Over the coming days, many people came by to see Harry. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, and even more tokens of gratitude and well-wishes were given. The first people to visit him upon Dumbledore leaving on the first day were, unsurprisingly, his two best friends, Ron and Hermione.
Hermione rushed forward, grabbing him in a hug, though upon seeing Harry wince, she backed off. "Easy there Hermione. I feel like I've been run over by a stampede of Hippogriffs."
"Mate, you look like utter shite," Ron said by way of greeting. "Has Pomfrey done nothing?"
"Oh, you should have seen me before she jammed a thousand potions down my throat. There was a sword sticking out of my chest and everything."
"So, what happened?" Hermione asked nervously. "There's so many rumors going around, but the common denominator is that you said that it was You-know-who…"
"It's the same thing that happens every year, you know?" Harry replied. "First year, there was the Philosopher's stone. Second year was the Diary. Last year.. well, I guess last year was just Wormtail being driven out of hiding and going to find his master, which he did. This year, the difference is that Voldemort finally succeeded."
Harry spent the next fifteen minutes telling his friends how he got through the maze, and then what happened at the graveyard. By the end of it, Hermione was in tears, and Ron was practically speechless and white as a sheet. He didn't go into as much detail as he did with Dumbledore and Crouch, as he didn't really want to relive parts of it. Nor did he give the exact details of the ritual, or every last name of the Death Eaters, but he didn't really hide any information from them.
However, Harry specifically didn't tell them about the Order of the Phoenix. He trusted his friends with all of his secrets, but the Order was Dumbledore's secret, and therefore not his to give out. Harry knew that they would all be willing to fight, so he didn't see it as that big of an issue, if it should come to that. Dumbledore had specifically said that he recruited his parents as soon as they finished school, so it's not like the headmaster would be recruiting a bunch of underage fifteen year olds to be fighting.
Eventually, Ron and Hermione left for the next visitor, but the person he really wanted to see didn't come to visit for nearly an hour. Apparently there was a huge line and Pomfrey was very strict with the amount of people she would allow in the hospital wing at any given time.
When she did arrive though, Harry let out a sigh of relief. Fleur looked radiant as ever, even with the look of genuine worry on her face. She practically ran up and buried her head in his chest, before sobbing a bit. Harry held onto her tight for a few minutes, before Fleur composed herself.
"Tell me eet is not true," Fleur said worriedly. "Ze rumors…"
"It's true," Harry said quietly, holding onto her hand. "Voldemort stabbed me through the chest with a ritual knife."
Harry, as he had done with Ron and Hermione, told his girlfriend what happened in the graveyard. This was his third-retelling however, and he was starting to condense some of the facts. By the end of the day, he was sure he'd be sick of it entirely
"Zat is dreadful," Fleur said once Harry had finished. "I can't even imagine… To zis day, even in France, his name is feared. And for him to be back…"
"You believe me though, right?" Harry asked nervously. "The Minister seemed to be going out of his way to call me delusional and a liar."
"Of course I believe you!" Fleur said. "'Ow can I not? After everything you've been through... for zis to 'appen?"
Harry nodded his head gratefully. "What was the maze like for you?"
"Zair were a lot of traps," Fleur said, contemplating the question. "I 'ad zought I was making quick progress, but zen I came upon a Sphinx. It must 'ave taken me ten minutes to solve ze riddle… I don't zink I had a chance, with 'ow much of a 'eadstart you and Viktor 'ad… but I gave it my all."
Harry stayed silent for a minute, contemplating what he wanted to say. "When I woke up after the attack… the first person I hoped to see was you."
"I'm touched," Fleur said, smiling. "I didn't know anything was amiss until ze Aurors started taking ze maze apart. I was being interview by zem when you 'ad returned, and only got to see you when you were brought to 'ere last night."
"I saw you talking with Bill Weasley before Dumbledore cleared everyone from the room," Harry said quickly. "It looked like he said something funny."
"Really?" Fleur said, raising one perfect eyebrow. "You're choosing now as a time to do zis?"
"Well, he's older than me, better looking, has a dangerous job with loads of cool stories…" Harry was a bit concerned, though he did think it a bit irrational. His and Fleur's relationship wasn't exactly public knowledge. Most journalists were not as willing as Rita Skeeter to post sham articles about student relationships in the newspaper, not with how Harry had reacted to Rita.
Fleur rolled her eyes. "'E did try to flirt with me, but I found 'is attempts funny. 'E told me about 'is job as a curse breaker for Gringotts, and I admit, I 'ad been considering them amongst my choices so I could work 'ere to improve my English… 'E went on for some length about his work in Egypt."
"And?" Harry pressed on.
"And nothing," Fleur said dismissively. "'E's too full of 'imself. I 'ave met a dozen men like zat, who zink they can woo me in a such a manner. He was too practiced, too used to 'aving 'is way, and I could see right through his intent. Plus, I 'ave decided what I will do now zat ze tournament is over."
"Which is what?" asked Harry.
"It is clear zat England will need all ze 'elp it can get in ze upcoming months. I am going to become an Auror, and I will do whatever I can do to 'elp you. And, zis means zat I can visit you during ze summer. I enjoyed our time in ze past several months too much to let a minor thing like distance to get in ze way."
"That's good," Harry said, giving a genuinely relieved smile. "I don't know where I am staying this summer yet, but I see no reason why we couldn't go on dates to Diagon Alley or wherever you want. And it will be easier to write each other if you're not across the Channel."
Fleur smiled at Harry's visible change in demeanor. "It would like zat very much," she said. "I hear ze Auror training is vigorous, but I am confident."
"I can't imagine a world where you would not get accepted into Auror training. You're far too skilled for them to say no to."
"I'm glad you zink so," said Fleur. "And I am sorry for making you worry like zat."
"I was being irrational," Harry responded.
"It takes more zan a wink of ze eyes and flexing of ze muscles to interest me," she said. "You've done more in ze last four years zan zat curse-breaker could ever imagine. As if I would be impressed by ze raiding of dusty old tombs in ze pursuit of gold."
Harry was about to respond, but Fleur quickly leaned down and caught his lips in a kiss. All doubt left Harry's mind as a fire was lit in his loins. He quickly wrapped an arm around her and pulled her close, but before things could get out of hand, there was a loud coughing from behind him.
"What did I tell you, Mr. Potter," Madam Pomfrey said sternly, glaring at both of them. "You need rest and relaxation. Frolicking about like this is too strenuous for you in your present state. And that's not to mention that you have a line of visitors still waiting."
"Sorry," Harry replied, not really sorry. Fleur seemed unphased, but took that as a hint that her time was up. She gave him a quick peck and waved him goodbye as the next visitor came in.
Unluckily for him, the visitor was not even half as attractive as Fleur. With a sigh, Harry readied himself for the influx of visitors that he had little interest in, but was expected to be receptive of and kind to.
It was nearly two hours after Fleur's visit before Harry saw a well-wisher he actually cared about, this time in the form of the Weasley twins.
"Heya, Harry," Fred and George greeted exuberantly. They were alternating between looking distressed and cheerful, though cheerful seemed to be winning out.
"Hey guys," Harry replied, returning a small smile. The sight of friendly faces was very welcomed, even if they were bearing mischievous smirks.
"Heard you got into a bit of a scuffle," said George.
"Thought we'd come by to take a look for ourselves," Fred continued.
"But, I must say, the new look is an improvement," they finished together. Harry rolled his eyes.
"Yeah, a dagger through the chest is real fashionable," Harry replied, gingerly rubbing at the wound. Despite having been healed, it was quite tender.
The twins sombered up immediately. "Mum and Dad have already been approached by Dumbledore," Fred said.
"Bill as well," George added. "They're going to be part of some unsanctioned group, fighting against You-know-who."
"We immediately offered to join… but they said we're too young."
"They're not wrong," Harry replied. "You know, almost none of Dumbledore's group survived the first war. Look how Mad-eye Moody turned out. I want to fight as well, but I've still got three years left of Hogwarts to go. Even given my role in recent events, Dumbledore likely won't let me join."
"We are of age though, which is the annoying part," Fred said.
"We want to fight," George continued. "We've grown up our whole lives hearing about how mum's brothers were killed in the war…"
"But, I guess if Dumbledore won't even let you in, we'll have to suck it up."
Harry sighed. "There haven't even been any attacks yet. No one knows what's going to happen. You've heard the stories of how it began last time - there wasn't exactly open warfare. I reckon we'll all have roles to play in the upcoming years. You two are brilliant when you put your minds to it, and I reckon we'll all be needing some laughs before long."
"That's a good point," George said contemplatively. "We want to open our own store as soon as possible, but mum would hear none of it. She's determined that we have to take our NEWTS.. but they just don't seem relevant for what we want to do, especially with war looming."
"You guys raised enough funds this year for that?" Harry asked. "That can't be cheap."
"It's not," Fred said. "We're going to look into it more during the summer, but we've got an idea where we want our premises to be. We'll probably have to get a loan from the goblins though."
"If mum were to find out…" George said. The three of them shivered at the thought.
Harry suddenly had an idea, and he reached for his tournament winnings. He had agreed to split it fairly with Hermione and Ron, and he still had every intent of doing that, but truthfully, he didn't really have any use for his own share. He didn't even think twice before taking his share out of the bag and handing it to the twins.
"We can't take this," they replied. "You won it fair and square."
"I don't really need it," Harry replied. "I know it isn't all that much in the grand scheme of things, but the value of a laugh is going to be more important than having another stack of gold in my vault that I'm never going to use."
"We'll pay you back," Fred said seriously.
"Or better yet, we can treat it like an investment," George added. "You can be a silent partner. This gold will help more than you think."
"How much is it?" Fred asked.
"Three hundred and thirty-four galleons," Harry replied. "You should consider asking Ron for help. Merlin knows he's going to have compulsive spending problems with that same amount of gold. A chance to invest may help him in the long term by being responsible."
"We'll consider it," George replied, hefting the bag in one hand. "This should go a long way in developing new lines of product."
"If there's something you want us to experiment with, just let us know and we'll see if we can do something. Now that we're of age, it's going to be much easier for us to get hold of some rarer ingredients."
"I'll keep that in mind," said Harry.
It was nearly midnight, several hours after the last visitor had said their part and left. Not everyone had been joyful. Some had thought he was full of crap about Voldemort being back, though they didn't say it like that in so many words. But there was no denying that Harry had been wounded in some sort of fight. It was well known that Harry always managed to end up in the hospital wing at the end of the year.
Regardless, most people merely wanted to congratulate him on winning the Tournament. With Voldemort's return, the actual fact that he had won seemed almost an afterthought to him. It just didn't seem that important in the face of impending conflict.
Harry was ready to go to sleep when the doors to the hospital wing opened once more, revealing Dumbledore and a large shaggy dog on a leash. Harry sat up in his bed immediately.
"Sirius!" Harry shouted with excitement. His godfather rushed over, transforming back into his human form, and hugged him tightly.
"Harry," Sirius said, smiling widely. "You look like shit, but you're alive, and that's the important part."
"You don't look much better," Harry retorted. "Have you settled down yet?"
"Well, I've got some news on that front," Sirius replied excitedly. "You're coming to live with me this summer."
"Are you serious?" Harry asked.
"Yes I am, and yes I am," Sirius said, chuckling. That joke never got old for him. Harry rolled his eyes in response.
"It took a little persuasion," Dumbledore said, his eyes twinkling. "But I've managed to convince Sirius to move back into his old family home."
"I hate the place," Sirius said, frowning at the very thought. "Haven't lived there since I was sixteen, but from what we've gathered, no one has lived there in ten years, not since my mother died. It'll take a bit to clean up, but it's a place to stay."
"That's great," Harry said, smiling. "Excellent."
"Sirius was kind enough to allow us the use of the place as Headquarters for the Order, so you will be seeing a lot of me during the summer, I'm afraid, even if it's only for five minutes at a time."
"That's good too," Harry said. "I want to be informed of what's going on, even if I'm not in the actual Order."
Dumbledore nodded. "Like I said previously, it's going to take some time to recruit new members, but I will gladly keep you appraised of the current state of things. Now, while the house is currently in disarray, it will be habitable by the time you leave on the Hogwarts express. We're not going to make the same mistake as last time - I am going to cast the Fidelius Charm, and Sirius is going to be the Secret Keeper - it is his house after all, but this way, you will be as protected as possible."
"That sounds great," Harry replied eagerly. He was truly amazed that he wouldn't be forced to live with the Dursley's any longer. Heck, he might not ever have to see them again, which was perfectly fine by him. "This is truly amazing, thank you."
Dumbledore smiled kindly, before excusing himself to give Sirius and Harry some time to talk alone.
"So, tell me all about this girlfriend of yours," Sirius said, grinning ear to ear.
Harry rolled his eyes, sighed, and threw a chocolate frog at him.
"Students. Colleagues. Honored guests." Dumbledore said, standing at the front of the Great Hall. He was resplendent in blue and orange robes, with his customary half-moon glasses perched precariously upon his nose, and his long beard tucked into his robe. "The end of another year."
Everyone in the hall was watching the elderly headmaster give his speech. No one dared speak over him, not even in whisper, for fear of missing what he was about to say.
"There is much I wish to say to you all tonight. The Ministry would wish I say nothing at all, but you all deserve to know the truth. You all deserve to know what happened on the night of the Third Task."
Dumbledore paused for dramatic effect, taking time to scan each and every face in the room. These children deserved to grow up in a time of peace, but it was about to be ripped away. "Lord Voldemort has returned."
The uproar was immediate and deafening, despite the rumors of the truth having soaked into every nook and cranny of Hogwarts in the previous days. Patiently, Dumbledore raised one hand up. The noise stopped immediately.
"The details of his rebirth are gravely unpleasant and deeply unsettling, so I will refrain from any specifics. Suffice it say, before now, Voldemort had existed in this world as a mere shade, bodiless, a wraith of little concern but able to hide from even the best efforts of myself and the Ministry. But I am afraid we have all been caught off guard by his plans, plans to kidnap Harry Potter and enact a resurrection ritual using the darkest of magics. Plans that succeeded."
Nobody said a word, but across the Hall, eyes flitted and stared at where Harry sat, looking as forlorn and lost as perhaps he had ever been.
"I can scarcely fathom the bravery Harry Potter showed to escape from Lord Voldemort, a feat few wizards have ever achieved. Harry Potter deserves our respect and admiration for surviving once more when so many would have failed. Do not blame him for Voldemort's return, for few people, if any at all, may have been able to stop it." Dumbledore looked down with a sad expression of his face. "If I had been there," he said, "perhaps not even I could have made a difference."
There was a noticeable stir at this, and McGonagall nearly stood before the Headmaster waved her to sit back down.
Finally, after an endless wait, Dumbledore looked back up at the crowd. "This is not a time for strife or petty feuds. Yet neither is it a time for despair. Instead, my friends, let us embrace this opportunity for unity. Only if we stand together can we hope to overcome the darkness. In the coming months you may hear wild stories, stories too impossible, too fantastic to believe, but know this. No matter what you hear, no matter who tells it, know that you will always be welcomed here at Hogwarts, if you but desire safety."
"Let it not be said that Lord Voldemort is without his talents," Dumbledore continued. "He has a gift of spreading fear and discord. We can only combat him as long as we stand together. Divided, we are weak. Remember this, and know that you are never alone. Help will always be there for those who seek it."
"We will face challenging times and extreme adversity, this is unfortunately true. There are dark and dangerous times ahead of us, and I urge you all to prepare. If you see any strange activity, I urge you to report it through the proper channels as soon as possible. And remember, even as the darkness encroaches, there will always be hope. Together, hope and justice shall prevail and despair shall not!"
Dumbledore raised a glass. "To Harry Potter," he said. "To Hogwarts. And to all of wizardkind!"
A few things I want to say, now that this year is complete. I set out writing this fic with one goal in mind: write a believable Harry/Fleur fic that doesn't involve gimmicks and cliches. You know the ones - Veela Auras/Allure, soul bonds, Veela bonds, woe-is-me-I'm-too-beautiful-and-unobtainable, mindmelds with other characters (James, Voldemort, Salazar Slytherin, Dobby), changing Harry's age, changing Fleur's age, moving the tournament to Harry's seventh year, the recent trend of bodyguard!Harry… It's been a personal belief of mine that none of that is actually needed to make it work, and people just like to overcomplicate things. So I wrote a barebones story with that one goal in mind.
Whether or not I succeeded with my goal is up to interpretation, I guess. The story probably could have ended up as Harry/Lavender pretty easily. I have always, first and foremost, written for my own entertainment. However, that often means I leave a lot of my stories unfinished, so like the previous story I posted, I waited until I finished writing the whole story before posting it, so I wouldn't leave the story hanging if I got bored.
The final word count is 113,000 words, and with 23 chapters, that's an average of 4,900 words per chapter. That's reasonable, I think, and inline with canon. Each chapter was edited three or four times by myself before being posted, but with only my own eyes reading it, mistakes will always be missed.
There are some weak moments in the story, I'll be the first to admit it. The first one that stands out to me is the Weighing of the Wands and the "press conference". Another is the Yule Ball scene, which in my opinion, is one of the hardest scenes to write in the fandom. There's a lot of room for improvement in that, I think, and with the difficulty in mind, I didn't try particularly hard to make it not cringeworthy or self-indulgent. The second task is pretty weak as well, but I didn't want to just use Gillyweed. Then, there's some of the later filler chapters, where the story noticeably picks up pace and rushes towards the end. Lastly, the third task. I wanted to do something interesting, and for some reason the first thing that came to mind was the Water Temple in Zelda OoT, with the shadow Link, and well, I think it could have been handled or written better. Then, I know there's a few random plot points that go nowhere. Some of the things Harry buys in Hogsmede don't get mentioned ever again, and Harry never did get to watch the memories of the other Champions for the first task. There's probably others, but I sort of dislike plot points being introduced into a story for a sole singular purpose a chapter later, since it feels kind of cheap. I just went with the flow of the story instead of trying to cram in misc. filler.
So, I know people will be asking for a sequel next. I'd love to say it's finished, but beyond planning the first few chapters, I haven't really started. I know where I want to take the story (how many Auror!Fleur stories have you seen?), but getting it there will take some time. I'll likely get sidetracked with one of my other writing projects before getting back to this, so I can't really promise anything. I did sort of post this story out of the blue, so you can expect the same thing for the sequel whenever I get around to it. Also, since there seems to be some confusion, this story is firmly Harry/Fleur. There will be no deviation from that plan, so all you people who are worrying about possible implied/imagined Fleur/Bill don't need to worry.
Oh, and lastly, I'd like to thank everyone who has left reviews, especially the people who PMed me with story corrections, and especially Jeram who helped me with Dumbledore's final speech.
And to conclude, there were 33 eye rolls in the story. 34 if you count Barty Jr's eyes rolling up into his head when he had a seizure.