, form a rebuttal.

Maybe I'll go to France, even if only out of spite.

"Your misguided attempts to attack my country aside, you're one of the most talented people I've met." Harry frowned, "That doesn't seem very fair."

"Sounds like something I once told you, no?" She said with a small smile, "Life is rarely fair, Harry."

"Sounds like someone should change it then."

Maybe it'll be me.

"Maybe someone should." She said, her ethereal features broken by one of the broadest smiles he'd ever seen.

"I wouldn't mind getting rid of a few Dark Lords then."

"My, aren't you ever the hopeless romantic?"

"I've been told I have my moments." He laughed, eliciting a soft one from her in turn.

"I enjoyed my time as a Curse Breaker. Who knows? I might try and become an Enchanter in Britain when this is all over."

"You'd stay in Britain?" Harry probed, given how much she detested almost all things English, that was shocking for him.

"For a few years, at least. Maybe the food is terrible and so is the weather. But some people aren't so bad, no?" She teased gently.

"Our food is not terrible." Harry scowled.

"You boil and fry everything." She said, her nose upturned in apparent disdain. "It's ineloquent and distasteful."

"That's efficiency for you." Harry shrugged, "If it keeps me fed, I'm fine with it."

"It's not efficient," She scoffed, "The Germans are efficient, even the Italians."

"I remember some times where we beat them both."

"There is food and there is food." She lectured, "The former fills your stomach, the latter your mind just as much. You possess all of the former and none of the latter, a barbaric culture with the cuisine to match."

"Hey! You're speaking to a barbarian." He defended, "You're even engaged to a barbarian."

The latter half of his sentence pained him as it left his lips, it felt heavier than mere words. A promise given life. But he couldn't ascertain why it stung him as it had.

"Perhaps I do need to find better company."

"Tell me how that goes. I don't know anyone who would take as many insults as I do."

"Not insults." She amended, "Education."

"That's rich," Harry laughed. "What does Bill think of you both staying here?"

It was rare that Harry ever found the flesh they both searched for. She was forever clad in plate forged of wit and confidence, every blow was glancing and never cut any deeper than a mere scratch.

But for some reason, Bill is the gap in that armour.

Every mention of her fiancé, no matter how unintentional or inadvertent laid her bare for only the briefest of moments. His rapier struck true and bit flesh, even if he had never meant for it.

But why?

"I'm not entirely sure." She said, her tone imperceptible.

Perhaps she truly is a forgotten bride, he frowned.

Her features were the only indicator that anything had even been said. Her mouth moved and her ocean eyes swivelled. But in a way that just seemed different. Though he was no master of body language, no artisan of phrases or tone.

Whether it was too subtle to say definitively or if it was simply his imagination, he couldn't say.

For a few moments, Harry feared he'd embittered her with his probing. Her soft features were uncharacteristically hardened and the snow outside became far more interesting than the prospect of discussion within. Even if only for mere moments.

Though the possibility of any further conversation that may have arisen was cut off by the braying of the Thestrals. The carriage had arrived at the road leading into Hogsmeade, signalling their time to withdraw from the carriages. They halted their trot and neighed incessantly, waiting for the occupants to depart and greet the cold air.

Harry got out first, gently opening the carriage door and descending down the few stairs provided before turning around, offering his hand to her as she scaled the icy steps. She gingerly took it and descended without issue, flashing him a small smile that assuaged any fears of damage done.

"What shall we do first?" She asked, seeming eager to be out of the hostile wind that swept through the village.

He looked down into the village beneath them, "What would you like to do?"

I'm not sure Hogsmeade caters for French Veela with sophisticated tastes. He fought desperately against the smile that threatened to form at his thoughts.

"What do you do for fun around here?"

He shrugged, "Look at the shops I guess."

"Any in particular or is the extent of Hogsmeade's charm looking at Quidditch equipment?"

"Dervish and Banges are pretty decent if you need to look for some Christmas gifts."

"If that's what's best." She said, noncommittally.

"I did promise we'd meet Ron and Hermione for lunch at the Three Broomsticks if that's okay with you?"

She merely nodded her acceptance, likely as to not dally in the cold any longer. With her assent, they set off towards the magical instrument store.

Only a short distance across and down the snow-shrouded street did they find their destination. The worn green paint of the shop stood starkly against the bright snow and frost had formed on the large, cylindrical windows on the door's adjacents, making it impossible to peer into the store beyond.

Harry pulled the heavy door open with a quick motion, ringing a bell mounted above the door as he did so. He'd never frequented the store and when he opened the door, he soon remembered why.

The shop felt claustrophobic, a warm atmosphere that was perhaps too warm for comfort. Shelves crowded together and stocked to breaking point with a plethora of magic instruments and toys. Most of which did their utmost to contribute to a grating symphony of screeches that tore at his ears.

Harry was instantly forced to dodge a pair of children's toys, soldiers, by the looks of it. Duelling with sticks that forced him further amidst the depths of shelves.

He began to peruse some of the items. He still had to shop for Christmas presents and he'd rather he did it sooner than later, as a foresight, in case anything happened that barred students from going to Hogsmeade.

Harry plucked a model of a Nimbus off the shelf. A miniature encapsulated in a snow globe that raced in rings, dodging fake snowfall. Tens of identicals adorned the shelf, save for their base being a different colour. Each representing a different professional team.

The Arrows, Harpies, Falcons, Tornados. He recited as he sifted through, But no Cannons, you're out of luck today mate.

He caught a glimpse of silver hair through the shelving and peered intently through the gap. Fleur picked up a lengthy, golden rod and flicked it forward. It extended almost like a telescope but gave out a screeching noise that had Harry covering his ears.

"I used to have one of these at home, drove Maman up the wall." She reminisced, talking across aisles.

"Can't imagine why," Harry replied, rubbing at his ears. "What is it?" He asked confused as she began to drag it around the room, giving off little whistles in random intervals.

Here I was, thinking Veela hated loud noises. She grimaced but seemed far more intent on reminiscing than succumbing to the racket.

"Probity Probe, a dark sensor. Scepticism mostly, but lots of people use them. I used to use it on Gabrielle when I tried to blame her for something." She smiled at the memory.

"Here I thought you said you weren't a troublemaker?" He jibed in a friendly tone.

She gave a little scoff, "She was definitely the troublemaker, we couldn't take her shopping for fear of what she might break."

"I take it Beauxbatons won't know what hit them?" He laughed.

"No, I don't think they will. But I worry about her all the same." She confessed.

"Why's that?

"Veela never have an easy time at school, it's why the covens usually teach children themselves."

"But you weren't?"

"No." She admitted, "The Delacour's and the Covens haven't been on good terms for some time."

"Well, you did tell me it would be interesting."

"You'd enjoy it."

"I suppose you turned out alright anyway." He joked. "I'm confident Gabrielle will be just as resilient."

"Just alright Harry?" She asked with mock seriousness. "How suave."

"I mean you're no tournament winner." He bit back cheekily.

"I can wipe the floor with you." She returned.

"I believe I won the last duel."

"A fluke, try me again." She defended herself.

"Think you're a match for me?" He said in a cocky tone.

"A perfect match." She said in a tone Harry couldn't quite make out. But Fleur quickly laughed and declared herself the winner at Harry's lack of rebuttal.

They continued sorting through the shelves. Harry found a particularly bright and loud Sneakoscope that sprung to life when he passed it, screeching incessantly until he kept walking, to which it stilled.

Not sure I'd want that in the dorm. He resolved, another possible gift for Ron passing by. Joining its ranks was a shock quill and deluxe dungbomb package.

He eventually found something of interest.

It was a glass ball, frosted as if to obscure the secrets within. Harry plucked it from its perch, rolling it around gently in his open palm. His touch seemed to be impetus enough for a reaction to occur. The glass cleared and within, a mechanism suspended in air alone.

A sexton, maybe? He decided, it looked vaguely familiar. Enough so that he might've remembered seeing it in his Astronomy textbook.

This mechanism seemed to fluctuate with his touch, spinning wildly on all its axes while he held it.

"What's this?" He asked Fleur through the shelves, holding up the glass orb. She came around the aisle and took the orb into her own hands, peering over it with a keen eye. She passed it over in her palm for some time, before deciding.

"A terror transceiver." She said, "They're fairly rare, I've only ever seen a handful in Egypt."

Well, that sounds ominous.

"How does it work?" Harry asked, it sounded like a decent gift for Ron.

She grabbed the orb in two hands and twisted it, almost like one of Aunt Petunia's egg timers. The orb split into two halves and began to click towards their original position. The object inside then restarted its imitation of a cyclone, but this time, a short tube sprang out from the top of one of the halves.

"Put this up to your ear." She instructed and so he did.

He could hear the gears grinding against one another for a moment before the two halves finished rotating. The ensuing moment felt longer than it had any right to be, seconds seemed to morph to hours and his ear strained for any sound.

Yet there was nothing, the soft pounding of blood in his ears perhaps, but nothing that attracted him beyond the pretty glass shell.

A trick. Was his only thought. An illusion.

He went to free it from his ear, but his arm protested. A smattering of noises rang out, enough to draw his interest back to the glass ball.

At first, it was nought but an echo, a deep and cavernous noise that declared something fiercer yet to come.

And so it came.

A sharp clash of steel, a resonant reverberation and a ringing in his ears followed. Harsh and grating, yet soothing.

He slowly removed the protruding instrument from his ear. It quickly retracted, sealing the hole it left behind.

"Hear anything?" Fleur asked, breaking him out of his stupor.

Bells. He thought, recognizing the noise after a short moment.

We hear the tolling of bells.

Perhaps Firenze had truly misread the stars. A mirage, curved thinking even. The bells seemed to mock him even as he tore the glass globe away.

What's certain today is seldom so tomorrow.

He had hoped, at least, the Centaur was correct in that regard. Whatever could be said about his life, he knew prophetic predictions and nebulous divination would not improve it.

"Bells. Church Bells, maybe." He said, still confused.

She let out a little laugh. "I wouldn't worry too much, they're usually not very well enchanted. A facade to play on gullible wizards ruled by superstition."

"Maybe." Was the only response he could muster. The ball felt oddly heavy in his hands as his palmed it to and fro.

"If trinkets could divine the future, being a Seer would hold less gravity than it does."

Perhaps I am being gullible, he mused, Superstition won't serve me well.

Still, even if it was little but a poorly crafted trinket, Ron might get some value out of it where he could not. They perused the store for a little while longer without any further events, drawing attention to the occasional remnant of memory when either he or Fleur saw something familiar, but little else.

Soon the old man that owned the shop ventured out from the backroom, sending some errant figurines back to their positions and silencing loud instruments with a well-practised flick of his wand. With the wayward objects dealt with, Harry went to pay his due of galleons and sickles before they departed, neglecting to purchase anything more from the shop.

The man looked desperate to make conversation as he eyed them throughout the transaction.

Wants to make friends with the 'Chosen One' no doubt.

The coins he handed to the man seemed to dissuade him from any attempts to make conversation. He occupied himself with the clash of gold coins between his fingers as he sifted through sickles to ensure the amount was correct.

Harry chose to stop at Honeydukes next, braving the sickeningly sweet-smelling abode of Ambrosius Flume. Off to replenish Ron's nefariously plundered sweets from the day before.

Fleur wrinkled her nose at the smell, "Do we have to be in here?"

The aroma certainly had long surpassed pleasant, delving into something far beyond. He walked close to Fleur, her soft floral and vanilla scent being his only respite against it.

"Only for a little bit. I need to buy some stuff for Ron." Harry explained.

"I was labouring under the impression that Ronald could buy his own sweets."

"He can, but I ate all of his." He said sheepishly, scratching the nape of his neck.

"I never took you for having a sweet tooth."

Mead will do that, I suppose.

"I may have overindulged in those drinks."

"Oh my." She giggled, "Harry Potter, a drunkard and a thief."

"Ron said something similar after I demolished his Chocolate Frogs." He put his head down in an attempt to look sullen, "I'm terrible, I know."

"Of course." She agreed, without agreeing in the slightest.

"I'm serious!" He cried in jest, "Wait till you hear about the biscuits."

"Not the biscuits!" She said, aghast, "A true travesty indeed."

"And some homemade pies." He continued.

"There's a special place in Azkaban for the likes of you, or so I've heard."

"You'd fold eventually and break me out." Harry said, matter-of-factly.

"Pray tell why I'd do such a thing?"

"I'm too valuable to waste away in Azkaban."

"For now." She relented, "I might help you escape should you continue to be useful."

"Such a kind Mistress." He drawled.

Their entrance did not go unnoticed for long. Where they may have been able to escape the daunting prospect of conversation in Dervish and Banges, the same could not be said here. Ambrosius Flume was cut from a different cloth from most.

A less aware cloth maybe. Harry mused as the short man bounded around the corner, his bald head covered in a bright red beanie.

"Mister Potter!" The old man said jovially as he reached out to grasp and shake his hand vigorously. "Horace has been telling me of your progress, can't say anything but praises of you." He assured him.

"I didn't know you knew the Professor?" He asked inquisitively.

I can't escape Slughorn no matter where I go it seems.

"Why of course! I was one of the first in his Slug Club. It was he who helped me keep the deed to this place. Always sure to keep the Professor stocked up on his favourite sweets after that Drama."

"Favourite sweets?" Harry asked, "What does he prefer?"

"Looking to ingratiate yourself with Horace 'eh?" The man said suggestively, "You could do far worse methinks."

"Of course." Harry agreed, despite not wanting to do so, " Looking to the future and all."

"A wise move, of course." Flume agreed, "Anywho, crystalised pineapples and the odd Peppermint Welsh never went amiss."

"He's a fan of them?" Harry said that sounded like some useful information.

"Quite so!" The happy man cried, "There are few things a man can love more than sweets."

I could think of a few.

He explained as if it was obvious and judging by the Professor's plump stature, it almost was. By the time the older man had finished his conversations, Harry walked out with quite a few chocolate frogs and a bag of crystallized pineapples for good measure.

"We could lace them with veritaserum?" Fleur suggested as they passed through the threshold of the sweets shop.

"He's a Potions Master." Harry reminded, "No way he'll go anywhere without a Bezoar."

"We're not going to poison him." She scoffed, "Unless he carries the antidote to Veritaserum on his person, we should be alright. A Bezoar won't halt the effects."

He might just. Harry thought. Not much chance he got to where he was in life without caution.

"He'd smell it."

"Only if he was vigilant." She returned, "Would he be so alert if it was you the sweets came from?"

Harry just shrugged. "Maybe not, but if he finds out we lose any chance of finding out."

"A final gambit perhaps," She agreed, "But we lack a solid plan and time is escaping us."

"Perhaps we could find, I don't know, something with a bit more dignity? A bit more honour?"

"Honour is a bit like a finely crafted wand."

"This I'll need to hear." Harry laughed.

"You'll grow attached to it upon using it. So much that you will never want to use another. But only a fool would die rather than use his hands when the situation called for such."

Here I thought taking her to Hogsmeade would save me from any sage advice.

"That's an odd one, even for you." Harry remarked.

"The phrasing isn't as eloquent as perhaps it should be, but neither is the subject matter." She said, "If we continue searching for eloquent remedies to ineloquent obstacles, we'll forever be standing where we are right now - debating over little and less."

The truth had hardened her. He thought, For better or worse.

"I'd never thought you'd be the one to go forego eloquence out of the pair of us." Harry jibed, although it didn't seem to land as well as he hoped.

"Neither had I, but I didn't foresee us at the centre of a war."

"I'll think about what you said." Harry said after a moment of contemplation, "We can try it if worst comes to worst."

"Think carefully then, and quickly." She said, meeting his emerald eyes, "Lest our opportunities pass us by."

After Honeydukes, the rest of their shopping trip passed by fairly uneventfully. Fleur had them detour inside Tomes and Scrolls. And to her chagrin, despite their name, they had very few tomes and scrolls of any worth. The shop was mostly packed with school texts for forgetful students that misplaced or ruined their own. Which weren't much use to someone already out of school. Though the pair did get a good laugh out of a sappy romance story between a goblin and a house-elf that instead of being written in a book, was written on a massive roll of parchment.

They detoured into Scrivenshaft's Quill Shop to search for a gift for Hermione. Seeing how the majority of Christmas gifts she received were one book or another and Harry soon lost track of just what copies she possessed. He thought she might favour some writing utensils more. Purchasing an ornate writing quill with the large dark and white feather from the wing of an Aethonan decorated the tapered end.

Harry briefly dashed into Spintwiches and retrieved himself a Broom Polishing kit and then to the Magic Neep, after Fleur informed him that she'd be trying to salvage some decent food items to make her own dinner as house-elves 'make an ill imitation of French Cuisine.'

They made their last stop at Maestro's Music shop, not so much to buy anything in particular but the ambience of the store was always pleasant and he felt Fleur would relish it more than the cold.

A series of harps had their strings plucked gently by a set of complex charms made it sound as though an artisan was serenading their entry. The browsed the store to be polite, looking at the ornate gramophones and other assorted instruments before soon departing, wishing the middle-aged man well.

By the time they had concluded their shopping, the majority of students began their mass exodus from their carriages, swarming the shops en masse. The resounding noise of excited chatter made its way through the village. There had been a fair few students at the town prior to the next wave of carriages arrival but they had now become far more numerous, spilling into the main street and filling it to capacity far quicker than they should have.

The arrival of the students also coincided with the time that both himself and Fleur were due to meet Hermione and Ron at the Three Broomsticks. Shifting through the schools of students moving to and fro rapidly. They eventually reached the familiar pub. Ringing the bell as the door opened, the pair walked in searching for Ron's ginger hair which stuck out like a sore thumb, especially against the dark brown of the wooden building.

Harry spotted them soon enough, sat against one side of the stairs that ascended to the second floor. Making their way over they passed Madam Rosmerta who was working diligently to provide for her customers. Harry greeted her politely when they walked past her, which she usually always returned.

The older witch usually returned such pleasantries but today she didn't, whether by virtue of her not hearing him or by a busy workload, he was unsure. Though he remained unperturbed and sought out familiar faces.

"Hey, guys," Harry announced the pair, breaking them from their deep conversation.

Both he and Fleur received some half-hearted "Hellos" in return from the pair. They both took their seats. They had bought three butterbeers but had neglected to get Fleur one and everyone seemed to pick up on that fact.

"Sorry Fleur." Hermione explained although it didn't sound completely genuine, "We'd forgotten you were coming."

"That's fine." She said peering into Harry's large mug. "What is it?"

"Butterbeer." Harry explained, leaning his tankard over so she could peer into the brown depths.

"I've never tasted it." She admitted.

"You've never had butterbeer?" Ron asked incredulously.

She merely shook her head.

Harry extended his mug to her. "Have a sip."

She took the proffered mug in both hands before wafting it under her nose and sniffing softly as if she was tasting the wine she so favoured. She tentatively brought the cup to her lips and imbibed in some of the liquid, before departing immediately from the drink.

Harry had to let out a little laugh at her face, she contorted her beautiful features as if she had tasted something far too sour, or in this case, sweet for comfort. It clearly didn't agree with her, but she swallowed the sweet beverage despite the taste.

"Not a fan?" Harry asked, finished laughing. She vehemently shook her head, wiping her lips clean with an offered serviette.

Discussion began amongst them, sans Fleur, who instead ordered mulled wine from the bar. Soon the steaming liquid came to her and she found solace within steam and spices. It was strong enough that the aroma tickled the back of his own throat, but she seemed to down the liquid with less umbrage than the butterbeer.

Harry reached into his pockets and procured the chocolate frogs he'd bought Ron, tossing the bag over the table.

"Always good of a bloke to pay his debts." Ron said, instantly tearing open one to pop into his mouth.

"Why are you buying him chocolate frogs?" Hermione probed.

Well, we're definitely not going with the real reason.

Harry did his best to look innocent, "Can't I buy my mate some chocolate?"

"When have you ever done that?"

That's a fair point. He conceded internally.

A lie truly did sound better than the truth.

It's an innocent one, he rationalized.

"I lost a bet if you need to know."


"Quidditch scores." Harry said succinctly, hoping it'd dissuade her from any further questions.

Hermione instead turned to Ron, trying to discern the truth from his face, rather than Harry's. Though, to his credit, Ron was either extraordinarily fortunate or had foreseen such a ploy and was currently staring at his chocolate frog card intently.

Harry dropped out of the dwindling conversation temporarily, words tapering into background noise.

He'd felt something.

Like a thousand soft fingers had caressed the nape of his neck at once. A gentle kiss, a fleeting lovers embrace, a winter's cold shiver.

It was all of these things, but none. A feeling that left him inexplicably barren and searching for the culprit.

He swivelled his head around as if he was being attacked. First the doors, then the bar, the closest tables and onwards. He scanned each and every time, came up with nought.

"Harry?" Hermione's voice shook him from his stupor, she traced his eyes to where he was looking. She frowned at him. "What's wrong?"

In his attempt to explain his situation, the culprit made themselves known.

"Draco." He explained in a foul tone.

The almost white-blonde hair was a beacon amongst the dreary colours of the pub. He seemed to realize this too, donning his hood before inconspicuously dashing for the door. His hawthorn wand was visible, clutched tightly between his gloves.

"What about him?"

"He's up to something."

Nothing I say will convince them. He thought, The conclusion of the conversation was foregone, a breath of wind, they'd call it. A passing itch - nothing to indicate innocence nor guilt.

But it was something.

"How do you know that?" Fleur chimed in.

"I just do." He said succinctly.

"I thought we agreed to drop this?" She said in a no-nonsense tone.

"I haven't done anything." Harry defended.

"Exactly." She said, "Enjoy yourself, it'll be over before you know it."

He sipped his drink as a sign of acquiescence, but his eyes didn't waver from the door. He watched as an influx of students came in. Cormac, Katie, Leanne, even Ginny.

"How's Katie as a Captain?" Harry asked, eyeing the dark-haired girl at the bar.

Wonder how it's going without me. He mused.

"Not bad," Ron explained, "Doesn't crack the whip as hard as Wood or Angelina but we're pretty much all-new this year."

"If we could trounce Slytherin with a first-year seeker, I'm sure we can take it home a few more times." He said proudly, giving Ron some confidence. Whilst they discussed various Quidditch tactics, Fleur and Hermione had what appeared to be a fairly terse conversation about charms.

They're making an effort, at least.

Their conversations continued for a time, idle chatter that filled the air as much as the time. He was more than content to participate in the act, in an attempt to shed the fleeting feeling from his body.

For a moment, life was as simple as it could have been that year. Friends and butterbeer, jokes and conversation.

Until it wasn't.

Daphne Greengrass broke into the door of the Three Broomsticks, her face alight with frantic eyes and nervously pursed lips. She met Harry's eyes with her own misty violets and instead of the hatred and vitriol that usually found their place there, they were soft, pleading.

He shook his leg side-to-side, rattling his wand in his pocket. A subconscious action to ensure the holly shaft was on his person.

I might be needing it. Was the only thought.

The same violet-eyed girl disappeared beyond the threshold and with it, whatever she had been trying to convey left with her. She was soon followed by Katie and Leanne, arguing over something he couldn't hear. Loud screeches that seemed to split the pub in two as they followed Daphne out the door.

"I'll be back." It was all he could say, all his mind would allow him.

Fleur shimmied out of his way and upon seeing him make for the door, she followed him.

She might've called towards his back, asked for an explanation, but his ears disallowed such. He plucked his wand out with gentle fingers and threw the door open. Following Draco, Daphne, Katie and Leane with identical footsteps to their own.

Yet, there was nothing but falling snow and bright faces.

Students were still laughing and going about their daily shopping. Draco and Daphne had disappeared from view, Katie and Leanne were still arguing.

But there was no immediate danger, no warning signs that declared a greater threat to come.

Just the cold winter's air.

It was a dark sea, the waves were calm - the surface still but something lingered in the depths, even if it wasn't immediately apparent.

"Where's Greengrass?" Harry shouted towards a passing Slytherin.

"You've got eyes, Potter, look for yourself." The boy said, continuing into the pub.


Then, the air was still. The cold winter wind did not bite at his exposed flesh, the frost sat heavy in the air but fell no further.

Until a scream tore through the village.

It was hellish. Infernal and desperate, embodying nothing good and everything terrible.

Before he knew it, his legs were under him, tearing through thick snow at a rapid pace as were Fleur's mere metres behind him.

He broke through the head of the crowd and spied Leanne first. She was scurrying backwards in terror, nearly prone against the ground as if cowering from something. But the lines of students still obfuscated his vision as he passed the final barrier into the haphazardly formed circle beyond.

Finally, his eyes found the focal point of the circle, the impetus for their cries.

Katie Bell.

She laid upon the ground convulsing as if she was in a seizure but even Harry could already see it was something more.

Something far, far worse.

Crimson bile spilt from her lips, choking the dark-haired girl with her own lifeblood.

Suddenly the convulsions halted and she shot aloft, as if in the grip of some invisible force. For the briefest of moments, it seemed almost beautiful. An angel of biblical origins - her hair splayed out in a dark halo as if gravity no longer had any right to hold her in its grasp.

She clutched some sort of chain in her hand, Harry couldn't really see it. Then, without warning she plunged towards the ground, smashing into the hard earth with a sickening crack. She rose up in the air again as if to hit the ground once more.

All in one deafening instance, the shouts and screams of terrified students were hot in his ears. They were war drums, if only of a different breed. One that spurned his wand up to help, not harm.

"Arresto Momentum!" Harry cried with passion. The spell hit her full force as she made another deadly plunge towards the earth, she slowed immediately and descended at a snail's pace.

Fleur was beside him in an instant, casting a spell to follow his own.

"Aufer Malum!" She incanted, sounding manic. Harry had never heard the spell, but it tore the chain, which once it had fallen to the ground Harry could recognise as some ornate pendant, one with a large blue crystal in the centre. Whatever Fleur's counter curse did, it worked. She slowly floated to the snowy ground with the assistance of Harry's spell.

The necklace holds the curse. He noted as he rushed towards her, the skin of her hand had been blackened, showing bone beneath it from contact with the chain. The same chain that sizzled against the cold snow where Fleur's spell had sent it.

Aurors descended upon them from all angles, sonorous charms beating back crying crowds.

Fleur was at Katie's side before he even fully comprehend the gravity of it all. He tore off to the other side of Katie.

It was far direr than what he'd initially thought and given how grave he expected it to be, it was a woeful testament to just how utterly futile the situation appeared to be.

Blood seemed to pour from every orifice of her face, it pooled in her eyes and she gave a final violent cough, spewing it up. One of her legs was at an odd angle from the impact and he shuddered to think of what other injuries were present that he couldn't immediately observe. But one stood above all others.

Her chest had stilled - her heart no longer pumped blood and her lungs fell silent.

The bubbly girl looked small in death.

"What can I do?" Harry said desperately, hoping to keep the panic he was feeling out of his voice.

She had to finish a chant before she could answer him. "In the left pocket of my robes, there's a silver kit." She said quickly before embarking on another chant, another harsh melody against cold skin.

He ran around to her other side, digging through the deep pockets of her winter robe. Soon enough his fingers made contact with a silver case, he pulled it out and cracked the mechanism open. It contained two rows of vials, a pair of stones that looked a bit like basalt and a wicked-looking curved silver knife.

"I've got it." Harry confirmed, waiting for Fleur to finish her next chant that covered Katie's mouth with a sickly green looking barrier.

"Top row, third vial from the right. Tilt her head forward, four drops." She ordered.

Harry grabbed the vial in question, a milky white coloured with blue specks that looked almost reminiscent of a memory entrapped in a vial. He did as he was instructed, tilted her head forward gingerly and dripped the four drops into her mouth. The barrier covering the entrance flashing brightly as every droplet passed through.

"Now grab the last vial, second row. Smear it under both her eyes." She ordered, before going up and down her body with her wand, casting some sort of radiating spell.

He grabbed the next vial, a gelatinous substance that was a murky brown with a pungent smell. He dipped his finger in and got to rubbing it onto her eyes. His fingers were all the provocation the blood that pooled in her eye needed to leak freely across her face.

"Don't vanish it, cursed blood reacts volatilely." She informed him, he wiped her other eye and by the time he'd finished, his hand was coated in her blood.

"What's next?" He asked.

"Grab the knife, cut your palm and show it to me." She ordered. His mind was reluctant to cut himself, his body's autonomy screamed against it, but Harry overrode his own senses.

He gripped the curved blade in his clean hand and clutched the knife tightly, in one quick motion he tore through soft flesh, the silver biting into the meat of his hand with all the decorum of a hot knife through butter. The wound was deep and he winced as he saw it, but gave his hand over to Fleur all the same.

She took the blade and slit her own palm open, she grabbed his sliced hand with her own, the contact provoking loose skin with a harsh sting of pain.

She dragged their hands to the chest of the dead girl, their blood pooling against her own.

And she sang.

"Ad ea, quae sunt amissa, dulce osculum dabo eam vitam, sanguinem in venis respirare portabatur sacrificium nostrum."

Harry remembered every word, partly due to the tension of the grave situation, partly because it was all he could do to stave off panicked thoughts. But more because despite it all, it was angelic.

A soft melody that promised their life for hers.

She sang this one like he imagined she sang to the dragon although he never saw it. He found solace in her beautiful voice, as the spell continued, braids of alabaster light wrapped their hands together above her heart. His arm grew weaker as they sapped their lifeblood, for hers.

A final gambit to restore the spark to a fire snuffed in the cold.

She removed both their hands and tapped her chest, once, twice and then a third time.

"Reddet animam!" Fleur cried.

The world stilled, moments turned to eternity as they waited, for any sign of life, any sign of improvement.

"Reddet animam!" Fleur tried.

The cold felt oppressive against his back, the air bearing down upon him.

"Reddet animam!"

The taste of blood splattered on his lips was foul, hot copper that made bile of his own rise in his throat.

"Reddet animam!" She willed, her voice wavering under the barrage of power.

Katie's back arched, her chest heaved and she took her first breath in minutes.

They'd succeeded. They'd saved her from the clutches of death.

Her first breath was interrupted as she choked on the blood still in her mouth, Fleur gently tipped her over onto her side, she spat the blood out but didn't awaken. Once she was free of the blood in her airways, Fleur cast a few more spells, sweet relief crossed her face.

All the while he stilled his hands he hadn't known were shaking.

Her hair had come loose and instead of the elegance it once embodied, it was wild, untamed. She had a few specks of blood under her eyes and looked extremely fatigued, likely from all the advanced magic. It really wasn't the time but Harry couldn't help to admire her beauty even in the direst of circumstances.

This was not the same Fleur Delacour, of wit, confidence and passion.

This Fleur held a beauty incomparable to the other.

Even amidst such a terrible event, against all odds, together they had triumphed.

She looked at him and offered a tired smile and he gave one back.

Within seconds of Katie being stabilised, Snape, Pomfrey and McGonagall arrived at the scene through the Three Broomsticks, likely through the floo. Snape was first to react, he conjured a silk bag and contained the necklace. McGonagall conjured a stretcher and levitated Katie onto it and Pomfrey went straight to her, casting spells.

"We stabilised her. The Argí Póno curse, she wasn't breathing when we got to her." Fleur said, conveying the prudent information as quickly as possible.

"Heavens girl," Pomfrey said aghast, "How is she alive?"

"A ritual." She replied succinctly and frankly, rather tiredly.

Madam Pomfrey looked shocked, her voice ghastly. "Blood Magic? Here? In front of the students?"

"I wasn't worried about their stomachs, nor the legality of it. She was dying." Fleur said simply.

Pomfrey stilled a moment, before giving her a hard nod and escorting Katie towards the Castle, with Snape levitating her into one of the carriages before the Thestral began a gallop towards Hogwarts.

"You alright?" Harry asked Fleur.

The Aurors had all but sent the students back to the castle. The streets that teemed with life not ten minutes ago were desolate, save for the two of them and the pool of blood they sat in.

"I am, you?" She said almost sadly.


"Give me your hand." She asked, her wand outstretched, He obliged, giving her his still bleeding hand.

Her hands are shaking too. He thought as she took his hand in her own.

"Vulnera Sanentur." She said in the same angelic sing-song voice as the chant minutes prior. She traced her wand across the wound and the wound began to knit together, it felt as though someone was tickling his palm with a single finger but soon, the wound had sealed but left a garish purple mark behind.

"It'll heal in time, but we'll bear the mark for a while. I've got dittany in my office that will help." She said, showing her own scar across her palm.

He stood up and offered his weak arm, the one that wasn't caked in blood that was, to help her up. She took it and got to her feet, brushing some of the snow off of her.

"You saved her life Fleur."

"It was my job to keep cursed items out of Hogwarts, I failed. And everything that happens to Katie Bell was born from my incompetence." She said sadly.

"This isn't Hogwarts, Fleur." He pointed out.

"It'll be little help to parents that find a daughter on her deathbed."

She blamed herself.

Calling it irrational, pointing out the facts and singing praises wouldn't stop the guilt from gnawing at her gut. Wouldn't stop the pain in her heart or the tears that threatened to fall.

His own sorrow bit deeper than the silver that had cut his palm, a blade in his chest - a wound that would only heal with time.

"If you weren't doing your job, the same thing would've happened."

She acknowledged that he said it, but Harry wasn't sure she believed him.

Sensing there likely wasn't much more to be said for the moment, the pair set off towards Hogwarts, covered in ichor and frost.

Instead, she stopped - her voice a whisper.

"If I had been better-" She tried, an attempt to rationalize it all made in vain.

"If you had been anyone else, done anything differently, Katie Bell would've died in that snow."

They'd barely made it to the Entrance Hall before another problem came to pass. Colin Creevey came pelting down the corridor at Harry. Barrelling towards him as he supported a weary Fleur.

"Ha...Harry." He said, trying to catch his breath.

"Come on Colin, breathe mate. What is it?" Harry questioned, the young boy looked like he sprinted all the way from Gryffindor Tower.

He waited a moment to regain his composure though he still sounded very much out of breath.

"It's Cormac," He explained quickly. "He's heard about Katie, he's trying to start a riot!"

"A riot?" Harry asked, confused.

The gods love bitter japes. He cursed, Merlin, Morgana and everyone above.

"He's trying to get all of Gryffindor to attack the Slytherins."


"He's told everyone they're responsible," The blonde boy huffed, "They all believed him too."

That fucking fool.

That was the last thing Harry needed, the last thing anyone needed was people fighting wars within the walls of the castle as much as beyond them.

"Let's go, Colin." He turned to Fleur, "Coming?" He asked her. She merely nodded and the trio made haste to the tower.

Soon enough, they arrived at the portrait of the Fat Lady, even she looked distressed.

"Quickly, there's been a lot of yelling." She explained. The varnish of her painting in the low-light made it seem as if her eyes glimmered with unshed tears.

"Valour." Harry shouted and the door swung open.

Every time the common room filled to the brim like this, a whirlwind formed. Constructed from their victory in Quidditch to united in their hatred against the fourth champion. Gatherings like this seldom ended well.

The whirlwind was vicious and grew with each fevered pitch and rallying cry.

"I'd say if they want blood, we give it to them!" He cried and a few loud cheers resounded in the room. "For Katie!"

"Give it a rest McLaggen you fucking prat!" Ron called out from across the room.

"You better keep quiet Weasley," He threatened. "I'm no fucking coward. When one of our own is almost killed, we fight back, or we're not true Gryffindors." More cries rang out at that statement, it was quickly spiralling downwards.

"But indiscriminate violence is what true Gryffindors do, is it McLaggen?" Harry announced himself with a harsh tone, his appearance enough to startle the occupants of the room.

Where's McGonagall or Dumbledore? Hell, even Snape?

He knew where they were, but it made it no easier.

"Stay out of it Potter." He warned, much like he did to Ron.

On closer inspection, Ron's jaw was red and bruised and the older years clutched their wands.

He used violence to show his disgust of it. Harry seethed, Used the same tools so he could spread its seeds.

Perhaps he had spent too much time with Fleur, too much time with Dumbledore. Before he knew it, he found a table of his own to stand upon, as McLaggen had.

Fleur had her calling, to save a life that should've been lost.

Now it was his, to halt a whirlwind that would swallow them all.

"No, I won't." He said, his resolve ironclad. "Is that what Katie would want? For us to go around cursing Slytherins for no reason?"

"No reason?" One of McLaggen's mates called out, Delfice, Harry believed his name was. A short and skinny seventh year. "They cursed Katie for Merlin's sakes!"

"Who did? Did you see it happen?"

I'm sure I did. He thought grimly, But those words won't help.

No one rose to his call.

"So you're going to go around cursing innocent people because you feel it's justice?" He asked, "They're students, just as scared as you. Scared that they're going to be next or one of their friends in their place."

"So what Potter, you propose we do nothing?" He spat the last word as if it was a bad taste on his tongue.

"What would you do McLaggen? Teach them a lesson? Curse them? What do you think adding violence is going to do to the situation? A war is already waging outside these walls and you think it's a good idea to bring one within them? You might not be a coward McLaggen, but anyone who attacks another because they're scared - because they're hateful are cowards. They're no true Gryffindor and are just as bad as those starting this war."

"So what do we do?" A voice cried out from the crowd that Harry didn't see.

That was the question to grapple with.

What do we do?

The words rang out from his lips before he could think on them - for better or for worse.

"We stand united, we show this school, we show everyone that this wasn't enough to break us. That it will never be enough to break us." They looked to him, urging him onwards with their stares.

"They want us to fight, to hate one another until this becomes more than a school - until it becomes another battleground for them. They'll hurt us, take our friends to try and force us to crumble. They'll pit us against one another until none of us remain. They took the best of us today, but we only lose when we let them win. That's what scares them, that they can't squash us like they do everyone else."

"They want us to let them win." He said, "But we can't. For Katie."

He felt a fool and for the briefest moment, he wasn't sure who won. Defeat and victory, acceptance and denial looked congruent on the face of the crowd.

A single wand raised in the room, held aloft as Katie had been.

But it did not seek to curse or herald darkness as the necklace had.

This one had a simple ball of light at the tip, only a simple 'Lumos' at face value.

Yet it was so much more. Before he knew it, all but a few of the wands were raised with a bright white light hot at their tip.

A stalwart shield against the horrors to come.

A glimmer of hope for the days yet to pass.

A vigil for a friend that may have been lost.

He left the common room with Fleur shortly after. They headed back to her Office. She was tired and Harry desperately didn't want to be in Gryffindor Tower right now amongst McLaggen and his lackeys.

By the time they'd reached her Office, it became apparent she wasn't so much tired as she was ill.

He'd put her down in the chair in her office. "What's wrong?" He asked, feeling her forehead with the back of his hand, which was showing all the signs of a coming fever.

"Blood Magic enacts a price, I'll be sick for a few days at the very least." She explained with a vicious cough following it.

There is power in loss.

Their blood, for a life. But Fleur had been the conduit, willing to sacrifice it all for a girl she'd seldom seen.

"Do you need anything?" He asked. She looked frail, deteriorating greatly on the walk there.

Yet, she stands stronger than I've ever seen her.

"Help me to my bed." She asked, He helped her up from the seat, she took a few steps but it was clear she couldn't hold herself up.

"Are you going to be okay?" Harry asked, concerned.

"I'll be fine, it comes and goes quickly." She explained, her eyes fluttering.

Harry had little choice, she couldn't walk to the bedroom.

He scooped her legs and grabbed her in his arms, knocking open the door to her bedroom with his back. He'd never been in her bedroom, her bed was large and the white expanse of the sheets seemed far larger against her form as he placed her down.

"Help me get this coat off." She'd been sweating quite profusely. He pulled off the wet and bloodied garment, tossing it to the floor.

Harry didn't take any further action and she waited expectantly for him to do so.

"I'll need a hand getting out of my robe." Harry flushed brightly, knowing what that implied. "Please Harry, now's not the time for Modesty, I feel terrible."

That spurred him into action, he peeled the sweaty robe off of her shoulders and downwards, just above her bust.

"You'll need to pull it down further Harry, you've trapped my arms."

He looked away and pulled the robe over her breasts, one of his hands lightly skimmed the strap and that was enough to perturb him.

"Can you get the rest off yourself?" He asked weakly.

She gave a little murmur of affirmation and shimmied the rest of the way out of her robe, leaving her only in her underwear, while Harry observed the beautiful craftsmanship of the roof. She threw the thin sheet over herself, it didn't do a lot to conserve her modesty, but it was better than nothing.

'You can look now." She explained now that she shedded the heavy layers and was safely under the covers.

"Do you need anything?" He asked again.

"I've got this itch…" She teased, giggling at her own joke while Harry rolled his eyes, still flushing from before. It was good to see she'd regained her own levity.

The day hadn't torn her apart. He thought It's more than I could've hoped for.

"Water, please." She requested. With two flicks of his wand, he'd conjured a simple glass and filled it with water.

"You're getting quite good at that, you know?"

"Well, a Prodigy doesn't like to brag." He joked, though without much humour.

He passed it to her and she took a big few gulps before placing it on the bedside table. A brief moment of silent contemplation passed between the two of them.

"You were brave today Fleur." He said, still wondering if she felt guilty over today. "Braver than anyone I've seen."

"At least she survived." She said glumly, that answered Harry's questions.

"You're not infallible Fleur, but without you, we would've lost her." He said.

"Have you ever seen anything like it?" She asked, her voice distant and aghast. "I thought I'd seen horrors in Egypt, but it was a girl, a young girl, Harry."

She swallowed against the memories.

"Who does that?"

He didn't have an answer, not one that would ease the pain.

But he had a story, more than one even.

"I.." He didn't think his story would give her much comfort or console her, but he felt like maybe empathy was the way to go in this situation. "The first year I was here, I killed a Professor."

She sat up in the bed, "You haven't told me this story."

"Not exactly one I tell often. Not a pleasant memory." Harry explained.

"You don't have to tell me if you don't want to, Harry."

"No, no. I think it'd be good to get it off my chest." He said, blowing a belated breath of hot air from his mouth.

"My first year here, Hogwarts was guarding the Philosopher's Stone, but Voldemort had also possessed our Defence Teacher and was using him to hoodwink the defences to restore himself to life."

"I take it you stopped him?"

"Yeah," Harry said, reliving memories he really didn't want to see again. "I got the stone but he got me. Tried to bargain with me. Told me I could see Mum and Dad again. But." He paused for a moment, to grapple with it all.

"But when I refused he wrapped his hands around my neck and tried to strangle me. But when I touched him, he turned to ash. I watched him crumble to ash under the weight of my Mother's protection."

The last thing she left me.

She remained silent, only reaching a hand, her newly scarred one to clasp his own.

Fresh scar tissue met one another in the middle and inexplicably, it was the most intimate gesture they'd ever shared.

"But what I'm trying to say is," He paused again, "All we can do, all we can ever do, is go forward. I was shocked, I was scared. But for the good of everyone around us, we have to move on. On to the next adversity, until there's no more - until we're safe."

"That day may not come to pass, Harry." She said, "What then?"

"I won't stop fighting until it does."

"Haven't you become quite the politician?" She smiled weakly, "Two speeches and saving a life in one day, when shall you run for office?"

"I sounded like a fool." He said bitterly, "I'm surprised anyone listened, I worded it like a child."

"You sounded like someone who was trying to cope with how terrible life could be, trying to make sense of it all. Your phrasing was nothing, your passion was everything."

Even as he sat there to console her, she offered her own in turn.

They could not grapple with their own woes, but grappling with each other's was easy.

They continued joking, laughing about life, what else could they do? She shared stories of Gabrielle and their childhood, he shared his own of Ron and Hermione and their adventures. Of things to keep their mind from drifting into the day's events - to keep their spirits high.

They talked until the fever wrought slumber invited her into its embrace.

She drifted off peacefully and he remained in the chair. The hour was late and he too grew tired. But he thought back on the day, even if that's what they had tried so desperately to avoid. Of blood shared and plans concocted. Of joyful smiles and happier times.

Harry realised a truth he'd been putting off for some time, his mantra no longer worked. The shield had fallen, where he had a defence against her, now? They were just words.

I'm falling for Fleur.

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