Author's Note: Hello, thank you for reading my story. Please see my profile for information regarding canon compliance and a general timeline of my interconnected stories. While they are not necessary to read, my short stories add flavor and context.
Thank you to the Harry/Fleur Discord server for all the time and effort you've put into encouraging me and editing my story. Special gratitude must be expressed to HonorverseFan, DavidTheAthenai, Ajjaxx, gomez36000, and M.J. Bradley. I'm terribly glad to have met you and your stories.
I own none of the rights, nor make money, nor gain fame, or anything else from Harry Potter.
Chapter 10: Obsessions and Answers
Pain lanced up his side as he willed his body upwards into a crouching position from his earlier slump against the floor.
The cutting curse Dolohov had hit him with was a nasty, quick affair expertly weaved amongst the heavier but deadlier dark curses. The bastard wasn't a champion duelist and lieutenant of Voldemort for nothing, Harry thought dryly as he spat the filmy blood congealing in his mouth onto the floor.
He had seen Dolohov in action numerous times, the fanatic had a penchant for fighting that bordered on zeal. To this day, it wasn't clear to Harry if the Death Eater had joined Voldemort's cause because of any reason other than it allowing him to fight and kill to his twisted heart's content.
Not that it mattered much anymore, he supposed, dragging himself to his feet. Warm blood pooled underneath the hand clenched tight to his side, a gaping numbness slowly spreading from the open wound.
He allowed himself a pained groan as he bent to retrieve the wand a few feet from where he'd landed, a grimace stealing itself across his face as the aches of his beaten and over-used body strained to fulfil the motion.
A mumbled first-aid spell staunched the blood but he wasn't skilled enough to attempt closing the wound itself. Let alone the disinfectant charm he undoubtedly needed.
He licked his chapped lips. The air was dry, as though all the moisture in it had evaporated to the point of non-existence.
His eyes drifted to Fleur who was panting in the centre of the room, her body's overheated state cooling. Steam rose from her skin as feathers shrunk to disappear beneath lily-white skin once more.
Some of the quills, however, fell like pliable shards of glass upon the ground. Everywhere they landed, plant life bloomed. Mossy lichen, creeping tendrils, and tiny buds making themselves known in isolated heaps across the stone floor.
Her body trembled but the tense posture she held herself up with signalled the dangerous, territorial nature of the Veela was still struggling against the rationale of the witch.
Rather than two distinct halves, Fleur's heritage was intrinsically woven within her own nature. She was a witty, confident, and kind woman that was at times vain and possessive.
Right now, that instinct was focused on him and, as the trigger, any sudden movement on his part could send Fleur careening back over the edge, which was especially dangerous in her exhausted state.
The air trembled with latent energy and a memory of unbearable heat as he steadily trudged towards her. His progress was slow, in part, due to his protesting knee and because of his conscious effort to not make sudden movements that could be perceived as him running away from her.
Fleur was a tactile lover, something that had taken him some getting used to with his childhood conditioning, but it had become an expression of adoration he particularly enjoyed. It was a claim of sorts, he knew. The way she gravitated towards him, her hand never far from his body especially while in the company of others. Now that proprietorial side of her would be intensified to the utmost degree… and teetering on the knife's edge of predator and prey.
At his approach from behind, she cocked her head to the side, her ear perking up at the sound of his limping footfalls. He paused to let her consider for a moment. A turn of her head caused unnaturally bright blue eyes to bore into him. They held an unfathomable need in them that boiled like magma beneath the sea.
They looked at each other motionless for a time before the allure swamping the air shuddered, calling out to the musical hum of his own magic, indelibly attuned to her own.
He stepped forward.
With a raised, trembling hand he brushed the sweaty, silver hair from her forehead, placing it delicately behind her ears. She remained silent, her eyes gazing unblinkingly into his own. Her lips were still yellow and ever-so-slightly elongated. He licked his own and watched as her eyes snapped to the tracing motion of his tongue. The inquisitive, wanton expression of her irises caused him to shudder.
With a domineering, fast jerk, she pulled him by the tie so she could crush her mouth to his. He allowed her to take what she needed from him, passively accepting the cuts her sharp, hard lips inflicted upon his. When she pulled back from her greedy feast, her eyes were darker and more familiar. They flickered down to his bloody, bruised lips but no remorse or regret filled either him or her.
She brushed a thumb against his mouth. He trailed his hands up from her waist where they'd fallen naturally during her kiss to brush up her uncovered spine.
A groan to their left startled them out of their reunion. Blood suffused his wife's neck and rushed to her face as she realized her state of undress. He turned, shielding her from view with his body and, without hesitation, handed her his wand, which she took gratefully. A summoning charm brought a tablecloth to her hands which she deftly transfigured into a makeshift white gown that was hurriedly slipped over her head.
Harry craned his head to the side so he could watch Desmond come to his senses. The man moaned against the ground, rolling to the side so he could prop himself up. The Ward team leader scrubbed a hand against his face before peering confusedly about the room. His shaggy black hair hanging in his face, partially obscuring green eyes.
"Wha-" the man's first attempt at speaking was interrupted by a charred cough. "What happened?" He asked huskily, throat no doubt burned slightly by the superheated air.
"Fleur saved us," Harry responded shortly, still protecting her from view as she continued cooling off.
Desmond hacked another guttural cough in reply.
Harry turned his attention back to Fleur, who had buried her head into his chest as she inhaled deeply, soothing herself with his scent and beating heart.
"Fleur," he murmured, stroking her long platinum hair. "We need to move, we don't know if there are any of his associates around."
She nodded mutely against him.
"Desmond, do you have anywhere we can go to regroup? I need to get in contact with the Ministry and my family."
They couldn't risk being attacked again, not in this state. Trying to reach the Floo atrium would be a death sentence if the Death Eater had comrades there to cut off their most obvious avenue of escape.
The man staggered to his feet and, with a shocked expression on his face, surveyed the scorched room instead of answering.
Harry couldn't blame him. The place had been ravaged by a fierce duel before being subjected to a Veela's supernova. Blue walls had been singed black in places, while decorations and furniture had been melted partially or completely disintegrated. Scorch marks marred the floor, stretching out from the heat's point of origin to narrow as they neared the room's perimeter.
A charred lump lay against one such wall, unmoving and unrecognizable. A mass was raised in front of the prone form from which a smouldering half of a wand jutted outwards.
He didn't stop to consider his enemy's fate for long. Instead, he guided Fleur who was still clutched tight to him around so he could face her coworker fully.
Dredging up what small authority he could from his own burned lungs, he spoke in his formal 'Auror' voice, hoping to grab Desmond's attention. "We need a place to go," he stated firmly, "do you have something in mind?"
The man peered at him blankly for a moment before Harry's hopes were rewarded. The haze cleared from the man's eyes and he responded.
"Yeah, my office is down the hall. It has a scrying mirror and everything." The man straightened his posture, a modicum of confidence returning with his awareness. "If we head there we can use the protective enchantments I've already drawn and the scrying mirror will let us get a signal past the anti-apparation and portkey wards to get help."
Harry nodded. "Lead the way."
The journey was short and uneventful. All three moved gradually from a combination of aching muscles and weariness. Fleur's near-catatonic state worried him but Apolline had mentioned the drain a Veela would experience from what amounted to short-circuiting their innate flame magic by pushing it out upon the waves of unleashed allure.
Regardless, he needed to get her somewhere safe so she could regain control. A significantly more pressing concern was his children's safety. He needed to reach Ron and Hermione to assure himself of Fayette and Lili's well-being. Notifying the Ministry could come after.
A stray thought had been tugging at Harry's mind during the walk and the sudden realization nearly bowed him over.
Mal-Chin, Naba, and Almeida!
Had they made it out? Were they victims of the sudden attack too? Mal-Chin could likely handle himself, he was an ICW agent. But Naba?
Cursing under his breath, Harry moved forwards. There was nothing he could do now, the priority was to get in contact with someone who could help them all. Running off and leaving Fleur in this state was not an option.
Desmond's office was cluttered. From what Harry had been told, the man was a known workaholic and the small bed shoved into the corner only proved that. Scribbles of archaic runes and arithmantic expressions were etched into the walls and corners of the room. There were towering hills and valleys made of papers and books, with half-eaten and forgotten plates of food strewn about the place. It was evident the Ward and Oath Researcher practically lived in his office.
"Sorry about the mess," Desmond muttered as he began locking and securing the door behind them. "It has been a rough few weeks."
"For us all," Harry agreed. "The scrying mirror?"
"On my desk at the far wall, password is 'Arbutus.'"
Harry nodded and pulled Fleur towards the center of the room, her hand clasped tight in his.
"Are there any other entrances or exits to this room?"
"No, we should be safe here."
Harry began to turn as the sound of locusts swarmed the air, their buzzing cacophony the only warning before orange light began crackling throughout the room. The light was overwhelmingly bright, piercing through Harry's hurriedly closed eyes.
"What the hell-" Harry began to say to Desmond, only to stop at the man's facial expression. Confused, he turned around only to have his brain stall from the sight that had so arrested the researcher.
Both men looked on in horror as Fleur began seizing, dropping to the floor with a harsh thud. Her muscles spasmed in horrific jerks as her limbs bent unnaturally, their contortions vomit-inducing. Her feet chattered against the floor in a pitter-patter of rapid movement. Bloody spittle foamed at her mouth as her eyes rolled up into her head.
Harry didn't understand what he was looking at, his heart atrophied in his chest as tunnel vision overtook him. All he could see was her.
And she was dying.
Thought fled his brain but instinct turned him, a predator seeking prey. The grim monster in his chest recognized the shocked look on Desmond's face. It was an odd thing, an expression that showed a sort of disturbed astonishment but not surprise. The divide was thin but recognizable to anyone who knew either Hermione or Fleur. People who became bewildered by what they've calculated to happen not occurring how they planned.
Harry jerked forward, his feet eating the distance between himself and Desmond before the man's unfocused eyes could flit between the now prone form of Fleur on the ground to Harry's advance.
He cocked back his arm and slugged the Spellweaver in the jaw, knocking the man to the ground.
The impact jarred the man enough that his attention turned towards his assailant, his eyes burning a hateful glow.
And it clicked.
Emerald eyes. So oddly recognizable, so stupefyingly familiar.
Because they were his own. His mother's. Lili's.
He felt drained. His muscles responded sluggishly to his movements, his brain felt feverish and slow even as his thoughts raced. His revelation left him open.
Harry lunged to the side, barely making it behind the desk before a curse scorched the wall behind where he'd been standing.
Enraged, Desmond's curses were powerful and fast but his anger caused his wand movements and gestures to be over-blown and wide, ultimately slowing his casting time. Luckily for Harry, it was also reducing the man's accuracy.
A spell arced over the desk to splatter across the wall which melted upon contact with the acidic yellow light. The man had a rather esoteric arsenal at his disposal, Harry begrudgingly admitted as he considered his options.
He was fighting fatigue from his strenuous battle against Dolohov and his magic was strained, stretched to the breaking point from overuse. It came to him too slow, reluctant even, to be much use in a fast-paced duel. Nor could he discount Desmond's skill, which was largely unknown to him. The man was a verifiable genius in his field and both Professor McGonagall and Flitwick had proven that even academics could be ruthlessly proficient with a wand.
Fleur lay too still against the cold floor in the centre of the room. Time was not his. He couldn't wait for his magic to rouse from its fitful,weakened state. Even if he could keep dodging his enemies' attacks, there was no telling how long his wife would last without medical attention.
Which leaves winging it, Harry thought to himself.
"Ah, well, I've never been much of a planner," he muttered under his breath before surging to the right as the desk was hit by a Bombarda spell.
He scrambled to the wall where a row of towering bookshelves were located and, giving a great heave, caused the shelves to careen forward, smashing against the floor and scattering books across the ground.
The nice thing about magical literature, he mused, was their enchanted bindings.
He parried a curse by batting it away with an ornately gilded tome, which smoked at the collision.
Thanking his seeker skills honed by Auror training, he dropped his abused shield as he continued running forward.
An array of sickly-coloured spells lanced towards him, he slid to the floor so they passed overhead, nabbing a new book in the process, which he used to smash away another spell sent his way upon rising.
But not enough.
Desmond's wand tip shone green and Harry knew what would come next, and no magical book would be enough to block it.
"Avada Kedavra!" The shout resounded like a gunshot between them.
Harry made to buckle to his knees in a last-ditch effort to dodge the Killing Curse only to still.
Both men were once again united in shock as the spelllight faded away from the wand's point.
A choked laugh bubbled up from Harry's chest, born of relief and surprise. "You don't have what it takes," he goaded, eyes alight. A savage glee twisting his face into a snarling mockery.
His legs tensed and released. A final gambit, a mad sprint during this slim window of opportunity.
A curse had midway left Desmond's lips when Harry crashed into his chest. With a whoosh the air left the man's lungs as he smashed to the floor.
Desmond's wand arm raised but was smacked away contemptuously as Harry began to break his fists against the man's head.
"Never used an Unforgivable before, have you? You have to mean it!" Harry crowed cruelly, mind blanking as he repeated words shouted at him years ago. Unthinkingly, he continued to vent the pain and uncertainty of months through his raining blows.
His knuckles ached and split. Blood from his hands mingled with the gush of crimson squirting from a ruined nose. The man had long stopped moving but he continued to single-mindedly shatter the man who had dared harm his family.
Distantly, the clinical voice of Auror Longbottom called out to him. Some rubbish about anymore would kill the man. He disregarded it and continued striking. A different voice, however, cut through the haze of determined, enraptured rage.
It was his own voice, beating against Occlumency shields raised so tightly that his own consciousness seemed to have been squeezed out in an attempt to filter out noise from his instinctive reactions honed via muscle memory from war and grueling Auror training.
His hands stilled.
As though feeling a different person's pain, his hand throbbed. Looking down, Harry absently perused the damaged knuckles on his hands. The acknowledgement of the teeth embedded into his skin caused the pain to sting with a ringing reality.
He plucked one tooth out and winced as his hand began to tremble as adrenaline seeped out of him.
Harry made to get up but made sure to snatch the wand that had rolled from Desmond's nerveless fingers before snapping it in twain and tossing the halves over his shoulder as he stood.
His steps towards Fleur were quick but filled with trepidation.
Fear, heavy and clotted hung upon his tongue. Flashes of two different schools flickered before his eyes. One hewn of old stone, battered and broken. Another of wood and glass, burned to ash. Two different fears now coalesced.
She was cold. Terribly, offensively cold. He picked her up. She did not move.
His steps as he left the office were heavy and haggard. Old, he felt so dreadfully old. He did not feel the stone of tile underfoot as he walked, but the crackle of pine needles and loose dirt.
It felt like a march of ghosts. Of Death.
A blur. That was all Harry could remember of him half-carrying, half-dragging Fleur out from the Edrith Institute.
Each step weighed down by her cold, still body felt like a drowning man continuing to swim downwards.
He didn't remember much except for the fear. Overpowering his senses and constricting his airway like a snake. Nor did he remember arriving at St. Mungos. But Fleur's international portkey in his pocket answered the how.
He hated hospitals. Hated them growing up, as an Auror, and especially now. Harry had only a smattering of good memories for hospitals and they all involved the births of nieces and nephews.
White. Everything was so white and sterile. He stared unblinkingly at the wall of the private waiting room he'd been shunted into. The emergency healer's threat to have him stunned if he didn't let them take Fleur finally registering before he'd allowed their hands to part.
She hadn't woken up.
The door to his left burst open, revealing Ron shoving his way past the Aurors on guard duty outside.
Within moments, Harry was pulled to his feet and crushed into an embrace so reminiscent of Mrs Weasley and Hermione he could have cried.
Ron's arms remained wrapped around his shoulders, supporting Harry's weight as he slumped against his brother. Gratitude simmered deep beneath the numbing fear that so coated his insides like oily grime. That gratitude only increased as Ron sat by his side in the uncomfortable, hard-backed chairs awaiting news.
The red-head didn't ask questions or make Harry speak, just kept his hand tightly clasped to Harry's own in support.
Ron's hand was warm and rough. Vine-like scars wrapped around his forearms and up his shirt-sleeve from the brains their fifth year and interlaced with new scars from working as an Auror and joke shop proprietor. They steadied Harry's rocking heart, because these hands had helped hold him up since the age of eleven. It was an anchor in the rolling, dark seas that pressed against the scrap of sanity he had left, cocooned through walls of Occlumency.
Eventually, the door opened again to let in new worried faces, the Weasleys showing up en masse. Some spoke and others didn't, but they all eventually fell silent as they awaited news.
Through it all, Ron never let go of his hand.
It wasn't until the Delacours arrived that Harry felt compelled to move. The stricken face of Apolline and Gabrielle's terrified anger were painful, but nothing to the flinty stone of Mattise.
Trudging forward, Harry refused to meet the eyes of anyone but his father-in-law, who watched his approach utterly devoid of expression.
With the sound of a glacier cracking, his mental barriers broke under the pressure, and he was swept into the sea.
"I failed you." He babled. "I failed her," the words were gasped with what small air he could heave into suffocating lungs.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry," apologies spewed out like blood from an artery, only to congeal into puddles of insufficiency and defeat.
Without breaking the granite wall of his face, Matisse reached out and grasped Harry by the shoulder. For a moment the man seemed to waver, his grip tight enough to cause pain, his arm straight and locked. For a moment, neither man seemed sure if Matisse would push Harry away or bring him close.
But then the moment passed, and Harry found himself hugged on all sides by the Delacour family.
The hours continued to crawl by in the small waiting room of St. Mungos. Small updates had been given on Fleur's condition periodically but no definitive answers had been offered.
Apolline had reached out to the nearest Aerie to find a Veela elder available to travel. Whether it was to see if the elder could help heal Fleur or be ready to perform burial rites, Harry was unsure. And he was too afraid to ask.
In the early hours of morning, the Veela elder arrived.
Zlata swept into the small room like a queen entering a throne room, rather than a tiny waiting space. She kissed Apolline on the cheek as a greeting and did the same for Gabrielle, who blinked in surprise at the showing of respect.
Then, without deigning to look at anyone else, she waltzed towards Harry, who stood up hastily. Her cobalt eyes scorched him as they trailed from his shoes and up his body, before finally resting on his weary face. He didn't know what she was looking for or if she found it. But the Veela did speak after gazing at him.
"Take me to her."
Harry blinked. "They are operating on her, they won't let-"
"I didn't ask what these healers would or would not allow," Zlata snapped. "I asked you to take me to her."
Dazed, Harry nodded and motioned for the woman to follow him. Matisse's lips were pulled into a thin line as they passed him towards the waiting room door.
After exiting the room, Harry was briefly unsure where to go. The rush here had been so blurry and distraught that he couldn't remember the way he'd come. But, thankfully, an Auror posted outside the door pointed down the left hallway without prompting.
Nodding his thanks, he began walking to the room indicated by Auror Boot.
The brown door seemed to grow larger and more foreboding the closer he came, as though sensing his trepidation of what awaited him behind its concealing frame. Likewise, the hallway stretched with each step, making the journey longer in his mind than reality.
Zlata seemed to suffer no such compunction, as she impatiently passed his faltering feet to wrench open the door and glide into the room bustling with healers.
Cries of "you can't be in here" and questions demanding her identity were ignored as she pushed her way through the teeming masses in order to reach the bed where Fleur lay.
Harry's heart and mind seemed to scream at him to not look at her face, to not see her pale, lifeless countenance. They rebelled at the threat of pain such grief would inflict but, as though drawn by magnets, his eyes lifted.
She was still beautiful. lying there as though sleeping. Her face unmarred by the magically-wrought devastation that had rampaged internally. Her cheeks were pale and she remained motionless but nothing seemed to indicate injury. Somehow, that was almost worse. It spoke of the unknown, the absence of answers only prompting more questions. So unlike the gouge wound he had, which had been hastily healed before being placed into the infernal waiting room.
Zlata stood over Fleur by her bedside, the feathers erupting from her shoulders and neck enough to quiet the clamoring healers. Without any further prompting, she began to sing. The language was unknowable and inhuman, the guttural cadence too primal and mystic to constitute speech. Her hands roamed the form of Fleur, prodding with fingers and thumb, dipping along the recesses and curves, surveying the younger Veela in entirety.
A new voice made itself known, a golden-haired woman speaking to the head-healer, introducing herself and Zlata as Veela tsilytelʹ. The new arrival seemed older than Apolline but younger than Zlata, her face as inscrutably beautiful as most of her kind yet for a single wrinkle upon her brow. Without pause, she began to ask medical questions about the patient's state and what procedures and spellwork had been attempted thus far.
Harry stood motionless, only dimly hearing the words being bandied around him, his attention wholly consumed by Fleur.
He wasn't sure how much time had passed before Zlata stepped in front of him again, her gaze snapping his concentration.
"She is stable. For now. Tell your family." The sentences were clipped and strained with exhaustion but eased him like no balm ever could.
Turning, he looked one last time at Fleur, before nursing staff pushed him back out the door.
Hannah, Dean Thomas, and other friends began to trickle in throughout that next day. Some would stay briefly and others settled in to stay. He was thankful for their company but he knew his heart wouldn't rest until Fleur awoke.
Gabrielle eventually left to go check on Lili and Fayette, who were being cared for by Andromeda. Hagrid had apparently gone straight to Andromeda's house after hearing the news of the attack and remained there even though it meant he'd missed consecutive classes at Hogwarts. The half-giant had shrugged it off, saying simply that Headmistress McGonagall had taken over his classes for him and that end of term was rapidly approaching anyways.
So many people had been coming and going the last couple days that Harry barely reacted when the door opened once again. The voice of Neville, however, had his eyes snapping open from where he was resting slouched against the wall, his back needing a break from the hard chairs.
Neville stood above him, somber face unreadable. Hannah chewed on her lip next to her husband, worried brown eyes darting between the two men.
"There is something I think you need to see," Neville said flatly, his facial expression remaining guarded.
Wearily, Harry nodded before reaching out a hand so his friend could haul him upwards from his reclined position against the hospital wall.
"Be careful, you two," Hannah said, twisting her ring on her finger.
"We will, love," her husband replied, tone softening minutely. She pecked him on the cheek as Neville led Harry out of the room, worried eyes of the occupants following their trail wordlessly.
They walked down the winding hallways of St. Mungos and reached the lobby before Auror Longbottom spoke.
"I hesitate to bring you along but Kingsley expressly authorized it, so…" Neville trailed off.
"Safe to assume it has something to do with Desmond?"
"Aye. We've been using the Veritaserum on him for interrogation, given the nature of the crimes and the special dispensation from the ICW. Because of that, we've learned a lot. Including where the bastard lives."
"Where are we going, Neville?"
"England. He lives not too far away from Diagon Alley."
"Why would he relocate here from Poland?"
"Best we can tell is so that he could be closer to his target."
His fists clenched tight enough to make his knuckles pop. His fault. This was all his damn fault. Yet another deranged murderer out to get him, misery and loss swarming around him like the snow outside.
Stepping into the frigid morning air, Harry stretched. People milled about him in a cluttered fashion and reporters shoved and pushed their way forward, trying to get around the Magical Law Enforcement blockade surrounding St. Mungos.
"Harry, is it true you've slain the last Death Eater?"
"Did you break out of your enthrallment and attack Fleur Delacour?"
"Are the rumors about Fleur being attacked by your Veela coven mistresses true?"
"Is the creature dead?"
Neville slammed his hand on Harry's wrist that had spasmed towards his wand. Without a word, the Auror Apparated them both to Desmond's home.
Harry rubbed his hand ruefully, refusing to meet his friend's eyes.
A young man in gray Auror colours trotted up to meet them as Ministry personnel swarmed about the crime scene.
"Auror Longbottom, Mr. -" a blink, "blimey, you're Harry Potter."
"Thank you, Vickles, that will be all," Neville announced.
The two men left the stunned junior-Auror behind, making their way up the stone steps leading to a dilapidated home in the slums off Knockturn Alley.
They stopped at the landing, Neville glancing his way apologetically. "Just a warning, what is in there… well, it is rough, to be sure."
"I've seen rough before."
"Not like this," Neville muttured before opening the door.
The room was cluttered, waste strewn about the place carelessly. Opened rubbish bins reeked of rotting refuse and the floor was so overtaken by trash and random items that only a single, narrow walkway was viable. It snaked its way through the heaps of detritus, leading to other rooms within the house.
Neville cast a Bubblehead charm on himself and gestured for Harry to do the same. The two men, now safe from the rank odor, made their way to a room on the far right, where Aurors and Cataloguers were huddled. Upon squeezing his way through the law enforcement staff, Harry realized what Neville had wanted him to see.
Plastered on every inch of the four bedroom walls were pictures of Fleur. From huge, blown-up posters of her to scraps of newspapers with torn edges. Images of his wife littered every available space in the dusty room.
Disgust detonated in his chest at the shrine.
Upon his entry, the magically-animated but forlorn and depressed-looking Fleurs gave strained smiles.
Harry felt an overpowering urge to be sick. Neville, seeing his face turn green, conjured a bag for Harry to dry-heave into. A distant ringing noise vibrated in his skull. His wife. His beautiful, wonderful, brilliant wife had been obsessed and drooled over by an evil, freak of a man. How long had this been going on? How long had this man been plotting? Staring at Fleur from across the room? Delighted in his twisted, possessive fantasy?
"I know it is hard to see Harry, but I thought you needed to. In order to understand." Neville gave him a commiserating look. "It is difficult to believe otherwise."
Harry wiped his mouth on the back of his sleeve. "Yeah. I'm fine."
Auror Longbottom took his measure for a beat before nodding. "It appears as though Desmond had been following Fleur since she first started at the Edrith Institute. His mental decline seems to have worsened overtime."
Neville pointed to a wall of bookshelves. "You might recognize those."
"Fuck." He did.
The entire wall had been overtaken by a library dedicated to the Veela bodice-ripper novels that had been spewed out over the years after he and Fleur had married. Harry's gaze flickered over to the bookshelves, laden with literature on Veela. There were speculative gossip rags, Veela bond romance novels, and even Magical Creature textbooks.
"From what we can gather here and what he has said, it appears as though he bought into all the rubbish said in those books about Veela. In his delusions, Desmond convinced himself that you have been keeping Fleur prisoner. That you forced a Veela bond onto her and tore her from her true love… him."
Giving himself time to process that, Harry pivoted to a different topic. "The eyes?" He asked quietly, still perusing the books on display.
"He changed the pigmentation to green with some fairly painful transfiguration."
"So an experiment changing the colour was just a convenient excuse."
"Looks that way."
"And Dolohov? Were they not working together after all?"
"Actually they were. Desmond confessed that he has been allied with Dolohov since August. He knew he couldn't fight you head-to-head so he found someone who could."
"Supposedly, Desmond orchestrated the attack on the school in order to capture Lili. He claims he never intended to harm her… well, he thinks she is his daughter, actually. He kept mumbling about how their eyes match."
"Fuck." Harry repeated, for lack of words to say.
His friend grunted in agreement. "Anyways, Dolohov probably got tired of listening to Desmond's delusions, which is why he tried to off his partner-in-crime at the Institute."
"And I saved him." The bitterness coated his tongue, running down his throat like Basilisk venom. The acid of his guilt burned caustic holes in his lungs.
"You didn't know."
At Harry's silence, Neville blinked, his face hardening. "You didn't know, Harry," he repeated. "Don't blame yourself, he duped all of us."
Stuffing his hands in his pockets, Harry turned away to stare at the twisted collage made out of his wife's pictures. When he spoke, his voice broke from the strain. He coughed, rubbing his throat in jerky motions. "What could have caused him to slide so deep into this obsessive delusion?"
Neville seemed reluctant to switch to a new topic, but answered anyways. "Well, the wizarding world is pretty far behind muggles when it comes to the study of the psyche. But a muggleborn Mind-Healer at St. Mungo's called it erotomania. Obsessive stalkers tend to have it. Doesn't seem to be caused by any spell damage, least not that we can find."
"The nullification ward was created just so he could erase the Veela bond and free Fleur, right? Even though there is no such thing. He believed the tripe being sold in these books, let it fuel his obsession."
"He was the hero in his mind."
"Sick," Harry retorted bitterly. "He's sick. The mad bastard helped commit genocide just to have a test sample on magical beings."
"Yeah, seems to be the case. He used Polyjuice to look like Ernst and had the poor sod killed afterwards."
"So Ernst was just another convenient cover?"
"Mhm. Dolohov and Desmond were going to nab Fleur the morning Ophenna was murdered. She arrived first and Dolohov killed her. While they were cleaning up their crime, Ernst walked in. So, they improvised."
"Not exactly the work of criminal masterminds."
Neville shrugged. "They weren't, really. And that was why it was so confusing back at the Hogsthorpe attack. This always seemed so amateurish. Dolohov was a deft hand with a wand but never the strategist, and Desmond was just a researcher with a manic obsession and a totally clean record."
"And the strange yellow spell?"
"Ah, yeah, turns out your sharp instincts haven't left you. It was a magical oath Desmond tinkered with. Bastardized more like. He found a way to circumvent the tenet of spelled vows requiring conscious and willful breach. The men were low-level thugs he got drunk and hired. They were sworn to secrecy and Desmond managed to tweak the vow so them being 'captured' constituted unveiling the secret. Nasty spell work. Still not clear how it all functions, but I leave that to the Unspeakables."
Neville shot him a nervous look. "If you don't mind me asking mate, but what went wrong with the ward? It didn't cause such a reaction in Werewolves."
Harry grimaced, pieces sliding into place. He'd been so blind.
"Veela are different from Werewolves. Or, really, I should say that Werewolves are different from most magical beings. Their transformation is the result of a disease, the wolf-side that lives in them is distinct and separate. Veela are not some duality of human mixed with creature. Through and through, they are a singular being. The ward didn't erase the magical side of her like it did with the werewolves, it instead was attempting to nullify her entire being."
"She was dying Neville," Harry choked out, the words dying on his tongue as horrific possibilities set his body trembling. "Any longer and she would've-"
A warm arm wrapped around Harry's shoulders. "It's ok, mate. She's okay."
The steady and quiet soothing helped steady Harry who slowly came back to himself. His world felt off-kilter, imbalanced.
"Why didn't Desmond just try to abduct Fleur when they worked together?" Harry inquired, his tone subdued.
"Terry Boot reckons he was waiting for the ward to be finished so he could erase the brainwashing from the bond. Oddly logical, considering his delusions."
Harry's blood ran thick and hot even as his stomach turned to ice. "So much destruction, death, and pain. For one man's broken belief?"
Neville shrugged before clapping a hand to Harry's shoulder. "That is how it always is mate. The important thing is that we are there to pick up the pieces."
Four full days passed before Fleur woke from her coma.
Three days had gone by before Harry and others had been allowed into her room to stand vigil by her bedside. Blood had returned to her cheeks but the stillness still frightened Harry. She had always been such an active sleeper, now she dreamed without so much as a twitch or sound.
Dawn had just broken over the horizon, its rays of light piercing through the dreary clouds overhead like knights riding their brilliant steeds against the rain threatening to pour down upon the miserable heads of Britain.
Harry had been holding her hand when he'd felt her fingers pulse against his palm, jolting him fully awake. Staring, he'd swept the hair from her eyes, fingertips light as butterfly wings on the delicate skin of her face.
Minutes passed by and he'd resigned himself to waiting another day before her eyelids had fluttered open. Cyan eyes peered up at him, half-crouched over her prone form. They seemed to see nothing in their blank, dull stare until a spark of recognition flitted across his wife's face.
"Harry?" The voice croaked out his name with none of the lilt and accent he'd come to expect. The loving disappearance of the 'H' in his name was so normal to him that hearing her say it was startling.
His hand gripped hers tighter as he smiled beatifically down at her. "Hey, Sunshine."
Eyes raked down his face in roving patterns before moving to inspect their surroundings. "Where-" she began only for him to interject calmly.
"St. Mungos. You've been asleep for a while but you're ok. We are ok."
"Safe with Andromeda, Hagrid, and Gabrielle."
"Why?" The words caught him off-guard briefly before he understood.
"The Nullification Ward, you got hit by it."
"I can't-" suddenly, her eyes flew wide as panic set in. She tried to sit up and move but her weakened body couldn't support her weight and she flopped back onto the bed.
"What is it?" Harry barked worriedly, moving his hands onto her shoulders to keep her down.
"Harry, I-I can't feel it, I can't feel it." The babbling was frightening, Fleur's eyes rolling in her skull as her gaze slammed about the room hysterically.
"What can't you feel?"
"It," she stressed. "I can't feel it." Suddenly she turned still as stone, tears running down her face. "I can't change."
Blood. He'd bitten his lip so hard the skin had torn. "You can't change?"
"Where are my feathers?" She asked sobbing, "why am I so cold?"
"Zlata!" He shouted the name with all the force he could muster, the sound going off like a gunshot in the quiet morning air. "Zlata!"
The door burst open to reveal the elder Veela who swept him to the side so she could hover over Fleur. The women conversed but Harry couldn't hear anything, his mind spinning too fast for words to make sense. He kept trying to latch onto some tether but the sheer loss was too much for him, his soul ached at what Fleur might have had ripped from her.
Eventually, his focus sharpened. He needed to be strong. For her.
So, instead of stumbling away, he moved back to Fleur's side, opposite Zlata. And, taking his wife's hand in his, he listened attentively to the Veela speak.
He didn't know what this could mean or what awaited them. But he knew, with a resoluteness bordering on mania, that they would face it together.
As a family.
The first few days home were hard. People came and went to offer comfort and food, but never stayed long. Fleur just didn't have the energy to be around guests for extended periods of time.
Apolline, Matisse, and Gabrielle stayed for the first few days and took care of the girls while Fleur and Harry recuperated from their ordeal. But, eventually, they too took their leave, sensing, perhaps, Fleur's need to be alone.
She was quiet now. The vibrancy of her life noticeably absent from their home but in a way different than after Canavar. This was not grief, it was too numb, too dead. A sort of shocked mourning had overtaken the witch at the loss of the Veela.
No feathers could be prompted to sprout or lips to yellow. She became cold easily, an oddity compared to her supernaturally high temperatures. Now, her body temperature was slightly cooler than a human's and her health suffered for it.
Harry's ring had gone cold as well. The platinum band seemed lifeless and incapable of warming even by his own body heat. It sat on his finger as a heavy reminder.
Fleur had trouble walking most days, her legs weak and unsure like a newborn foal. She had taken to sitting on her yellow loveseat, swaddled in blankets, so she could look outside at the snowfall while the fire crackled in the hearth.
No one spoke of it, but the same fear weighed on everyone's brow. That all that was Veela in Fleur had died, wiped away and vanished by the nullification of magic. Witches and wizards were conduits, they didn't hold magic inherently within. Magical beings, on the other hand, were made of magic.
It had been stated numerous times that it was miraculous she had lived at all.
Zlata believed that whatever the ward did harmed Fleur's magic so completely as a Veela that the magic needed to recuperate, similar to her physical self. She hoped that, in time, the Veela magic would reform. But her pinched eyes and twisted mouth underlined how unsure she was.
The days passed and the snow became heavier.
Harry finally mustered up the courage to confront Fleur, her malaise only adding to the emotion that had so clogged his throat since she came home.
"Fleur?" He spoke her name into the night, sweet and soft, the syllables danced on the air.
She looked at him from her dresser, eyes no longer reflecting light like they used to.
He patted the bed before him, revealing the hairbrush in his hand.
She frowned, a look of apprehension scrawled across her features. He knew why, even understood the mask she had worn was to protect herself. But it couldn't be allowed to continue.
Whether the parts that made her Veela came back or it didn't, that wouldn't change her. It wouldn't change them.
"Come, let me take care of you." He interjected need into his own voice, hoping it would coax her into what she'd been avoiding.
She chewed her lip briefly before nodding, stepping forward and allowing herself to be pulled in between his legs.
He held her briefly, nuzzling her neck with his face before beginning to run the brush through her hair.
One stroke, two, three. The methodical back and forth was calming, the quiet sound of the hairbrush's teeth sliding through her locks the only sound.
She sat ramrod straight for a while, as though unwilling to relax as she used to. But eventually the rhythmic caresses caused her shoulders to droop, and she leaned against his chest.
His brushing paused briefly at her voice. "Yes?"
"Will we be okay?" She sounded so vulnerable in that moment it cracked his heart. As though the slightest breeze could tear all that she was asunder.
He clenched his jaw hard enough to cause a slight cramp in his neck but answered nonetheless. "We are okay," he replied resolutely.
Flashes of her seizing stabbed through his mind. He grit his teeth.
"You're safe now." He didn't know if he was trying to convince her or himself.
"I was… so scared." She trembled. "I only remember bits and pieces. But I was terrified that I'd die, that I'd leave you and the girls behind." Her voice broke on the last word and she turned to bury her head in his chest.
Heavy wracking sobs shuddered through her body as Harry held her, the hairbrush lying forgotten on the bed.
What should he say? He was at a loss. Was the right thing to admit his own fears? Or try and allay her own? How was he supposed to tell her not to worry, to move on, when he couldn't? When the nightmares of her lying so still and cold in his arms kept him from even attempting sleep?
He had almost lost her.
That thought had creeped its way into the most hallowed corner of his mind, ripping out a home for itself to burrow into. It repeated its poisonous message indefinitely, a reminder. A taunt.
So, instead of doing either, he just held his wife close and let her cry into his chest.
He kept holding her even as she hiccuped her last sob and wiped her eyes on his shirt.
And when she lifted her head to meet his gaze he leaned forward to capture her lips for his own. They were soft like silk and the taste of them made his whole world right.
Their lips parted and Fleur stared up at him, her eyes wide and pulsating an energy that spoke of her need. Her need to be reassured, to be reminded that even in the rubble of their lives, everything could be rebuilt as long as they had one another.
"I love you Fleur." Firm, simple, devoted. "We are okay. Our family will be okay. Nothing and no one can come between us."
"I don't want to lose you 'Arry. I don't want to leave you either."
"You won't," he promised.
"How can you be so sure?"
He pressed her hand atop his heart so she could feel his pulse. "I feel it, the truth of it, right here. Everyday it beats stronger for you."
He placed his own hand over her chest. "And see? Yours says the same thing." He smiled at her, willing her to understand past his clumsy words.
And she did, as she always could.
They stayed together that way for a long time until, finally, they fell asleep to the sound of their hearts beating as one. And dreamed.
Yule was fast approaching, which was Fleur's favorite time of year. Yet the hollowness of the Potter home made the festivities seem inconsequential.
Even Lili and Fayette, sensing the discontent and stress from their parents, were subdued and uninterested in the holidays.
That all changed when Mrs Weasley bustled into their home one Monday afternoon.
She was a whirlwind of warm colour, her fiery hair and brown sweater breaking up the doldrum of their days.
Mrs Weasley had exclaimed, in light of Fleur's injuries, that the typical festivities of their Christmas party would be moved to the Potter's home this year. Accordingly, she would be coming by the week leading up to the party in order to clean and get everything ready.
Fleur and Harry had blinked owlishly at the announcement but the cheering Potter girls had left Harry to shrug and Fleur to nod in agreement.
Mrs Weasley pulled Harry into the kitchen in the guise of showing her where the utensils were, but immediately launched into further explanation.
"It does no good to sit around." She said without preamble, bustling to and fro. "Just makes the shock settle into your bones. Normalcy, even during abnormal times, is the ticket." As the older woman spoke, she twisted her kerchief in gnarled hands, a frantic energy imbued in her words and actions. She was uncertain if she had overstepped, it was obvious in her posture, but she was also confident that what had helped her after the War would help them in turn.
Just as Harry had done when she'd made four Treacle Tarts in a single day after he'd woken up from his near comatose state after the battle, or the times when she'd cooked feasts for seemingly no reason, he simply smiled and thanked her.
"It will be good for us and the girls. Thank you, Mrs Weasley."
She gave him a brilliant, if watery, smile in return. "Don't worry, dearie. Everyone is going to pitch in this year, you and yours won't have to lift a finger."
"Sure," he responded easily, knowing he'd find some way to set up when she wasn't looking. "I can't wait."
And so, the Potter household became busy with the work of Mrs Weasley, whose bright personality brought a cheer to the family like a crackling fire given form. Warm and comforting.
Of course, her denying Fleur's every entreaty to help caused some good-natured indignation at first, but even Fleur could not remain unaffected by the older woman's presence.
"You just sit still and rest, dearie," the matronly woman would say, a gleam in her eyes. "You've had a rough time of it, goodness knows."
With a good-natured grumble about her invalid state, Fleur acquiesced. The two women stayed together though, chatting amicably, even if all Fleur could do was watch. Regardless, the time spent with Mrs Weasley lifted the Potter family spirits.
The week rolled on like a snowball downhill, the momentum increasing along with size until, with a sudden impact, it hit.
Christmas morning stole upon the Potter household in a fashion not too dissimilar from years past. Harry was awake in bed when he first heard the patter of little feet. The mischievous giggles of girls who believe themselves sneaky.
Fayette snorted. Lili shushed her younger sister hurriedly outside the bedroom door.
Fleur snored lightly, curled up against his side. Her left leg intertwined with his own, twitching intermittently as she slept.
In the brief, beautiful moment, everything felt normal. It was just another Christmas with the Potter family.
Harry smiled in the gloom, reveling in the thought. A strange sort of nostalgic dejavu sweeping through his insides like a rainstorm, cleaning him of internal dirt and grime that had become caked on throughout the last few months.
The door burst open and twin torpedoes sailed through the air, one golden and giggling madly, the other determined and silver.
They impacted right onto his chest, the mattress absorbing the impact and causing the bed's occupants to bounce upwards. Fleur grumbled and swatted at Harry without opening an eye, her grumpiness on full display.
Normal. Shockingly so.
"Daddy! Presents!" Fayette demanded, patting his cheeks with both hands.
"Merry Christmas, papa!" Lili sang, the joy of the day suffusing her voice and making it light.
"Morning chicklets," he replied with a grin. He jostled Fayette, causing her to fall off her perch of his chest. She tittered and rolled over and sought out her mama.
"Hey Moonbeam," Harry said, leaning over to kiss his daughter's forehead. "Looking forward to the party?"
"Yes," she said seriously. Her green pajamas had a Hippogriff prancing across the front, a gift from her godfather the year before. Her face was scrunched up in thought, evidently a thought was heavy upon her mind.
Lili puffed out her cheeks out in a huff, inadvertently imitating her mother and a blowfish simultaneously. Harry pinched them with a laugh, causing her to exhale gustily.
"What is going on in there?" He questioned, tapping a finger to her forehead.
"Will Uncle George be there?"
Harry's face screwed up in confusion. "Uh, yeah. Should be. Why?"
Before she could reply, Fayette howled that Father Christmas was waiting for them downstairs, before bolting away. Her slippered feet skidding on the smooth wood of their bedroom floor.
Fleur yawned hugely, stretching like a cat. "You heard her," she stated, amusement dripping from her tone. "We need to go quick to catch Father Christmas still putting presents under the tree."
Harry rocked forward onto his feet, lifting Lili up with him so she could nestle into the crook of his arm. She rested her head against his shoulder, curled up against his chest. With a grin tossed over his shoulder at his still snoozy wife, Harry began racing out of the room.
"Last one to the tree is a rotten egg," he shouted cheekily, making good time with his headstart.
A laugh ripped from Lili's throat at her father's antics, and she urged him on all the way downstairs.
Fleur arrived decidedly last, shuffling into the room unhurriedly. Her legs still not functioning as well as she wanted them to.
She ignored his rakish grin, instead taking Lili from his arms and placing her on the floor so she could join her sister, who was busy looking for Father Christmas amidst the brightly wrapped gifts.
"Hey, glad you could join us rotten egg," Harry teased, his eyes roving her form to make sure she was alright.
"Enjoy it while it lasts," Fleur replied snootily, lifting his arm up and wrapping it around herself as she burrowed into his side.
"Good morning," he whispered. "Are you ok?"
"Mhm. I'm happy," came her easy reply. "Even with everything, I-" she faltered before regaining strength. "Mrs Weasley was right, it was good to be normal. Even as a lie."
"Not a lie. Just pretending until we find our way back." He peered down at his wife. "It will get better. We will too."
Fleur met his eyes, vulnerable and small against him. Even so, when she smiled, the rays of it melted him like flares of sunfire.
"Merry Christmas, mon cœur," she crooned, straining on tiptoes to press a kiss to his lips.
"Merry Christmas, Sunshine."
Ron was the first to arrive, lugging in presents behind him for all the nieces and nephews. He greeted Harry with a wry grin and a pat on the back.
"Can't believe mum roped you into hosting this year," he exclaimed jovially.
"Don't be jealous because your mum likes my house more than yours," Harry goaded.
"I long ago accepted you were mum's favourite," Ron responded with a head shake. "But to think it extends to our houses too."
Soon the entire house was abuzz with activity, Harry standing next to the front door so he wouldn't have to keep passing through the crowd in order to reach the door for every ringing bell.
Friends and family piled into the Potter home, bringing with them the comfort of laughter and camaraderie.
Many had children of their own, who frolicked with one another underneath the tangle of adult legs.
Fleur sat like a queen next to the fireplace, bundled in blankets and a heavy sweater. Most of the women were centered around her, talking and crying out in boisterous laughter.
Fayette and her cousins were sitting on the great hearth rug, playing with toys they'd unwrapped that morning. While Lili and the other 'older' kids were raiding the snack table.
A knock on the door signaled a new guest, prompting Harry to let them in from the cold.
Dean Thomas and his wife stood on the landing, large grins stretching across both their faces.
As soon as the pleasantries were made, Dean pulled Harry aside so he could whisper conspiratorially in his ear.
"You remember that Olivia Ansley bird?"
Harry blinked. "Huh?" He peered at his friend. "How do you know about her?"
Dean laughed. "Neville gave me the rundown after she turned up at one of our offices."
Stunned, Harry closed his gaping mouth. "No way."
"Way. Lincolnshire county, showed up with her kid."
"So that's why she seemed so interested in me. She knew who I was."
"Yeah, looks like she was a third year muggleborn when the war started, her family's lived in Skegness for a long time and she is the first magical of their line. She never went back to Hogwarts after Dumbledore died, just lived as a muggle. Then lo and behold, she sees Harry Potter at her local Elementary."
Flabbergasted Harry sputtered, "why didn't she just say something?"
Dean laughed and gave an easy shrug. "Claims she wasn't sure who won the war, or if you weren't in hiding as well." Suddenly, the man sobered up. "Her husband is a real piece of work too. Muggle with a penchant for beating his wife and kid, didn't much like the odd magic occurrences. Anyways, she never tried to reintegrate due to her fear over who was in control of Wizarding Britain. We see it a lot at the Reintegration Offices. Many of the Lost Generation just cut out magic completely and live as muggles, too scared to try and come back."
Dean sighed. "That also is what makes it so hard for us to find them, let them know it is safe again." He shrugged. "Regardless, she finally decided enough was enough, took her kid and ran."
"You mind coming down sometime next week? Talking to her and the boy? It'd go a long way for them to see a familiar face. We're trying to find her Hufflepuff dormmates but…" Dean trailed off. It was unnecessary to say more. Hufflepuff had the highest percentage of muggleborns and, thus, bore the brunt of the deaths.
"Yeah, of course. I'd be glad to come down. It is damn fine work you're doing, Dean," Harry stated vehemently, clapping a hand to his friend's shoulder.
The man shrugged nonchalantly. "Someone had to do it."
"Yeah but you came up with the idea directly after the war and spearheaded the project. Not many of us were capable of getting out of bed in the mornings then, let alone begin searching for all those who were missing." Pride and fondness saturated Harry's voice. He squeezed Dean's shoulder to emphasize his point.
"Don't get all sappy on me now, Harry." Dean laughed. "You did the hard part. Least we can all do is pitch in to clean up."
Before Harry could rebut, Dean's wife called for him to come see Hannah Longbottom's growing belly. With a final grin, the man strutted away towards the huddled group of witches.
"Blimey," Harry reiterated in amazement, the information tumbling on him like a ton of bricks. "Small world."
The doorbell rang, signaling another guest. Although the late hour caused some confusion on who it could be. Opening the door, Harry smiled at the sight of Neville. "Hey mate, didn't know if you'd make it off your shift in time."
"Aye, I wasn't sure either. But lucky I did or Hannah would roast me over the Yule log." The weary Auror chuckled at the image of his sweet wife being so uncharacteristically diabolical.
"Well I'm glad you did-" Harry's words cut off as he noticed movement to the side of the doorframe.
"Oh right, sorry, Harry. I brought someone. Well, he came by my office and asked if I could take him to see you." Neville moved aside so Dennis Creevey could step into the light spilling through the entryway.
The three men stood silently for a while as Harry and Dennis stared at one another while Neville nervously looked between the two.
"Uh, well, I'll just go say hi to the missus then," the man exclaimed, edging around Harry and into the party.
Coming to his senses, Harry moved forward, shutting the door behind him firmly in the process.
"Hey Dennis. Good to see you."
The young man looked like he had seen better days. His eyes were sunken, and his clothes and hair were in disarray. He reeked of alcohol.
"I'm surprised I could get through the wards."
Harry blinked at the odd topic. "I added you and lots of DA members when I first built this house."
"And you kept me, even after…" The man's words derailed but the unspoken didn't need to be heard to be understood.
Clearing his throat, Harry tried to meet the smaller man's eyes. "Yeah, even after." That sunny day next to Colin's grave, the burned flowers, the fists.
Dennis nodded jerkily. Before turning to look at Harry fully for the first time since coming into the light, his dull eyes suddenly flaring with primitive emotion.
"Dolohov is dead?"
Harry clenched his teeth, balling his fists unconsciously at the name's utterance. "Yes."
The young man's eyes turned almost fanatical for a brief moment until they became placid and subdued once more. Without a word, he turned and loped off towards the Apparation point across the meadow of the Potter property.
"You're always welcome," Harry called but he received no indication his voice was heard or his invitation was received.
The night swallowed the small form of the last Creevey brother before a small pop caused birds to take flight from their restive branches.
Leaning against the cold wood of his front door, Harry scrubbed his face. He stayed outside for a while, letting the cold seep into his bones. Then, with one final look around the snowcovered world, he opened the door and stepped back into the loud warmth of his home.
Most of the party-goers, by unspoken rule, wore Mrs Weasley's knitted sweaters every year.
This Christmas, Lili and Fayette had received green sweaters with tiny chicks on them, while their mother had received a glorious partridge with wings spread high. Harry had laughed upon unwrapping his own, a simple pear tree decorating the front.
It was a game of sorts, for everyone to rib each other over what sweater decal they'd received on a particular year. Always out of Mrs Weasley's earshot, of course.
Ron was currently bemoaning his sweater, which had a large zero out of one hundred fifty six. The Chudley Cannons score for the last Quidditch season.
Harry laughed along with Bill and Natalie at the red-heads antics, only for Harry to abruptly cut off at the sight of his daughter weaving her way through the partygoers. Following his eye, the surrounding group fell silent as they watched her progress, something odd but indiscernible grabbing their attention.
Lili walked up to George, who stood in the center of the living room next to Angelina and Percy. She stood patiently for a while, waiting for his attention to shift her way. When it did, she smiled beatifically up at him and offered him a piece of paper with a bow crudely taped to the corner.
"I drew a picture for you, Uncle George. Merry Christmas." Her voice bubbly and melodic. Shyly, she scuffed her booted foot against the floor, twisting her hands behind her back as she awaited his approval.
"Thank you sweet girl, but you gave me too many ears," he teased jovially. With a flourish he revealed the space his ear should reside, a smile splitting his face. The kids had always been fans of their funny uncle's antics and ear jokes. His face betrayed his obvious expectation of Lili's giggles.
Instead, the young girl shook her head. "It isn't a picture of you Uncle George, it's Uncle Fred. I drew him so he could be here with us tonight."
Harry sucked in a breath, his eyes snapping to George's face as the room's noise evaporated. Every eye slid to the center of a room to rest on a small girl looking up to a lanky man.
'Never mention Fred' was an unspoken rule, that all abided by around George. Just like the unspoken and unacknowledged pact of the Weasleys and Potters to take turns checking on Angelina and the kids on the week leading up to the Memorial and Fred's birthday. Angelina alone knew where her husband went and she'd always wave off questions with a bright grin, usually accompanied with her saying, "he is the perfect husband and father fifty weeks out of the year. Fourteen days or so is an easy exchange."
Everyone's attention rested on George, his face blank. The room felt laden with latent energy, capable of bursting in hysteric motion at any moment.
George crouched down so he could face Lili fully, his hand coming up to rest on the top of her head. "Hasn't your daddy told you that the ones who love us are always around?" His mask cracked as a tiny upturn of his lips softened his expression. "Fred, Teddy's parents, your grandparents, everyone. They are all here, watching over us."
Lili nodded seriously. "Papa said Grand-Mère and Grandpapa are always with me."
George smiled more fully. "Exactly. Same with your Uncle Fred. He will always be around to nudge some mischief your way. But…" George inspected the drawing carefully, a wistful pensive stealing over him. "But it's nice to have a picture of him around all the same."
With a final ruffle to Lili's head, George stood up and walked towards the back door, but not before carefully folding the drawing so he could place it in his shirt pocket. Angelina followed after him with a tearful smile.
"Blimey," Ron whimpered.
"Bollocks," Harry agreed.
"Bugger," Hermione countered, her uncharacteristic language jolting the two men from their stupor.
"Oi, where'd you find that sailor's tongue?" Ron demanded with a scandalized, thunderstruck expression.
Hermione rolled her eyes, ignoring her husband. But subsequently cooed as the group watched Molly Weasley make her way over to Lili. The older woman wrapped the small girl into a tight hug, before placing her on her lap and beginning to tell tales about Fred to all the surrounding children.
The festivities had been going on for most of the evening and night. Now, even the most rambunctious of children were yawning widely and nodding off. Many families had stayed for the annual fireworks that George and Ron set off each Christmas night to signal the end of the party, but now most were buttoning coats and sliding on mittens to leave.
It had been a good night. Better than Harry had expected. He always looked forward to spending time with the cobbled-together family he'd made with Fleur and the Weasleys. But given the nature of the past year, his festive spirit had dimmed to near nonexistence.
However, as soon as people had begun to fill the home, his mood had taken a turn. That morning, he'd feigned excitement along with Fleur for the benefit of their children. But, readily enough that excitement had truly taken root.
The Delacours and Weasleys mingled together, nearly inseparable. Natalie, Fleur's old school friend, and Bill's wife had taken to sitting next to Fleur the entire night, speaking about her and Bill trying for another child.
Hannah and Neville were aglow over their incoming parenthood, while Andromeda and Teddy made the rounds as popular conversationalists. He was the first of a new generation to attend Hogwarts for many of the people gathered, and all were excited to hear of his nostalgia-inducing tales.
He had been making doe eyes at his wife for the past ten minutes or so from across the room, leaning against the stairway bannister. She would grin at him conspiratorially while Angelina and Gabrielle argued loudly over Quidditch beside her on the loveseat.
Suddenly, his bubble of peace was popped by a presence making itself known to his left. His stepped-on foot throbbing painfully as the intruder apologized.
"Sorry Harry," Hermione professed.
"No problem," he replied good-naturedly but, upon closer inspection, his eyes narrowed. "What's wrong, Hermione?"
Her eyes darted around them comically before she heaved a sigh. "Best to get this over with," she muttered. "Harry, I need to talk to you," Hermione stated, sliding next to him and placing a hand on his shoulder. Her nervous posture signaling the conversation wouldn't be enjoyable.
Resigned to his enjoyable night ending on a sour note, he grimaced. "Alright, we can use my office," Harry replied, turning to lead her down the hallway and away from the revelers.
The last time he had been through the wood door at the end of the hall, he'd been in a very different place. Now, even though the connotation was different, he still felt the fury like an echo as he walked into the room, still cluttered by his investigation.
With a small hop, he sat on his desk and turned to face Hermione, his legs swinging to brush his feet against the floor.
"What couldn't wait till the party was over?" He asked, curiosity piqued.
Hermione bit her lip before walking over to stand next to the desk. "I wanted to give you an update on… everything. To tell you before you see it in the papers tomorrow."
"That is never a good sign."
"No, it usually isn't," she acquiesced with a sigh. "But this may be good news, all things considered. I take it you haven't been following the news the last week or so?"
Harry motioned for her to continue when she stopped to glance his way.
"The ICW released the Canavar report this week, along with Dennis's photographs. There has been a significant public outcry. People are… revolted by the pogrom and it has garnered support for countries to begin ratifying their own domestic policies based on the Sentient Being proposals."
Harry wasn't entirely sure how he was supposed to feel. Good? No. Not when the public had been so indifferent to the plight of Werewolves only a month ago. Not when they began to care only when they had a scapegoat to vilify, to point to and say, 'they are the evil creature-haters, not I!' It all seemed so… fake. So pathetically reactionary and juvenile. Did it even herald change? Real change? Or would they give lip service to the 'cause' and then believe everything solved with a simple law or two. Go back to being scared and ignorant of nonhumans and their plights.
Did any of this even matter anymore?
While he continued to ruminate, Hermione kept speaking even though he was only half-listening. Eventually, something she said broke his concentration.
"Mr Akingbade plans to convene another emergency session to bolster the Sentient Being Resolution we passed with extra provisions, give it teeth. He plans to create a new department, the International Coalition on Sentient Beings Rights and Welfare, and put Ormanno and Beatrisa, the Italian Vampire leaders in charge of it as Scriba-Praefectors. They'll have investigatory and enforcement powers as well."
"If it passes."
"Well, yeah. If it passes."
He could tell his brooding silence was agitating Hermione who sat twitchily beside him on the desk.
"This is good news, Harry."
"This could mean real change."
Hermione seemed to be trying to find the right words. "It… it is too late. I know." She deflated. "It might end up doing nothing, who knows. I certainly don't," she confessed with a rueful, dark chuckle. "I thought getting bills and resolutions passed would change things. But lately it doesn't seem enough."
"No, it really doesn't," he agreed, wrapping an arm around his friend's shoulders.
"Hirene caught Abbas in Turkey," Hermione stated nonchalantly, like an aside. "Didn't take her chances this time with him escaping, ripped him apart in broad daylight."
"She consolidated the remnant Werewolves in Armenia and the few not rounded up in Azerbaijan. Plans to lead a mass exodus out of the countries."
Harry scratched the back of his head as he swung his legs. "Probably for the best. She taking them to Russia?"
"Looks that way."
"Are you alright, Harry?" Hermione asked, leaning her head against his shoulder. "Will you be okay?"
"I'm not sure. I just feel so tired. Lost, I think, too. Like I don't know what to do anymore. Who to be."
"I understand. It felt like that after the war too. None of us were sure of anything. But we found our way to a new normal. Surely we can do it again."
"Will we?" Harry demanded, irritation colouring his weary tone. "Where do we go from here? I thought I knew who the bad guys were but now, I'm not sure of anything anymore. Even as an Auror, it was simple. The Necromancer Cult in Wales, tracking down muggle-killers, finding Death Eater remnants. Easy, right? Evil people with wands who needed to be taken out. But this… what do I do with this?
Harry scrubbed his face with weary hands. "I never really lost my awe of magic, you know? Ever since I was an eleven-year-old crossing the Black Lake on a rickety boat with Hagrid, that first look at Hogwarts. I'll never forget it. And I didn't, not even when I learned the truth of my past or the reality of my future. I kept it even through a war, through funerals, loss, and sacrifice."
Harry paused, remembering. "Now I wake up and I don't feel it anymore. I don't feel anything. I look out my window and no longer see Quidditch or Wizarding Chess, friendly ghosts, or beautiful spell work. All I see is a fractured world perpetuating creaturism and stereotypes that fuel the delusions of sick men like Desmond." He blinked, his gaze sliding to the watchful eyes of his companion. "And I wonder what it was all for? The deaths, the fighting… my walk in the woods. Did it change anything besides the people in charge?"
"You don't mean that, Harry. You know how much darker the world would be if Voldemort had lived."
"And I do. Intellectually, I understand. But that doesn't change how it feels."
"I hear you and I'm not immune from cynicism either. I've devoted years to Sentient Being rights and now, standing at what I had hoped would be the end of the road, I look back and wonder at how little I've advanced. But we are moving forward, and with us, the world."
"Hermione is right, mon cœur." Fleur stated, from the open doorway. "You were right, all those months ago. Don't let them take away your faith or idealism. That is how they win."
Harry rocked to his feet. "Are you alright, love?" He asked, concerned that she was without her blankets.
Her eyes glinted in amused acknowledgement of his tone. "I'm just fine. But the last guests are getting ready to leave, you should say goodbye."
"Oh, right. I'll be right there," he responded, glancing Hermione's way. She nodded, her acceptance of their conversation's termination and he moved with her out of the office.
"It was a lovely party, Fleur," Hermione spoke as they walked down the hallway.
"I agree, although I had nothing to do with it I'm afraid. Mrs Weasley is the star of the show."
"Regardless, thank you for allowing us all to make use of your home. It was good to see you."
The two women hugged next to the fireplace, where Ron was waiting with a sleeping Rose and Hugo.
"Thanks for having us mate," Ron whispered, rocking his son with small bounces. "You just missed George and Angelina, they gave their love."
"Ah, too bad," Harry responded, while picking up Rose into his arms to nuzzle. His goddaughter squirmed into a more comfortable position before relaxing with a soft sigh, her eyes drifting shut. "Looks like you've got some tired kiddos."
"Aye, and some tired adults," Ron joked before yawning. "I swear, every year I seem to get sleepier earlier."
"You do, Ronald," Hermione quipped. "Most days I come home from work to find you asleep on the couch."
"No need to air my dirty laundry out for the world to see, woman," the red-head chuffed. "Ready to get home?"
"Yeah," his wife replied, double-checking to make sure they had everything. She smiled at the sight of her daughter slumbering in Harry's arms. She stepped over to him, wrapping her arms lightly around his ribs, her daughter trapped between them. Standing on tiptoes, she pressed a kiss to his cheek before whispering affectionately in his ear. "You've always been brave, so incredibly brave, Harry. So please, be brave again."
With a bright smile at him and Fleur, Hermione pulled a still sleeping Rose into her arms and made her way to the Floo. Ron followed with a grin and a wave, leavin the Potters to themselves.
"Lili and Fayette?" Harry asked in the sudden silence of their home.
"I put them to bed already. Didn't need much prompting."
He chuckled. "I bet not."
Fleur sat on her favorite loveseat, patting the space next to her meaningfully.
Sitting, Harry pulled her onto his lap instead. She pecked him on the cheek and settled against him.
"I love you."
He smiled into the silver of her hair. "I love you too."
They watched the twinkling lights of their Christmas tree interplay with the flickerings of their fireplace. Outside, the snow began to fall faster and heavier.
"What you and Hermione were talking about… could I say more?"
He looked down at her but could not see her face. Without the context of her expression he proceeded cautiously. "If you want."
"I know that, when you first mentioned the Resolution, I was cynical…" she trailed off, seemingly at a loss for what to say.
Harry's heart pounded in his chest, guilt creeping through his veins like liquid glass. Did she blame him, as he blamed himself?
She cuddled closer, immune to his inner turmoil. "I just wanted to say that I'm proud of you. Of us. Even with all that happened, it was the right thing to do."
He hadn't been expecting that and so his shocked silence eventually prompted his wife to turn and face him. She perched on his knees, her long legs wrapping around his torso until she straddled him.
Seeing his face must have allowed her to deduce his strife, because she blew out a heavy breath in exasperation. "Really, 'Arry. You thought I was going to say something awful, didn't you?"
He shook his head in denial but she scoffed at him, not buying it for a moment. "Miserable oaf," she muttered with a chuckle. "When will you get it through your skull? You're stuck with me. Forever."
"Eternally," he intoned reflexively, reciting their oft-quoted wedding vows. Her answering smile floored him with its sheer beauty.
"It hasn't been an easy few months but our family is safe and whole. A new year is coming soon and, with it, new beginnings. Let's put the past behind us, where it belongs. Alright?"
Nodding, Harry squeezed her waist between his hands. "I know you're right, but it all seems so fresh, you know? Hermione was telling me about how change might actually be possible now. But all I could think about was how pitiful it all is. People's opinions seem to have changed slightly, sure. But for the wrong reasons. It shouldn't have taken a genocide for wizards and witches to realize hating Sentient Beings was wrong."
Fleur shook her head, the platinum tresses dancing behind her. "Yes. It shouldn't have. But it did, and here we are. Now it is about making Canavar matter, since we can't change what happened. Instead, we have to ensure the people who lost their lives in that pit are never forgotten. And maybe, just maybe, that is how real change can happen."
"I guess I just don't know what to do anymore. Sure, making certain that no one forgets Canavar sounds well and good, but what does that mean? What do I do?"
"You've always led by action rather than words, mon cœur. So start there."
"I've given enough speeches at Memorials," Harry insisted.
Fleur's hand reached up to stroke his cheek. "Indeed, you have. So do something else. Find something else. Just don't do nothing." Her eyes burned through him. "Never nothing."
Was it that simple? A lesson he had taught his own daughter only a few months back? Maybe it was and maybe it wasn't. Perhaps the nuances and complexities adults added onto the world's woes and problems were just baggage, added to reinforce the hopelessness rather than offer answers. Perhaps it really was as simple as good men and women standing up for what is right. Even when it was hard. Especially when it was hard.
As he thought, Fleur watched him. Her fingers caressing the skin of his cheek in languid patterns.
When she spoke again, her voice was soothing but her eyes continued to gleam with a fire he hadn't seen since the Institute attack.
"The beauty of our struggle is that, one day, our moments of hardship will wear away the bedrock of hate and bigotry. Like the tide, Harry. Patient and determined. We may never live to see it, our children may not either, but one day, I'm sure, our actions will no longer be in vain. You taught me that Harry, so let me remind you. Even small things can be significant. A boy doing what is right, a friendship on a train, a kiss by a lake…and a father's hope of a better world for his daughters."
Her words snagged at something inside him and he spoke without thinking. "Is that our purpose then? To be the wind of change we will never see?"
She shook her head in disagreement. "Our toils now are so that when our daughters are ready to spread their wings, the wind that they glide upon will be less fraught by the turbulence and suffering of our time. Selflessness is beautiful, mon coeur, you taught me that too."
"You were never selfish, Fleur. Someone truly selfish wouldn't have spoken to a stranger in a hospital ward. She wouldn't have held my hand and promised everything would be alright, even when nothing was."
Tears welled up in his wife's shimmering blue eyes. "You've always seen the best in me, especially when I can't."
"It is hardly a gift to see you as you are."
"But it is. It is the greatest gift you could offer me."
"I meant gift more as in a talent not a-"
"Shush now, Harry, and kiss me."
As his mouth connected to the familiar but delectable swell of Fleur's lips, Harry pondered her words, etching them across the delicate flesh of his heart before becoming lost in the beguiling nature of kissing Fleur Delacour-Potter.
Being a father was hard, most men could agree. Most could also admit being a husband was difficult too. But Fleur had always made loving her so very easy.
"It is beautiful out," Fleur whispered against his chest as they stared outside.
He gave a hum of agreement, feeling her shift against him. They had sat on the loveseat long into the night, their easy comfort coming naturally from one another's presence.
Fleur moved against him, hauling herself upwards and ignoring his sound of protest. Standing, she stretched a hand down towards him, still on the couch. "Come 'Arry. Dance with me."
He smiled before rocking to his feet. With a twirl of his wand, he summoned their heavy coats from the closet and cast warming charms on them liberally.
Once bundled, they made their trudging way out into the heavy snow.
Veela celebrated Yule a bit differently than most families. Their ceremonies were born of the solstices and primal magic.
Due to Fleur's infirmity, Gabrielle had come on the night before the solstice to house Veela fire in small homes made of freshly fallen snow. Their blue light shone out through their tiny holes into the woods around the Potter home.
Gabrielle had Lili and Fayette help form the structures, and showed them how she could make her fire dance across her palm before placing the balls of flame, lovingly, in their temporary homes. They stayed lit through the days and night, needing no fuel but the magic Gabrielle had fed them. Beacons to the Veela spirits passing through the world during the Solstice.
Harry didn't know much beyond that, but judging from what he knew of the Veela Guiding and Telling ceremonies, he assumed the Samodiva were involved.
After the flames had been lit, Gabrielle had kicked off her shoes so she could begin her dance. It was different from Fleurs, as all Veela had their own, but similarities could be seen in the graceful dips and dives, the way her hair swayed as she arched to brush against the snow.
Each footfall brought steam, as snow melted against the hot soles of her feet. On and on she had danced, as Appoline and Fleur sang. Each of the older Veela showing Lili and Fayette what to do.
Harry had always enjoyed the Veela's celebration of the year's end, but he couldn't help looking over at Fleur, who had sat and watched instead of being able to participate. He could see the longing in her eyes, the ghostly fear that she'd never be able to perform such an important rite again.
Now, he was being led back to the ring of ground Gabrielle had made just a few days ago. The snow piles lower than their surroundings due to her melting footfalls.
He quirked an eyebrow at Fleur, who ignored his quizzical look. Instead, she held out her arms in a clear indication that he should get into formation.
Not needing more prompting, he gripped his wife close and began to turn, their feet crunching the fine, powdery snow into solid ice crystals. The stars shone overhead, their pale white light dueling with the flickering blue glow of Veela fire.
Neither spoke as they danced, each content to find shelter in the other's arms in the quiet beauty of a night on the precipice of turning to a new day.
Eventually, however, Harry felt Fleur shiver against him. Abruptly halting their movements, he pulled Fleur from her repose against his chest so he could meet her sparking gaze.
Fleur had never easily hidden her emotions from Harry. The angles of her face were so known to him that the slightest difference was evident. Just as it was now, creased in pain. The downward dip of her charming brow and the sinking curve of her full lips. But as always, it was Fleur's eyes and the blazing soul that resided in them that made him fully understand her hurt. They were a pool of restless churning waters, an ocean of grief and fear, a depth to drown in.
And drown he did. As he looked into her eyes he knew, all the wonders of the world could never equal what was in front of him. What he was at risk of losing. Fleur's passion.
Passion that boiled the waters and turned them scalding, her eyes orbs of bright cerulean fire, and in them Harry's heart understood what he had failed to trust in. She would never let the world break her. It had been a near thing once, closer than Harry could ever allow himself to admit lest the fear of it overwhelm him. But never again.
It was a kiss born of desperation and relief. An acceptance of what had happened and what it had cost, but also a refusal to look anywhere but forward.
Fleur's lips consumed him, just as completely as they did near the Black Lake, so long ago. The sputtering helplessness, the yielding, the rushing surge of wam yearning. All became blurred and fizzled to nothingness in the fires wake of her mouth and stroking tongue.
But he was not a boy anymore.
Wrenching himself back, he grasped the back of her slender, swan-like neck, bending her backwards so that he could kiss her from above. His other arm snaked around her waist to anchor her against him and with a brutal softness Harry kissed her. He kissed her in the hopes he could leave her as she did him. Wanting, shivering, swaying. His insistent mouth claimed her shaking lips, her curves trembling against his solidness.
After, when her lips were bruised and made his, Harry held her as she clung against him, each an anchor to the other. Harry gripped her tighter as a single thought, echoing through his very core, reverberated within him.
Her mouth tasted of pomegranates.
And as they swayed in the glow of softly illuminated snow, with night's velvet darkness surrounding them, Harry's ring warmed.