Disclaimer: I do not own the Harry Potter universe.
Beta: Ethiliam – thanks for not minding the multiple versions you received of this one.
Note: Please check the category before reading.
The bottom of Hogwarts' lake was bristling with activity due to a dozen Ministry officials who were swimming around the underwater village to verify that all security measures were operational. The second task of the TriWizard Tournament was about to begin. This task required four participants to be rescued from the village square of this merpeople village.
Gabrielle Delacour, the youngest of the four, ignored the people that were swimming around. Her parents and her future Headmistress had explained the situation to her yesterday and she refused to spend her time on useless people who would only be required if something went horribly wrong. Gabrielle scrunched her nose at them. Her big sister would be coming for her.
Her mother had ensured she was awake to look around the merpeople village, which was a unique opportunity for her. While she'd been unable to sleep due to her excitement, she now found herself almost dozing off due to sheer boredom. This village had only one exciting attribute: its underwater location.
Unwilling to give in so soon, she started looking around the village again only to see adult merpeople doing their daily chores like cleaning food. Her attention stayed on them for a microsecond. Boring.
Gabrielle wondered for the umpteenth time why adults led such trivial and tedious lives. Every adult in existence seemed to accept this horrible trend and, sadly, this didn't seem to be limited to a single race. Perhaps she should consider a career in Healing as to find a cure for this insane behaviour.
A ruckus from her right drew her attention.
Several merchildren were gathered around a large air-filled balloon which was being held down by an adult merman. The adult started speaking and several of the merchildren, one after the other, put their head into the balloon for a second before pulling out again. Gabrielle's face portrayed undiluted horror. These people had classes too! A shiver went up her spine, unrelated to the coldness of the water around her. Why-oh-why hadn't her mother kept quiet so she could have remained ignorant, thank you very much.
A little merboy, younger than the ones that were being instructed, snuck up on the group. He managed to make his way through the group unimpeded and then put his head into the balloon with a childish look of curiosity on his face. He screeched wildly, escaping the balloon before swimming back to the safety of the merwoman who had been looking for him. The instructor looked amused at the merboy who was now dangling around the neck of the merwoman. The merwoman cuddled the child until he calmed down, meanwhile giving the instructor a glare that vowed retaliation. The instructor's amusement faded to make way for resignation.
A giggle escaped Gabrielle. Even in an underwater civilisation the women had power over the men. She knew this all too well since her father would crumble under a mere gaze from her mother.
The merboy had made his way towards her, eyes wide as she giggled at his inquisitive look. The little tyke frowned at her before yanking her nose. She raised an eyebrow before copying his action, yanking his nose in return. The merboy fled back to the merwoman who gave her an amused look. Gabrielle found this completely normal. She was a girl, not some silly man. While she didn't understand the differences between the two yet, men always seemed to act strange around women. Luckily, she was still a girl and didn't have that problem and, as far as she was concerned, it could stay that way.
A Ministry official swam over to her to escort her towards the giant statue that stood in the middle of the village square. The three other participants were already waiting for her there. When she arrived at the statue, a spell bound them to ensure they couldn't assist their champion. Gabrielle rolled her eyes at the precaution. She didn't need to assist her sister since her big sister could do anything.
An hour long you'll have to look,
And to recover what we took,
Gabrielle took a deep breath before letting it out as a long and agonising sigh which resulted in a large bubble of air floating upwards. Her English wasn't very good, but she remembered that rambling from the ancient man's office. The lyrics kept being repeated again and again and ...
She was proud – very proud – to be the one thing that Fleur would miss the most. But, she was also starting to get very, very annoyed at this utterly boring day. 'Exciting adventure,' the giant woman had told her. Oh, Gabrielle would be having words with her. Being treasured was one thing. Being stuck at the bottom of a lake while bored out of her mind was an entirely different matter. At least her sister was having an adventure.
Gabrielle knew she was stuck here. She pouted. The adults had hoodwinked her into this, which was so unfair! Her eyes started closing due to the continuous repeating of the dull song.
Still half-asleep, Gabrielle was already plotting revenge against her sister who was rudely shaking her. She opened her eyes, but was not greeted with the sight of long silver hair. Instead, a boy with short black hair was in front of her. The boy looked relieved at her response. Gabrielle frowned; didn't he realise this was a game? Obviously not. She shook her head, causing her hair to tangle all around her, when she realised this boy was becoming a man ... and thus stupid.
Her annoyance grew when the boy dragged her along, but the thought of berating her sister sooner mellowed her. That thought fled Gabrielle when she realised her sister hadn't made it to the village and she wanted to know whether her sister was all right. She felt herself being pulled out of the water before something collided with her. She looked at the offending object and saw it was her big sister, Fleur.
Her big sister ... who was completely fine and was rambling on-and-on as usual.
Gabrielle cut into her sister's speech, making perfectly clear how annoyed she was. First leaving her on the bottom of a stupid lake, then worrying her, and now fussing over her too? Gabrielle ended her tirade with an eloquent, "Hmmpft!"
Fleur gave her a look of amusement.
That was the final straw for Gabrielle. Since her sister was still hugging her, Gabrielle put all her weight on her left foot before kicking out with her right. A whimper from Fleur and a small stab of pain in her own toes made clear that she'd reached her target. That would teach her sister.
Fleur only hugged Gabrielle closer in response and started explaining again.
This time, Gabrielle listened to her sister's rambling. Apparently, the champions had thought their hostages wouldn't be returned if they failed. Gabrielle refrained from rolling her eyes at this humongous stupidity. As if her parents would have allowed that to happen ... then again, the entire adventure had been a lie so perhaps she had been in real danger.
Fleur walked over to the dark-haired boy and kissed him on the cheeks, which made the boy uncomfortable and embarrassed.
An 'accidentally' overheard conversation made its way to the forefront of Gabrielle's mind. She should have been asleep, but when did that stop her from sneaking around the house? Her parents and big sister had been in a conversation which she had caught the end of. The interesting part. She knew all too well that adults took forever to get to the point, preceding everything with small and irrelevant topics that no one cared about. Her parents had told Fleur that she should ensure that the recipient was extraordinary before channelling her Veela magic through a kiss, which would ensure they would be together forever.
The dark-haired boy was extraordinary ... and she was a Veela ... and she was very bored at home. A playmate for eternity sounded like music to her ears.
Her decision made, Gabrielle walked to the boy who – like everyone else – was listening to the old people at the table. She tugged on his robes to get his attention, which made him look down at her in surprise before lowering himself to her height. She moved forwards and, before he could run away like most boys who taught kissing was icky, she channelled her Veela magic and gave him a kiss.
In the distance, Fleur screamed, "Non!"
Non? Why not?
The boy started falling to the ground, eyes rolling back as he gasped. Gabrielle started falling too, tiny smile adorning her face. She'd never be alone or bored again.
In any other country this entire debacle of epic proportions would have already been settled, but they weren't in any other country; they were in Britain, ruled by imbeciles. Fleur Delacour made a vague mental note to research how this country still existed. Perhaps only the magical part suffered from this incompetence and idiocy.
After Gabrielle and Harry had collapsed, people had been brought in for research. Then more people for laws and other legal tomfoolery. Then even more people to stretch out the pointless bantering. Because apparently, none of these people had anything better to do.
A massive yawn escaped Fleur due to her tiredness, but she refused to doze off until this was cleared up. She was angry at herself for entering this ridiculously outdated and foolish Tournament to prove her skill. Her anger shifted to the incompetent imbeciles that had dragged her family into this. If she had known about this then she would have told her kind Headmistress to shove it.
And the barbaric attitude appeared to be contagious.
Fleur shuddered before clearing her mind of all insults. She focused her attention on Gabrielle and Harry who were unconscious on a transfigured bed in the office. While they wouldn't wake up soon, Fleur found the closeness to her sister comforting.
"Enough!" Madam Maxime said, cutting through everyone's ramblings.
Fleur had seen how her Headmistress had stood back so Dumbledore – this being his office, school, and country – could handle the affair. An undeniably incorrect presumption since the man seemed content to let everyone bicker while he remained seated in his chair.
Madam Maxime turned to the experts on Veelas. "Is there a bond between Ms Gabrielle Delacour and Mr Harry Potter?"
The expert started his reply which – by the sound of his nasal voice – was going to be another long-winding explanation. Then one of the English Ministry officials started interfering. And then another person made his opinion known.
Fleur looked at the scene in disgust, wondering if these barbarians didn't realise interrupting someone was dastardly rude. While Madam Maxime was doing the same thing now, she at least had an excuse that was likely the size of a more-than-giant headache.
"Quiet!" The large woman's eyes narrowed. "I asked a simple question: is there a bond between them, yes or no?"
"Yes, the bond is modifying –"
"Thank you," Madam Maxime said, halting any further inane explanations. "Is there anyone that does not agree with the expert's observation?"
Fleur started stroking Gabrielle's hair. The entire situation was being stripped to the barest minimum and thus forced out of the endless cycle of stupidity. A proven fact when no one answered; either everyone realised it was the truth, or everyone realised someone competent had taken charge who wouldn't allow their ignorance to interfere anymore.
"We have established the bond," Madam Maxime said, "and thus know the children will need to stay near each other. Now we can discuss future arrangements." She glared at another imbecile who tried to interfere. "All competing schools and Ministries agreed to the TriWizard Tournament rules that state the participants' country law will be applicable in unforeseen circumstances."
"Alas, Madam Maxime," Dumbledore said, "that means English law –"
"Don't be presumptuous, Albus," Madame Maxime snapped out, clearly annoyed that the man had suddenly regained his voice. "You allowed hostages to be taken for the tasks, which made them participants in the Tournament. The signed contract clearly specifies participants and not champions."
Dumbledore looked as if someone had snatched his Phoenix. He started stroking his beard. "Then we are in quite the conundrum. Two participants of different countries are irrevocably linked and our laws are very different."
Fleur glanced at her sister whose future was being decided while she was still coping with the newly formed bond. She remained blissfully unaware of the ruckus that accompanied something that should be a happy, no, an ecstatic event. How Fleur hoped her little sister wouldn't suffer for her one action.
"French law will need to be applied," one of the English Ministry officials said.
"That decision does not rest in your hands," Dumbledore said.
The man sighed. "Indeed, Chief Warlock, it does not. But we both know the treatment of 'magical creatures' here and I refuse to be the instigator of an international incident, nor do I want our alliance with France broken and spat upon. Should you deem it necessary, fetch the Minister of Magic."
Dumbledore remained silent.
"French law concerning this situation is very straightforward," Madam Maxime said. "The children's parents or guardians will attempt to resolve the situation since they will need to live with, and provide for, both children. Please retrieve Mr Potter's guardians." Her eyes narrowed. "Frankly, it astounds me they are not present already."
"I'm afraid I can't –"
"Fetch his guardians, Chief Warlock," the official interrupted, "or we'll agree that Mr Potter's custody is transferred to the Delacour family. This situation has lasted long enough. Get them here, now."
Fleur glimpsed at her parents who were remarkably silent. Naturally, they had made their case in the first five minutes, after which they stepped back and watched the incompetence take hold. They looked as tired as Fleur felt, not knowing how these guardians of Harry would react. She wondered why his guardians hadn't been present at the task and why they hadn't been contacted immediately after the bond had been established.
As they were waiting for Dumbledore's return, refreshments had been offered. Fleur had dug in inelegantly when her ravenous appetite made itself known as the smell of the food had hit her. She frowned at the officials that were commenting on finally meeting Harry Potter's illustrious guardians. To her knowledge, raising a magical child while never entering the magical world was impossible since each child needed an adult escort while shopping for supplies.
Half an hour passed by before Dumbledore returned.
Fleur wondered about the odd timing since the man had used instantaneous travel with the help of his Phoenix. She turned her nose up at the two new arrivals, a plump man with a very large moustache and a thin woman with blonde hair. They looked constipated, faces flickering between annoyance and happiness.
"Mr and Mrs Dursley have agreed to take custody –" Dumbledore began.
"The hell we will!" the moustache man shouted.
Dumbledore paled. "Mr Dursley, we agreed –"
"– to nothing!" the man roared. "You decided it would be best. You dropped that boy on our doorstep years ago while we wanted nothing to do with –" The man waved his hand around the office. "– this. Now some misguided idiot wants to take the boy? They can damn well keep him!"
The vile woman nodded her head so rapidly that Fleur was amazed it didn't bob off.
"Their minds seem to be made up," Madam Maxime said before turning towards the one competent official. "Do you have the required paperwork?"
The paperwork was brought in order while everyone ignored Dumbledore's objections. Fleur didn't know why the man thought he had anything to say about a student's wellbeing beyond school-matters. She watched the Phoenix transport the former, and terribly rude, guardians away.
This situation had finally been solved. Fleur sighed. At last ... rest. She smiled.
"The bond-process can take quite some time," Mrs Delacour said before anyone could leave, "and Harry might be unable to compete for the next task. Fleur informed us he was rather vocal about his involuntary and forced participation. I trust the real offender has been caught?"
Fleur always tried to refrain from cursing. "Merde!" Unless she'd reached her limit.
Her sister was safe after hours of squabbling. Now, Harry – her new brother, she realised – his situation had to be dealt with too. Fleur blew out a breath in the most undignified manner, resulting in a smile from her father who moved towards Madam Maxim to initiate a whispered conversation.
Meanwhile, her mother continued her tirade. "I trust a human life is more valuable than a mere Goblet? That vile artefact should have been destroyed when Harry's name came out. Your Ministry will not destroy my new charge."
"Fleur," Madam Maxime interjected, "you look tired. Why don't you Portkey home?"
Fleur's eyes widened. All visiting students had received a Portkey to go home if their head of school allowed it, a stipulation buried in all the legal documents concerning the Tournament. She'd never received permission, so she wondered why she had gotten it now.
"Oh, and ..." Madam Maxime pointed at the two bonded children. "These two will be recovering for some time. Can you take them with you?"
Out of the corner of Fleur's eye, she saw Dumbledore rising to intervene. She swiftly grabbed both Gabrielle and Harry before activating her Portkey.
Mrs Delacour felt exhaustion setting in after several days of dealing with the unanticipated fallout. Her husband, seated across from her, seemed to feel the same way from the looks of it.
The British newspapers – if they could be called such – had been downright brutal and vicious towards her family. They had extended this courtesy to the Beauxbatons delegation and to the Veela Nation who were now condemned as birds of prey that stole men. The articles steadily worsened with each edition of the Daily Prophet.
The French newspapers had reported the details once and had included two incidents that the Daily Prophet happily ignored: the meeting after the bonding and the outing of the Dursley family.
Mrs Delacour sighed as she reflected on the meeting her husband and she had had with their youngest daughter after she'd awoken a day after the bonding. They quickly realised little Gabrielle had overheard the end of the most essential talk about Veela bonds. She had chosen Harry to become her lifelong friend. She was clueless of what the bond truly meant.
Mrs Delacour found herself unable to punish her daughter for something she didn't understand the impact of and which could never be repeated or undone. Especially since they, the parents, had more blame for not having secured the room enough, or for not having told Gabrielle sooner. Dozens of what-ifs and perhaps-we-should-haves played out, but none of them mattered. The bond was there. And it wasn't going anywhere.
When another owl swept into the room, Mrs Delacour sagged in her chair. She was relieved to see her husband accepting the parchment. She had lost count of the amount of letters that had been received, mostly from various people across England. Almost all of those had been either Howlers – thankfully disabled due to their wards – or letters filled with incredibly disconcerting contents like insulting and degrading remarks. Some thanked her family for removing the 'attention seeking boy' from their country. Mrs Delacour turned her nose up since all of those had been sent anonymously, thus revealing the senders' rude and cowardly natures.
Albus Dumbledore had sent several missives with detailed explanations that Harry would be safest at Hogwarts or at the Dursleys. When Mrs Delacour considered Harry's unlawful entrance into the Tournament and his previous guardians' reactions, she had severe doubts about those statements. A ward had been added to incinerate all of Dumbledore's messages when he kept bothering them even after a request to stop.
As of yet, they'd received only a single piece of good news, which Madam Maxime had delivered in person. The Goblet had been destroyed by the goblins, shattering all magical contracts along with it. The three champions would now compete without Harry, as it should have been from the start.
"Love," her husband said, "you'll want to read this."
She accepted the parchment and read through the neatly written letter. A certain Hermione Granger claimed to be a close friend of Harry's – something that she proved by adding a few details – and then asked how he was doing and why he wasn't responding. The remainder of the letter descended into a myriad of questions, but Mrs Delacour spotted the thinly veiled distrust towards Veelas. She took a pen and started writing a reply. The girl would never accept her answers, so Mrs Delacour referred to a few factual books. As a final note, she wrote that Harry hadn't woken up yet.
Mrs Delacour was waiting for Harry to wake up. She was watching him as he lay in his new room. She'd been taking care of him to ensure he survived the ordeal and she'd been pleased to see that the Veela magic had corrected the maltreatment of his body. While his care should have been in Gabrielle's hands, her daughter was too young to handle such responsibility. Mrs Delacour waited patiently, not wavering in the duty she'd assigned herself. She would talk to Harry until he settled in as to avoid making the situation more different for Harry.
Harry's eyelids flickered open. His eyes started darting around the room, confusion seeping in.
"I'm happy to see you awake," Mrs Delacour said.
"Where am I?"
"You're at a safe location." She held up her hand to postpone his questions. "I can explain everything if you allow me to."
Harry frowned at her before giving her a small nod.
"I am Apolline Delacour, mother of Fleur – champion of Beauxbatons – and Gabrielle whom you rescued from the lake. My daughters are Veela. Do you know anything about Veela?"
"Very little," Harry said.
Mrs Delacour had prepared a short and to-the-point explanation, unwilling to descend into complicated details. "Veela have the potential to forge a bond with someone, which results in a permanent link between the Veela and the recipient. Under normal circumstances this is established only after both parties fully understand the consequences." Seeing his understanding, she continued, "My youngest daughter initiated a bond with you at the end of the second task."
Harry stared at her for a while before finally shaking his head. "No."
"Harry, I'm –"
"– having me on," Harry finished. "Did Fred and George put you up to this? Inventing a permanent bond between a Veela – a race well known for their enchanting beauty – and then make the girl an eight year old ... It's a nice try, but I really don't buy it." He looked around the room again. "Now, where am I?"
"At our home in France."
"... France?" Harry asked. "Why aren't I in Hogwarts? And where's Madam Pomfrey? And –"
"Harry! This is not a joke."
Harry shook his head at her. "You're insane. I'm leaving."
He pushed the bedcovers away before jumping out of the bed. He lost his balance and fell face first to the floor. Mrs Delacour helped him up, guiding him back onto the bed. Harry sat down and started rubbing his head.
"You're a bit shorter than before," Mrs Delacour said.
"Shorter?! How could I possibly become that much shorter than before?"
Mrs Delacour refrained from sighing as the situation rapidly spun out of her control. "The bond ensures that both souls have a long and healthy life. As such, the body of the eldest reverts to the same age as the youngest. In your case –"
Harry turned away from her. He grabbed a pillow and put it over his head. "No ... this is a sick, twisted nightmare. Even my life doesn't get this messed up."
"Please, Harry," Mrs Delacour implored, "I realise this is difficult but I assure you, this is not a dream."
When she received no reply, Mrs Delacour stepped out of the room to give him some space. She silently closed the door behind her. A pair of arms wrapped around her.
"It'll take time, dear," her husband said. "He needs to think about this."
An hour later, Mrs Delacour found Harry asleep on the bed. She moved the bedcovers over him before whispering a soft goodnight.
Mrs Delacour grew increasingly disheartened when Harry ignored every explanation she gave him, eventually forcing her to slip him some books on the consequences and implications of the bond. She entered his room to find him seated at the window while staring outside. Two of the books lay open on his desk, drawing her attention. When she saw the specific pages, she sighed at Harry's insistence to focus on the worst possible implications.
A newly formed bond requires love and trust before it deepens and strengthens. Before this happens, the couple will not be allowed to stray from each other.
The connection links both individuals in every conceivable way: mind and body, soul and magic, life and death.
"What?" Mrs Delacour asked, removing her attention from the books.
"The physical limitation on this blasted bond. How far?"
"I don't know," she admitted.
Harry stood up abruptly, steadying himself against the wall since he hadn't gotten used to his lowered height yet, and made his way out of the room. He ignored the bathroom from across his room, which had been the only place he'd visited besides his own room since arriving, and started walking towards the front of the house. Before he could reach the door, he collapsed in agony.
At the same time, a scream emanated from a room adjacent to Harry's bedroom. The door opened, revealing a confused and tearful Gabrielle.
Harry shook his head to shake off the pain. Still not grasping the futility, he tried to walk out of the house again. Both Gabrielle and he collapsed to the ground again. Harry gritted his teeth, already getting up again.
"Please ... stop," Mrs Delacour begged.
His eyes flickered from Mrs Delacour to Gabrielle and back again. "Forty feet? Forty measly feet?"
Gabrielle clung to her recently arrived father, shivering and sobbing since she wasn't used to dealing with such pain. She desperately tried to dampen the emotions that she felt radiating from Harry through the bond. She rarely experienced such desperation and anger, even less when it was directed at her.
Harry calmed himself noticeably before he made his way back into his room. As he passed Gabrielle, he said without a trickle of emotion, "I hate you."
Mrs Delacour kneeled to grasp Gabrielle before she fell to the floor. She held her daughter close while whispering comforting words that were a pale attempt to alleviate the strain of the bond. While Gabrielle had been instructed to keep her own emotions at bay, Harry had no such restraint. Gabrielle eventually fell asleep in her arms.
"This can't continue," Mrs Delacour whispered.
"I realise that," her husband said. "But what can we do ... but wait?"
She didn't reply.
They put Gabrielle into her bed before they went into their own bedroom. Nothing was said since words were irrelevant. They kept each other close as their comfort and love was singing through their own bond.
Nevertheless, Mrs Delacour cried herself to sleep.
Months had passed without any improvement in Harry's behaviour. He'd stopped talking altogether as he tried to cope with the bond. Even though Gabrielle tried to withstand his overwhelming emotions, her own slipped through occasionally which always resulted in Harry shutting off completely.
Mr Delacour knew his wife cried herself to sleep each night and Gabrielle was even worse. Fleur had returned from Beauxbatons and was equally affected as she laid the blame at her own feet.
He wondered how things had come to this. Where was his little girl? Her careless attitude and her joyful laughter that usually permeated the house were no longer present. Not since Harry had arrived. Not since Gabrielle had – Mr Delacour couldn't blame either of them since they were forced to deal with consequences beyond their understanding.
Idly stroking his little black beard, he waited on the arrival of Hermione Granger. He hoped she could talk some sense into the young boy, to snap him out of his endless cycle of emotions. The anger was understandable even if they hadn't counted on that, but the indifference and detachment started to terrify Mr Delacour. A visitor arrived via Portkey.
"Good afternoon, Ms Granger."
"Hello, Mr Delacour. Thank you for your invitation."
"Not at all, thank you for coming. I realise you wish to see Harry, but could I have a moment of your time?"
Hermione frowned. "Is something wrong?"
"Yes." Mr Delacour noticed the surprise on Hermione's face, but he couldn't afford to lie to this girl. "Harry is still angry at the entire situation and this is, I confess, part of the reason you were invited. We – I hope you can help him through this."
"We're friends," she said. "Of course I'll help him."
Mr Delacour noticed the stress on 'him' and marvelled that Harry at least had one good friend still at his side. "Please, follow me. I'll take you to him."
Hermione entered Harry's room the moment Mr Delacour had shown her the location. He prided himself on being an honest man ... but for the sake of his family, which included the boy in that room, he had to push his principles aside. He cast two spells on the door. He needed to hear and see what was truly going on with Harry. He needed to fix this.
"Harry!" Hermione ran over and hugged him.
"Hermione," Harry gasped out, still being squeezed to death. "Good to see you. Mind easing up, though?"
She let go and looked him over, taking in his eight year old body. "You look cute."
Harry lost his smile. His posture reflected his weariness and frustration. He turned away from Hermione. "If you're here to poke fun at this, then leave."
"I – I'm sorry," she said. "I wasn't expecting – I'm not –" She found herself unable to finish her statement, instead reflecting over Harry's instant dismissal. She'd dealt with his temperament before, but never – She moved next to Harry. "Are you all right?"
"No," he said. "I'm nowhere close to being all right."
She bit her lips to refrain a gasp from escaping her. She noticed a stack of unopened letters on the desk. "You could have read your post, it might have helped?"
Harry turned to face her again. "Why bother?"
"Because we care about you," she said while flicking through the letters, noticing her own amongst the pile.
"I don't need letters to know that, Hermione. I haven't read them because ... there's no point."
Puzzlement reflected on her face. "But –"
"What will they contain?" he asked. "Congratulations on your forced bonding? Why didn't you stop her? Way to go, Harry?" He shook his head. "Nothing but empty platitudes. Nothing can change this, it's irreversible. One little, stupid, innocent kiss and everything was taken from me."
"It can't be that bad," Hermione said. "The bond improves your life, making it more –"
"Not another word," Harry whispered. "Don't you dare say another word. Those books talk about mutual bonds, not about forced bonds. I'm not a research project. Don't treat me like that."
Hermione sat down on the bed, trying to hide her watering eyes.
Harry sat down next to her, downcast. "I'm not angry at you." He put his head against her shoulder. "You're my friend and I really need to talk with you."
She put an arm around him. She remained silent for a few minutes while trying to figure him out when she decided to simply ask him, "Help me understand."
"... Imagine Victor Krum," he said. "Now imagine that he has a younger brother. That boy comes up to you, kisses you, and you collapse. You wake up in a strange place and you're told this unknown young boy bonded with you. You can't walk away from him. You're stuck in a house filled with strangers. You don't have a choice." He noticed Hermione paling quickly. "I lost nearly everything when she initiated that bond. Tell me, Hermione, what do I have left besides my life and, thankfully, your friendship?"
The silence stretched on.
"You can't, can you?" Harry asked. "There's nothing left. No Hogwarts, where I learned magic with my friends. No Dursleys. No –"
"That's a good thing, isn't it?" she asked, interrupting him with her shaky voice.
"I would've been rid of the Dursleys in a few months." He waved a hand around the room. "This is permanent. I'd rather spend a few months in a cell than an eternity without freedom. That's the worst of it, I don't have any freedom anymore."
"But the –" She stopped herself from finishing that line of thought. "Right, no research. What do you mean, no freedom?"
"I can't choose who I fall in love with. I can't choose whom I have children with. I can't leave this house without her having to follow me. I can't even fly my broom. This damned bond ensures that without trust or love, the two of us are forced to remain in close proximity."
The horror in her eyes reflected his own when he found out.
"My nearly rusted and fragile cage was transformed into an unbreakable cage with an invisible leash attached to it. A leash with emotional feedback, for that matter. She shields her side, thankfully. I can't deal with my own emotions yet so how could I deal with hers too?"
Hermione had already taken him into her arms, hugging him tightly. "Oh, Harry."
"I lost my life," he whispered. "Why do these things happen to me? A young girl took everything from me. I want my life back."
Harry finally broke down and he cried against Hermione's comforting shoulder.
Mr Delacour removed the spells before sighing deeply. A sniffle behind him drew his attention, cursing himself for being so absorbed in that conversation. He turned around to see Gabrielle standing in her doorway.
"I – I thought ... I ruined his life ... I'm –"
He had already run over to avoid her falling to the floor. She cried so hard that she started hiccupping, all the time looking utterly horrified from what she'd overheard. He didn't know how much she'd heard, but obviously too much. He hugged her close and carried her to her bed, offering his comfort until she fell asleep.
Then, his own tears came. He started stroking Gabrielle's entangled hair in a vain attempt to smooth it over. "Ma belle petite princess," he whispered repeatedly.
His wife came to get him eventually, leading him to their bedroom. They both had a troubled sleep, realising that the one thing Harry wanted, they couldn't give him: complete freedom.
Months passed by and Harry grew slightly detached from everything. He left his room occasionally to explore the house, which gave some movement to Gabrielle, but it wasn't the easiest thing in the world since they had to agree on where to go.
The conversations in their home grew forced and stilted. There was no laughter.
Mr Delacour remembered his own bonding and it had become the best thing in his life, a blessing. Only now did he realise that it could become the exact reverse too, a curse. He didn't know how he would deal with a forced bonding, but he respected Harry for at least trying and putting forth an effort.
As Mr Delacour reflected on that terrible day and the aftermath, he couldn't help but wonder how naïve his wife and he had been to assume everything would work out. Bonds were a very rare occurrence, but the partners always loved each other. A forced bond on the other hand ... And like Harry's well-famed resistance to the killing curse, he was just as uniquely resistant to accepting the bond. Mr Delacour wasn't happy with that deduction, and he wasn't happy that one mistake had cost so much ... but there wasn't anything that could be done.
Harry Potter and Gabrielle Delacour sat in the garden, looking at the distant sunrise. A decade had passed since the disastrous bonding. They had built up a friendship of sorts, but any attempts to venture beyond had failed abysmally. They had finally agreed on this, now that they were old enough to understand the consequence.
The sunrise was beautiful and incredibly early due to summertime. No one was awake yet, but them.
"I'm sorry," Gabrielle whispered. "So very, very sorry."
"I know." He dragged his eyes away from the sunrise and looked at her. Slowly, he put his hand on her cheek and caressed it. "You were too young to understand. I forgave you a long time ago, Gabrielle. I'm certain you felt that across the bond."
A tiny, sad smile appeared on her ethereal face. Tears got caught up by gravity and started travelling downwards.
"I'm terribly sorry as –"
Gabrielle's finger touched his lips. "You've nothing to be sorry for. You had no obligations."
"Nor you," he said, giving her a sad smile in return. "Doesn't stop me from being sorry."
She sighed, already having had this argument with him too many times. She wouldn't win, not even now. She quivered when she realised what was about to – "Can you –" she murmured, her voice breaking a bit. "Can you hold me ... when it happens?"
Harry nodded. Gabrielle stood up and settled down in his lap, her back against his chest and his arms around her waist. There were no deliriously happy feelings, not that she expected there to be. But, this felt comforting, knowing she wasn't alone.
Gabrielle followed Harry's gaze towards the sunrise and an eternity seemed to pass by.
Years ago they'd found a passage in a tome that had been hidden from them. A passage which had reverberated through both their minds and which had been the topic of their last conversations.
The sun rose, inch by inch, engulfing the world in bright light while bringing life wherever it touched.
Their visions darkened while feelings of weariness, grief, and remorse started flowing freely through the bond.
Harry had given up months ago.
Gabrielle gave up as well.
Mr and Mrs Delacour found them in that position when they finally woke up. The small ray of hope from seeing them so close together was shattered by the stillness of their bodies. They ran towards them only to encounter their soulless eyes staring into the distance.
They collapsed to the ground and wept, realising the cold and bitter truth.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me.