A Glimpse of Black
I stood just under the threshold of the gargantuan main door of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and breathed in. The sharpness and cold of the humid January air filled my lungs, spiced liberally with the faint peaty smell that permeated the Highlands and the sweetness of roses and daffodils. Or at least that was the name Fleur gave to those triangular leafed, yellow flowers growing in the garden. It was invigorating.
Standing on the boundaries of the castle proper was a queer feeling. My eyes closed, I focused on what I could perceive, and in the darkness of my own lids, I could almost feel the tendrils of heat arcing from my body and seeking escape into the heather and the wilderness. At my back stood a veritable wall of warmth, as solid as the stones that fenced it, seeping into me, desperate for the feel of life and breath. Under those mundane happenings, if I paid careful attention, I could feel another wall. A wall that was as alive as I, that caressed my sides and extended to the stone, crackling, rebuking the advances of the warm air from inside. A cruel warden with strict instructions, but as I stood, interrupting the flow of that living curtain of lightning, it hugged itself to me, which made a door, of sorts. The jailed energy inside rushing to escape, thanking my accompliceship with a warm embrace.
"You look like you are enjoying yourself," said an amused voice, warming me more than any delinquent warm air ever could.
"You were right."
"Of course I was," she said, unfazed by my non sequitur, "You are going to 'ave to be more specific, though. It's not a unique 'appening after all."
"Magic," I said simply, keeping my eyes closed but not being able to suppress the tiniest of smiles as I saw her lift her brow in my mind's eye, that infinitely endearing gesture of both expectancy and defiance. I opened my eyes to find that exact expression -albeit with a different scarf than I imagined- in front of me, a step down from the main stairs so that, for once, I was looking down at her.
I felt my face get warmer as I spoke, but as I was already flushed from the cold, I was fairly sure that she had not noticed. Her face, though, lit up both with the warmth of a smile and the ruddiness of delight in compliment.
Gods, how had I missed her. It's almost ridiculous, but after just about a week of only sharing a smile or two across the hall or the grounds I was desperate to just have more time with her.
"It certainement is," she nodded in agreement, eyes of swirling blue, bright and enchanting, "You, though, are certainly 'ard to find when you put your mind to it."
She stood, expectant, eyes wide and brows high, twirling leisurely side to side. Something that, I noticed, did amazing things for her- "I did disappear for a bit, didn't I?" I ruffled my hair, "Had a busy week, I guess."
She may have been unaware of my blush, but there is no way she failed to take notice of my roving eyes. She did not stop her beguiling rocking, though.
"So did I. It was… Dull, without you, mon petit."
"It sure was," my lips twisted upwards, jocund at the endearment. I gestured towards the grounds and she nodded, pulling the edge of her Gryffindor scarf higher. Huh, if this continued I would have to buy another whole set of livery, "What kept you? Something to do with the task?"
"Amongst other things, yes. I solved the clue. Or rather, my sister did."
"Your sister? Isn't she at Beauxbatons?"
"She is. But you know what they say, problems look different from afar."
"Quite. And the farthest from that infernal screeching hunk of rubbish the better."
Her laugh sang, "It was my… colourful description of the noise what clued 'er in. It reminded 'er of a story our Grand-mère use to tell us when I was small."
"Must have been one hell of a description."
She shrugged, "I was less than pleased with the damnable thing. I needed to rant to someone, I suppose."
"Oh, I feel you," she turned to look at me, lips quirked and brow raised teasingly, "It's just an expression," I defended, which only served to make me more embarrassed, and make her more amused.
"Of course it is," she continued walking with a pleased air. "You solved the clue too, I gather."
"Oh, yeah. Well, Cedric told me how, to be fair."
"That's the opposite of being fair, 'arry."
I shrugged, unrepentant, "And just as well, I'm not sure I would have gotten such an obscure clue. I mean, who would? Not like many people have heard mermaids sing outside water."
She stopped in her tracks, "mer- Oh, of course. I 'ad thought sirens, but the waters would be too cold for them 'ere, now that I think."
"Aren't they basically the same thing?"
"Ugh!" she stomped her foot and started to walk with long, brisk strides, "They are very different, 'Arry," she waved her hands in emphasis, "The fact that they are considered creatures does not mean all of them can be lumped together thoughtlessly. That's- that's- wrong! And- disrespectful!"
"Whoa, there," I said, slowing my pace, in hopes she would too slow down from her abrupt spurt of Olympic walk, else I would have to break into a trot to keep up, "I meant nothing by it, Fleur. I mostly meant for the Task, it would not matter if it were one or the other."
She looked at me, and then away, her pace relaxing from the passionate march from moments before.
The gravel under our feet, wet with melted snow, crunched under our feet as we walked In silence towards the carriages that went to Hogsmeade.
"I'm sorry," she said after a while, and I knew she was. From the moment she fell silent and started fiddling with the hem of her coat I knew she regretted her words. Or at least the way in which she spoke them.
I remembered in that moment the nervous fidgeting of the first time that she had apologized to me and felt a sudden and overwhelming surge of tenderness
Slowly, carefully, I took one of her hands in both of mine, feeling the heat of it as if I was holding a particularly warm cup of tea.
She stopped walking and looked at her hand in mine with wide eyes.
"It's all right. I know it was not me you were upset with, not really."
Her eyes turned towards mine still wide, and softened after a second, her whole demeanour relaxing, and answered with a wavering smile.
I went to drop her hand, but she squeezed mine and, still holding it, resumed her walk, throwing me a sidelong smile that was considerably surer than the previous.
"You can talk to me about it though, if you'd like."
She looked at me for a second and shook her head.
"Non. Not 'ere, at least, and not like this. Though… Thank you. Thank you mon 'Arry,'' She squeezed my hand and with a burst of liveliness that was both comforting and troubling, she pulled me towards the closest, luckily unoccupied, carriage.
"You know, petal, I think I know just the thing to cheer you up."
She groaned, as she always did when I called her any flower related name. Unfortunately for her, that groan was one adorable sound.
The warmth of the carriage received us and our smiles, inviting more so for the privacy it offered than for the comfort.
All right, maybe the suggestive comment became a bit too bold for me after we got into the dark, private and cosy interior of the carriage, our knees brushing together with every bump and every little move, the heat of her body like a tiny furnace, making me wonder how in hell can she be so affected by the cold and making me sweat some, for several different reasons.
There was little conversation for most of the way, we had in all fairness been away from each other for little more than a week, and a pretty uneventful one at that. We could talk about the Tournament, I suppose, but it's not something that we tended to talk about outside of sheer necessity. I guess we are too competitive for that.
Besides, the furtive glances and fleeting touches were enough to occupy my whole attention. Something had changed between us. What, I could not say. Nor am I sure I'd even want to.
Eyes wander and take the mind for a ride. Fingers clutch into the imagined warmth of a muse that is as close as she is far.
I know she has noticed. She can't not have. She's too sharp to let something like that pass without notice, and that sharpness, that quickness of wit that I so enjoy were the cause of my worries.
She is sure to be disgusted, I'd think. What frail friendship I had managed to build would go up in flames -something that almost got a way to literal meaning that one time in her room- and I'd be alone again.
All right, I may have been a tad sensitive on the matter of friendship because of Ron, but still, I'd seen the loathing in those clear eyes every time some lust-addled bastard came to sweet-talk her, that wrinkle at the top of her nose that emerged at the sight of an inbound boy, bouncing on his feet and full of himself.
My fists tightened at the thought, clutching the fabric of my outer robe with a prejudice it didn't merit.
A touch. The mere graze of her leg against mine was enough to dispel the jealous thoughts and relax my offended appendages.
I looked at her glittering eyes, bright even in the dim of the carriage, and in the little crinkles on the corners of them I found a reassurance that was not mine to take.
"So," she said, "where are we going? Besides the obvious, of course."
"I'm not quite sure," I ruffled my head again, trying to put my ideas back in some semblance of order, "I need to buy a couple of things for my solution to the task. You see, I-"
Her finger touched my lips and I almost cracked my head open on the roof of the carriage, she giggled and my lips tingled.
"That's enough, Monsieur. You wouldn't want to reveal your plan to me, would you? How could I win another chocolat 'aul fairly if you go spilling your secrets?"
I smiled against her finger and I could feel her arm flinch back but it ultimately remained in place.
"So, are we doing this again then? The bet?" her neck flushed rosy when I spoke, my lips moving slightly against her finger. Her hand fell to her lap quickly at that.
"Oui," her coloured face rose teasingly, "I would not deprive you of a chance to gift me sweets."
"Your generosity is as boundless as your bea- *coffs* well, it knows no bounds."
She looked at me with such a softness on her gaze that I wanted to jump her. I wanted to jump away from her. I wanted to run my fingers under her cap and dip them into the liquid gold of her hair.
On that very moment, the carriage stopped. The sharpness of the stop jolted me from what were entirely inappropriate thoughts, and I hurriedly vacated the vehicle, making use of what little control over myself I still possessed.
I stood at the door ready to help her in the most gentlemanly manner possible. She poked her face out, expression unreadable, and extended a delicately shaped hand towards me.
I helped her down.
She did not let go.
We walked for a few minutes in silence, enjoying the calm of Hogsmeade outside visiting days. Chilly winds lifted the powdery snow that collected on the edges of the road, chilling my rushing blood, chimneys puffed happily into the ice blue sky.
"Are we going somewhere particular?" Fleur asked, her gaze going from one storefront to the next.
"I think. I don't really know where to buy the things I need, but the jewellery shop would be a good place to start."
She glanced quickly at me and then fixed her face on the road, "I thought you were 'ere for the task."
"We are. Why else would I go to a jeweller?"
"I don't know. A present, maybe," her grip on my hand tightened, "I noticed your friend likes big earrings."
"Hermione? She doesn't wear-"
"Oh," The air lost some of its chill all of a sudden, "I guess she does."
Fleur's hand tightened even more, and the heat that came from it was startling. Nice going, Potter. I had to give it to Katie, it appears she actually knew what she was doing.
"It's a shame I'm not getting earrings then, isn't it?"
She turned to face me, the frown that had pulled at her features released its hold, but it did not abate entirely. The fire behind her eyes did not lessen.
"Oui. A crying shame," she said and leaned against my arm.
Aelfwine and Co. was an orderly and bright place, filled with small cabinets containing any amount of shiny trinkets in varying shades of gold and silver and stones of any hue you could care for. A person stood behind the counter that I assumed to be Mr Aelfwine. The name certainly fit him. Slim to the point of looking unhealthy and with grey eyes that were way bigger than his face merited, he stood with a dignified air looking straight at me.
I exchanged a glance with Fleur, and shrugging, she set about perusing the exhibition.
"Er, good day, Mr Aelfwine. I was hoping you could help me with something."
He looked at me, impassive, and let his gaze slide to Fleur where she stood tuning her fingers over some piece of jewellery.
"White gold would suit her. However, she doesn't seem overly fond of adornments."
"What? Oh! No, that's not- I mean- Ahem, I need to procure the items on this list. I didn't really know where to look, but I thought maybe you could point me in the right direction," I gave him the list, my face warmer than usual.
He checked it and his eyebrows rose.
"This is…quite an unusual set of items, young man."
"I am aware," I said a bit miffed, "kind of the reason I don't know where to get them."
His eyes dropped once more to the piece of parchment and he hummed, "I could indeed get you most of it. It would take time, mind, and it would not be cheap. Were I not aware of your celebrity, I would have said no outright."
My opinion of Mr Aelfwine kept dropping by the second
"Could you make an estimate? Both time and price."
With a flick of his wrist a quill was in his hand, and he scribbled in my list. While looking straight in my eyes he gave it back.
I couldn't help but google at it.
"That… that is quite a bit of gold."
"I could say the same to you, Mr Potter, and that is not even taking into account the very particular stones you ask for. Those are certainly not going to be easy to procure."
"I would have to pay on collect."
His lips tightened, "that is a substantial amount to risk, I'm sure you would understand."
"Believe me, sir, it's a life and death situation for me. The risk you take is no bigger than the one I take by trusting you."
He glanced back sharply towards Fleur and his already pale face lightened a shade more, his eyes widening substantially before locking into mine again.
"I can pay you about a third of the price upfront," I am pants at haggling
He nodded slowly, his eyes glancing from me to Fleur nervously, "I-that would be agreeable. Yes, that would do."
I put my whole purse on the counter and waited for him to weigh it and give me a ticket. Fleur noticed the exchange and started towards the door.
"For what is worth, Mr Potter. I am sorry about your situation."
That was unexpected. "I- Thank you."
He looked towards the store's entrance where Fleur stood silhouetted against the dark wood
"It's inconceivable that such things are allowed to happen anymore," his lips tightened and he turned back to me, "Good day, Mr Potter, And best of lucks."
"That Mr Aelfwine, is quite the strange fellow," I said as we walked in search of a place that might offer refuge and warmth.
"'ow so? He seemed normal enough."
"Don't know… he got really nervous towards the end. Hope he's as good as his word, I left all my money with him. I am going to have to sneak to Gringotts soon, he gave me a two weeks estimate for procuring the… things."
"What in 'eavens did you buy?
I looked at her, beautifully shaped eyes open in surprised curiosity, head cocked to the side, a few locks, curled by the stringent embrace of her thick winter cap, which they had managed to escape floated in ringlets around her face. The jeweller was right. She was not wearing a single adornment, but oh how very lovely did the shining gold look against her pearly skin.
I tried not to, I really did. But such an adorable expression made it impossible, and I felt my lips tremble into a big loopy grin.
"Earrings. Lots of them. Big, gold hoops with plenty of diamonds. Oh! and garnets, beautiful, honey-coloured garnets."
I stepped back, having absolutely predicted her immediate abuse of my shoulder and cackled at her face, clearly fighting herself to make a serious expression, failed miserably and gave way to her own mirth.
"Tu es impossible," she huffed.
I bumped her shoulder with mine softly as she pouted, her arms crossed mockingly.
"Maybe, my aunt certainly thought so."
"'Arry I didn't-"
"I know," I interrupted. I remembered suddenly why it was that I did not like to talk about my home and cursed myself for a loose tongue.
"It's okay, though. For all your quirks, I still like you."
I smiled like a loon at that
"Really? Because I-"
We jumped, the resounding bark shaking us from our relaxed banter. A huge dog was running towards us from a dark alley between two stores, paws splattering rhythmically in the murky ground.
My eyes must have looked about the same size as the rim on my glasses as I stood quite still, not knowing if I was truly seeing him here. I had the faintest and most disturbing déjà-vu of the few times I saw the 'grim' last year, and thought with an uneasy shiver that seeing it spelt death.
The massive shaggy mass rounded up on us, barking madly and bouncing circles around us. Fleur fumbled in her coat with one hand while she clung to me with the other, letting a fluid tirade of French that I was quite certain was not flattering at all.
I was frozen to my feet.
A familiar word in between the flow of profanities and the dog crashed mid-jump into a solid wall of air. A disconcertingly human huff and a whine saw the dog running away towards the place he had come from. When it was a few dozen meters from us it stopped for a moment and looked back at me with sharp grey eyes before turning back and fleeing.
"Where did zat dog even-"
"Wait," I whispered, "Wait!" I shouted. My legs decided to cooperate at that moment and I took off after it, running like my life depended on it. I got to the corner where it had disappeared with barely enough time to see the back tail turn another corner.
I picked up my pace.
The winter coat was dragging me down, the wet ground slippery and treacherous. My socks were getting wetter and wetter with each step, my body growing uncomfortably warm.
I turned briefly to see Fleur tailing me, her long hair swinging to and fro wildly behind her.
I cursed loudly and colourfully, and for one moment I thought to stop, to let Sirius go and try and make up an excuse for Fleur. What the fuck was I going to say? And what the fuck was my very much outlawed godfather doing here? So I kept running, following the fleeting glimpses of black. I could hear the splat of her steps as she called to me while we twisted and turned around the scattered winding alleys around the part of Hogsmeade that people actually lived in.
Just a couple houses more, and the landscape quickly opened into a green plain. Sirius shot though the firm grounds faster than I could ever hope to and after a few dozen meters, disappeared. I stopped, stomped and cursed again, hearing what was likely quite close to a real-time translation behind me. It carried the same sentiment, at the very least, if a bit more wheezingly.
Fleur caught up to me and doubled over, a cloud of mist coming out of her mouth as she tried to get her breath back. Thoughts came hurried and unbidden to me of Sirius getting caught by someone while he tried to sneak up looking for me, it had been a near thing last year and now there were a lot more people wandering around the castle and the grounds, it was just a matter of time before he slipped. I could not allow him to take such a risk.
I looked at the absolutely red-faced girl panting next to me, fuming almost literally in the cold. I would have to take the risk myself, I thought as my heart clenched. I made my choice.
"What the diable was that?" she managed to breath out, "Why did you chase that dog?"
I mouthed, trying to come up with something that didn't sound half as insane as 'Oh, that was only my convicted murderer of a godfather. I wanted to visit with him.'
I grabbed her shoulders and looked at her intently, trying to convey with my eyes what I could not with my voice. Her hair brushed against my fingers and I realized belatedly that she had lost her hat in the chase.
"Trust me. I can't explain right now, please."
She looked at my face, searching for something, biting her lip, and nodded slowly.
With only that as reassurance I dashed towards the wilder and colourful heather where Sirius had -only metaphorically, I hoped- vanished.
"Padfoot!" I called, only barely having the presence of mind to not scream his name. "Padfoot, come out!"
My foot slipped and I fell forward, hitting the ground and falling, small branches wiping all around me and small stones hitting and scraping me as I rolled. I kneeled, groaning and coughing as I tried to get my wind back, half walking half crawling towards the slope, if only so that I could answer the frantic calls of Fleur before she fell right after me.
"I'm okay," I managed to let out feebly, "there is a fall, be- *coff* be careful."
What looked like a plain for hundreds of meters ahead actually had a pretty sudden drop about my own height, the resulting wall looking distinctly rocky, if moss covered. Fleur leaned over the edge and looked down. I tried to smile reassuringly but the effect was not likely very convincing as I'm sure I had a growing lump and my cracked glasses refused to remain straight on my face.
A very much human whine drew my eyes downwards and there, behind a mossy, brambly sheet of short vegetation I could see the yellow reflection of animal eyes in the dark. Fleur jumped down, landing graceful and light next to me.
As soon as her feet hit the floor, a menacing rumbling replaced the whines. Fleur was quicker this time and pointed her wand directly at the sound.
I put my hand over hers and we shared a look. Slowly, reluctantly, she lowered her wand. I kept her hand in mine so that she did not raise her wand again, or so I said to myself.
"It's okay," I said to her, to Sirius, to myself. "It's okay, Padfoot. She's with me, come out."
The great body shifted where he was hiding, alternatively whining and growling in a very articulate series of vocalisations.
"Come on Padfoot, I trust her."
More reluctant sounds, ended with a very huff like bark.
I could feel Fleur shaking slightly, which worried me until I saw her face and realized she was trying not to laugh.
What a sorry look I must be, soggy and muddy, scrapped and bumped talking to a dog that seemed to be arguing back with cries and barks.
"Oh, laugh it up, will you." I dropped her hand, only to have her snug closer and lean her head against mine, looking towards the shifty eyes in the dark.
"I did not know you 'ad an escaped pet dog, Mon petit."
This caused a loud bark that sounded very much like laughter from Sirius.
"I guess that's one way of putting it." I sighed, "are you gonna come out, or are you going to keep being so stubborn about it."
The answering whine was eloquent enough.
"'e doesn't seem to want to come back. Poor boy, did 'arry not walk you enough?"
Oh god. I can't believe Fleur is baby talking Sirius. This needed to stop. I slipped away from her, urging her to stay back with my eyes and approached the shrubby curtain, kneeling in front of it, my face close enough that I could feel the warm and frowsty dog breath on my cheeks.
"Sirius," I whispered, "I know what you are thinking, she's a foreigner and you don't know her, it's dangerous. But I can assure you, she will understand. If you have any trust in me then trust her too."
He made a noncommittal sound and his snout pushed through the leaves presenting me with a huge, sniffing nose.
"I don't even know what that means."
With little warning he pushed out of wherever he was hiding and swerved skilfully around me, heading straight for Fleur. She stiffened and her eyes widened a tad as he neared, but to my relief, no spells were thrown.
He walked around her sniffing exploratorily. Fleur didn't seem really happy at the attention but she bore it. Something made Sirius sneeze explosively a couple of times, but his subsequent happy barks and tail wagging must have meant that he found whatever he was sniffing for.
A couple bounces and he was through the shrub again. Fleur, for her part, swallowed hard and kept her distance.
"You really don't like dogs, do you?"
She shook her head, "it's not that. Dogs don't like me. They get really aggressive around me."
Sirius poked his head out, his pointy ears perked, and barked, quickly disappearing into the leafy depths.
Poking my head in turn I could see that the small bush was covering an opening in the rock that sloped gently downward until it was too dark to see anything else.
"There's a cave," I said, "he wants us to follow."
"You are joking, surely."
I sighed and closed my eyes. "This… this is something that is really important for me, Fleur, but it's something really dangerous too. I trust you. I trust you enough to share this with you, but I can't ask you to keep such a secret."
She looked at me, her head cocked, her gaze piercing. Under any other circumstance, such level of attention would have made me squirm.
She nodded, eyes focused, "let's go then."
"Are you sure about this?"
"You may not be the gallant knight that outthinks trolls, Mon petit, but I am under no illusions, you are far from normal. And I trust you too, you've earned that. I'll go with you."
I sighed, "I have to do it. I can't tell you how important this is for me, but the weight I will be putting on you… I- I have no right to do-"
She put her fingers to my lips again, the light pressure quite enough to silence me.
I'm pretty sure my eyes were even wider now than when I had first spotted Sirius, and my breathing was coming short. Too short.
"I said I'd go," she said firmly, her tone belied by her soft kaleidoscope eyes, "if the weight you carry is so great, then you should not carry it alone."
"Too late, I 'ave made up my mind and that's that. You took a stupid risk before for me, did you not? Let me do the same for you. Will you?"
I screwed my eyes shut, for I knew that It would take but a glance at the slumped arches of her barely there eyebrows to make my eyes swim.
I nodded sharply, which made her finger unexpectedly poke the tip on my nose and prompted nervous laughter from both of us.
Her hand fell onto my shoulder, it's warmth cutting the ravenous cold of the sharp winds. With a deep breath and a look of gratefulness that tried to express everything I could not otherwise, I marched towards the curtained cave and pulled the green doors to the side.
Fleur's composed face wavered for a moment as she gazed into the dark, but with a purposeful gesture, she straightened and lighted her wand.
A raised, challenging eyebrow made my lips quirk and then, with a whispered Lumos, my wand was lit too. and we went into the dark.
The cave's wall reflected the magic fueled light, distorting the already lumpy and slippery ground and making the gentle slope feel a lot more challenging than it should have been. It was also frigid to the point where my fingers were starting to hurt, a chilly breeze moving out of the tunnel and then back in, as if the very stone were breathing around us.
It took only a few dozen steps until we got to a place where the walls opened into a bubble the size of a small room, even if the tunnel probably went on, for the breeze had not stopped. A small pile of fabric resembling a nest was laying near the wall, a pile of newspapers next to it, but by far the most eye-catching detail of the 'room' was the five hundred kilos of feathered menace that lay paws crossed right in the middle of the way.
The bright yellow eyes of Buckbeak, shining eerily in the dim light, fixed to mine, and I could swear I saw recognition in his eyes before his head bowed in a small gesture. Buckbeak shifted his eyes then to Fleur's, whose mouth kept moving trying to form words, and his eyes looked about as surprised as hers. The beast made a recoiling motion and his feathers ruffled, his head then extended forwards as he sniffed the stagnant air.
"Is that a-"
"Do not move, Fleur. Let him think."
The longest few seconds passed while Buckbeak made up his mind about Fleur, my muscles were taut and ready to pull her away should the need arise.
A sharp bird's cry reverberated through the cave wall's and Buckbeak's head lowered in a reverence that almost made me slump in relief.
Fleur still looked peaked, and her sharp features looked more menacing under the flickering light than I had ever seen them before. "It's okay," I said, "It's okay. He likes you." She turned towards me with a facefull of incredulity and I barked a laugh. Now I knew how Hagrid felt.
From behind the feathered mass surged a head of black, with such dishevelled hair that were it not for the colour you'd think it was a ruffled spot on Buckbeak's back. "Well," Sirius said, as he came around Buckbeak, "If little Bucky here thinks she's okay, she's fine in my book."
I smiled and surged forward, "Sirius!"
He smelled terrible. A mix of animal odours and damp, blood and musk, and his hair was greasy where it touched my face, but I could not have been happier as I hugged my godfather for the first time in nearly a year. He patted my back, "How are you, kiddo?"
"Better now that you are here. No, wait," I said as I stepped back, "What the fuck are you doing here Sirius. Are you crazy? Delirious? The whole town is crawling with people and ministry officials and foreigners, and that's without saying anything about the castle."
His head cocked towards the pile of newspapers near what I had to identify now as an improvised dog bed, my heart clenching at the thought. "I could not very well stay away after all that is happening here this year, could I? The debacle at the world cup, then the tournament… no. I had to get here."
Fleur shifted her feet, drawing our attention back to her. She looked between Sirius and me, clearly asking for an explanation of some kind.
"So, Harry, are you gonna introduce us or am I gonna have to do the honours?" His face shifted from the apprehensive expression it had been wearing to a charming smirk that would have been handsome had he not been covered in filth and generally looking like an- a starving prisoner. My heart clenched painfully again, and I started to think that this was going to become a common occurrence near him. The speed at which his expression shifted was, too, a bit troubling.
"Ah, yes," I shook myself from my thoughts, "Fleur, this- ahem, this is my godfather," I gestured to Sirius who bowed deeply in a courtly way, "Sirius, this is Fleur. She's my- my friend." Fleur nodded, though by her face this left her with even more doubts than before.
"And the French Champion, unless my memory fails me. Though I don't see how it could, in this case." Fleur stiffened, and Sirius laughed, his eyes shifting from her to me before he shook his head, a cryptic smile on his face. "I would offer you a seat, but the situation is a bit tight in this household." He said and took a seat on the ground, leaning back against Buckbeak's side.
I looked at Fleur, but she did not seem to show any sign of recognition. I sighed, this could either prove to be a good thing or not. I put a hand on her shoulder and sat in front of Sirius, she followed suit. A shiver shook her as soon as her bottom touched the cold stone and she nuzzled to my side, her face tinting ever so slightly even as head tilted up proudly.
'You don't look surprised, lass."
Her nose scrunched, "Now that you mention it, monsieur, I was expecting a black dog."
Sirius cackled and kept laughing until he could not make any sound. "Oh my, I haven't laughed like that in… I think I can't even remember." He said as he dried his eyes. He then looked at me, grey eyes questioning. I gulped. I nodded. His eyes shined with an unidentifiable emotion. "Well, Miss, you are seeing the black dog," he snickered, "In more than one meaning. But that is not what I meant before. I suppose you can get a pass at not recognizing my celebrity, seeing as you are French. My name is Sirius Orion Black, tried and convicted for the murder of twelve muggles and a wizarding war hero, at your service." he bowed her head at the end. His voice got progressively darker as the sentence moved forwards, and then he suddenly perked up, his hair bouncing, "You need to add prison break to the list of charges now! Nice."
Fleur looked at me, obvious confusion in her eyes, the shifty attitude of Sirius not lending weight to most of what he said. I nodded, and her porcelain skin became even closer to what it was compared to.
"It was-" I exhaled, "It was the day my parents died. They had been protected under a powerful charm, under the word of one of their closest friends, but they were betrayed, and it led to their- to- well… You know what happened." I sighed.
Sirius, seeing that I was having trouble with recounting a story that was so entwined to me took the lead.
"It was one of our closest friends, the betrayer, the rat. I could not believe it, but as I stood in front of the ruined house I knew it had to be so. It was a wreck. The roof had collapsed and almost all of the structure had been crushed under it. Little more than a pile of rubble. The only thing that managed to make me move was Harry crying. I had heard that cry so many times before… it just pushed me to action. Harry was in his crib, bawling, and Lily- oh gods, Lily. That was the only room in the house that was intact. I had twelve years to think what it was that she did, but It still escapes me." He pinched his nose, his face pained by remembrance, and a warm, dainty hand found itself in mine. I gave Fleur a watery, thankful smile.
"I don't know how much time passed. I honestly can't remember. I just remember lulling Harry to sleep, and then the sound of my bike. I wonder what became of that bike. I hope that Hagrid still has it ." His eyes got lost in the middle distance, his hand leisurely playing with his goatee. "Anyway," he said as he shook himself off, "Hagrid got there sometime later on my bike. I was still in shock. He thought it would be a good idea if someone else had Harry for a bit, until I was good enough to know which way to put my shoes on again. I think I agreed… In truth, little Harry was the only thing keeping me grounded at that moment, and as soon as Hagrid was away I only had rage in my mind."
He gave a deep sigh that seemed to deflate him, an effect exacerbated by the shallowness of his features. Fleur was sitting straight as could be, her eyes focused on Sirius, her hand posed over mine in between us.
Sirius took a noisy, despondent breath, his eyes still focused on something that was not here.
"It was easy to track him, the traitor. We had been as close as family before, and in times of war, we made sure we could always find the others. He did not even try to reason, he knew there was no space for that, not after what he did. He did not stand a chance against me, and he knew that too." Sirius waved his arms around, too far into memory to even notice whom he was speaking to.
"I remember his face paling as he caught sight of me, I can still count the freckles on his face, even today, I can see his shifty eyes growing wide, his chin wobbling. I was savouring his fear. He started to scream then, I could not make up the words, I was too focused. He drew his wand, but mine was in my hand already. I shot first. He dropped to the floor and shot back, I just laughed, the spell was way too wide to hope and hit me." He shook his head despondently "I was an arrogant, wrathful idiot. He knew he could not take me, the spell was not aimed at me, it hit something behind me that caused an explosion. I was blasted off my feet."
He looked towards the cave's roof, thoughtful "I think I may have passed out for a few moments, but that whole day is such a blur that I cannot be sure. What I do remember was waking up with a severed finger inches from my face. It had the ring Peter always wore and I just started to laugh. I could not stop, I thought I was gonna asphyxiate, the bastard was next to useless with a wand, but he was clever, I forgot that for a moment and paid for it. There were screams everywhere, dust and noise. I think I was hit by a stunner. Next thing I know, I'm in Azkaban. It took me a while to even learn what were the charges against me. Pettigrew's explosion had killed twelve muggles, and he did not only manage to pin all of them on me, he also framed me for his own death."
Sirius fell silent then, his gaze still fixed on the roof, his face carrying such an expression of hopelessness that the very air seemed to chill under it, his eyes withering under the freezing rains of Mnemosyne.
Fleur looked at me with her charming wide eyes, coaxing, confused, worried. When had I learned to read those swirling eyes so well?
I averted my eyes as Buckbeak cried, his beak nuzzling Sirius on his side and bringing him back to the present, afraid of what else would I be able to read there, of what she would read in mine. I squeezed her hand, nevertheless, and the delicate pressure that answered alleviated some of the pressure that came from darker places in my life, in my heart.
I shut my eyes again, holding back a wave of emotion again, something that seemed to be happening way too much today. Her hand squeezed tighter, and I opened my eyes again.
Despite the cold of the air, of the cave, of the past, her warmth reached me through the frigid space between us, even as she shivered. I leaned closer to her hoping, maybe presumptuously, that my own warmth would be as comforting to her as hers was to me.
" 'Arry... this-"
"I know what it sounds like, believe me, but it's all true," I answered her unspoken question, "I saw Pettigrew last year. That's when I met Sirius. Turns out he had disguised as the pet of Ron's family for all of those years."
"The pet of... what?"
"He is an animagus, you pretty thing. We all were. James, Peter and me. That is how he managed to hide, and how I managed to esc-" he shut his mouth. "Hmmm, maybe that one stays with me. Would not want them to fortify the security now, do we." He winked, his face turning back into what I would have described as a dashing pirate. Dirty, thin, a bit sickly, but charming and handsome.
Fleur chortled, a most peculiar sound coming from her, and promptly covered her mouth with a hand, her hilarity being forced out through giggles. "So," she said, "That black dog, it was you?"
As if on command, Sirius' hair lengthened as he hunched over, and a couple seconds later, his most charming side was on display, tail wagging and tongue lolling under perky, fluffy ears.
"Woof," he exclaimed smartly. This only renewed Fleur's giggling.
"At least that explains why you were so well behaved before," Fleur said, "I 'ad never met a dog that did not utterly hate me before. I was glad that they don't allow dogs 'ere at 'Ogwarts. It became a problem for me at Beauxbatons more than once."
With the same flurry as before, Sirius regained his roguish escapee appearance.
"I do have to say, miss, you have a strange... I don't even know if calling it smell is the right word, but there is something about you that really peaks my nose when I am in my dog shape."
"Oh?" Fleur's expression was measured, and now it was my turn to snicker as Sirius tried to put his foot out of his mouth.
"Yes, well, what I mean is something like- like- like cinnamon! It's lovely and all, but put your nose too close to it and it will stop being pleasant."
"So you say that dogs don't like me because of my smell?"
"I-, What I meant is, it can hurt if it gets up your nose. I suppose the sensitive dog snout amplifies that, I certainly cannot feel it otherwise, I mean, I can't speak for all dogs out there, my perspective changes very little when I change shapes, so I don't know what a dog actually thinks, but it is a possibility."
Fleur could try and feign a serious expression, but that small tremble at the corner of her mouth always gave her away.
She turned then to me, and her face lost a good part of the amusement that the small reprieve of Sirius' demonstration and theories had brought. "So this was your secret, mon petit? You are 'arbouring a known criminal?"
"When you put it like that..." Sirius and I exchanged a glance, "But I prefer to say that I am looking over the last piece of family I have left." I then tried to look at my godfather with the utmost disappointment I could muster, if only to make him feel a small amount of the maelstrom of bullshite that I had felt in the last twenty minutes, "Or I am trying, at least, since it seems like he enjoys taking unnecessary risks."
"I had to come!"
"You should be in the Caribbean, or something, Sirius, not here, sleeping in a damp cave and hoping no one stumbles into it."
"How could I not come after I saw what had happened? This is not children's play Harry, make no mistake, this is not an accident. Someone entered you into the tournament deliberately, and with some specific purpose, and we don't know why. I will not be a stupid arse hothead again, I can promise you that, but I cannot in good consciousness be sitting by a tree's shadow sipping daikyries while you are here with a Damocles sword over your head."
How in hells am I supposed to refute any of that. I looked at Fleur's hand on my knee and I could not help but realize that in all the whirlwind I had forgotten, or at least ignored, some things. I sighed, my shoulders slumping under the realization that despite all the good, the end was shaping up to be as messy as those of years before. The only difference is that now my focus was split enough that I could not see the build-up.
"Look, Harry, I promise to be safe. I will just be close by if anything happens. Dumbledore knows I'm here, and Remus comes by with food and clothes as much as he can. I just took a small risk as I saw you were almost alone. I thought I could scare the pretty bird off and get you here."
"Professor Lupin is here too?" I perked up and then, under Sirius's eyes, I got a bit embarrassed. I had not realized how much I had missed Lupin.
"What a strange thing to hear someone say 'professor Lupin', heh," he shook his head. "He has been around, but after what happened last year, and the papers making a mess of it, he can show his face around here about as much as me. Idiots, the lot of them. He's had to stay with me in this cave a couple of times, for they would not have him at any inn. Not even Rosmerta!" he was starting to build himself up into a proper rage, and he realized it, so he took a deep breath and closed his eyes. "Well, at least she was apologetic about it. Those that are not against him for one reason or another are too scared of retribution by the Malfoys to think about taking him in.
Fleur, again, looked confused.
"It's a long story, Fleur. Lupin is my old Defence teacher, and last year there was a… situation," Sirius snorted, "in-between all that, I learned that Sirius was my godfather and my friends rat a disguised murderer, and then had to do some… bending of certain rules, to free Sirius." Buckbeak clicked his beak. "Oh! and Buckbeak too."
"A very contrite way to say that he saved my life," interjected Sirius, "You must have gotten that humbleness from Lily. Gods know you did not get it from James. Make no mistake, little lady, were it not for Harry here I would be worse than dead."
"I do not doubt that." I didn't even try to brave the look she had thrown my way, I merely smiled awkwardly and mumbled something unintelligible even to myself.
"In any case, I am sure it's starting to get late for you two, so you should get going. What I wanted to say is be careful, Harry, be mindful of the people around you and keep a clear mind. Don't make the same mistakes I did. And do not worry about me, I'll be fine. This is a step up from Azkaban, and believe it or not Remus and Buckbeak are better company than the one I had there."
I laughed as we stood up, clutching to each other a bit to compensate for numbed limbs. I stepped forwards and gave a big hug to him again, fighting the conflictive feeling I had about having him here.
"Take care, Sirius."
"Yeah," He said as he let go, "you too, kid."
With as little thought as I could, I stepped back brushing against Fleur, my heart clenching at the sad smile on Sirius's face.
"Miss Delacour," He called just as we turned to face the outward tunnel.
"I am glad I met you."
His tone was strange, both heartfelt and teasing at the same time, and it's meaning escaped me. Fleur seemed to be quicker than me this time though, for her face coloured lightly as she rose her chin and faced Sirius, her prideful posture doing things to my composure, as it had started to happen for a while now.
"I am glad I met you too, Monsieur. I 'ope we see each other again."
And with a smile, we ascended.
Peeks over the corner to gauge the mood "Hello there, what's popping?" He says, hoping no one notices it's been like five months.
I did not break the six months mark again, at least, and for that you have to thank the Flowerpot Server -an invite for it can be found further on- in general, for being so supportive and praising my story so much that I could not help but feel more confident in my story (Despite the mountain of mistakes that still await correction in the previous chapters.) And the FFN author 'Charlennette' in particular, whose beautiful prose renewed my inspiration for my own writing, and for whose birthday this chapter was churned out at what is -for me- top speed. A big shout out to her, go read her stories, I can guarantee you'll like them if you like mine.
Likewise, all the recognition to Raphael the Older Nameless and Honorverse fan for their selfless efforts in making this story as legible and good as it is. Beta readers are life. I can also highly recommend Honerversefan stories, for even if they are quite different from mine, they are awesome. A lot of epic style prose and mythology bits thrown in.
Lets go over some reviews,
Marauders Apprentice I'm glad I managed to make a door for you into this ship. There are a lot of beautiful stories out there.
themaestro1: can't say for sure how long this story will be, but A Court of Flowers is set in fourth year, so you can extrapolate from what is already out. As I have said several times before, I don't really have a plan. I will continue the story further away from year four, but that will likely be another book.
Daggerxxx: I understand your concerns, but teenagers are awkward, inexperience and bound to other people's expectations way more than adults, so I do not think their lack of communication is strange. The tournament should be taken seriously, after all. Nevertheless, this chapter likely has assuaged your concerns on the matter. They may be terrible dancers, but they sure like to tip toe, eh?
ThR1992: Primero que nada, gracias por tus halagos. Me alegra que te agrade la personificacion que le he dado a Fleur, aunque tengo que diferir contigo en el hecho de que no es arrogante, si lo es, al menos a mis ojos, pero hay una diferencia entre la arrogancia que nace de la confianza en las abilidades propias y la arrogancia que nace de los comentarios de sicofantes. Tal vez es esa la diferencia que vez, y que hacen una de una personalidad arrogante algo mas agraciado.
Loveandpower: I think you read too much into that. I needed someone from the server to help me get that reference.
bdwilliams3: That is the highest praise you can give me, thank you.
PanderII: To be honest, I need to beta the whole thing lol. Thank you for you interactions, and I hope this chapter proved to be better from a technical point of view.
Valirys Reinhald: I love you, my dude.
Come, join us at the Harry/Fleur Discord Server, I can guarantee you'll enjoy the experience. We have a lot of writers, beta readers on hand for any writer that needs them, fan art spaces and the best collection of prompts I have seen for the ship. Everyone is welcome, even if you don't feel like throwing in to write a story. It's a very active place, though, and if you like, you can always interact there with me or many other of the authors that are active.
Invite to the Discord Server: discord . gg / k8ZxUjE
You know the Jazz, remove all the spaces. It's a permanent invite