Chapter - 8
"He should not have brought you into this, Mr. Potter."
The hand that was holding the wand that was now pointed to his face belonged to a woman. With a height just a little bit lower than Harry's shoulder, she was a beautiful woman. Long, jet-black hair flowed over her shoulders. Her thin lips were red. She had smooth, pale skin and a pair of pretty, brown eyes.
There was no warmth in her eyes, however, and the voice wasn't hers. Her lips moved, but the voice that came out of it belongs to a man.
Harry could see that she was somehow in some kind of trance. Her pupils dilated in a rather strange way. Someone was controlling her.
From her expression, or rather from her grimaces, he could see that she was trying to fight whoever it was that was controlling her. It was a losing battle that she fought, a fact made clear by a stream of tears that flowed down her face.
She wasn't alone. She was accompanied by eight other men and women who stood around her in a semi-circle. Like her, they too seem unwittingly brought under control.
Those unfortunate people weren't Khrushchev's. Harry deduced this. They were civilians, innocent Russian wizards and witches forced to do something they ordinarily wouldn't do. They weren't under the Imperius Curse. They were under... something else.
Harry glanced around the Russian Minister's office. The floor was littered with bodies. Every Auror that escorted Minister Nikolayev laid dead. He returned his gaze to the woman that spoke to him.
There can only be one man who did this. And he had a mole within the Russian Ministry of Magic.
"You're Vladimir Khrushchev?" Harry addressed her.
The pretty woman smiled. "That vas a correct assumption Harry Potter, slayer of one of the most powerful dark lords of all time. I vish I could meet you in person but alas. Still, it is an honor to finally speak to you."
"I wish I could extend you the same courtesy. If only our first meeting happened differently," Harry replied. "Like a date, first impression count. That's how you know if there will be a second date, a third, a fourth, and so on."
"And right now I am not making a good impression. That is vhat you are saying. It doesn't matter. Ve can still talk right here. Ve can still get to know each other. Perhaps from that, I can get you to see my point of view. Perhaps you may join me in the end."
"I already saw your point of view," Harry said. "And I don't like it. Not a bit. You kill these men and roped these innocent people to do your bidding. Rather cowardice I might say. Just like Voldemort. I thought you're better than him."
"I am better than him," said 'Khrushchev'.
"Yeah? What is your motive, Khrushchev? What are your intentions?" asked Harry.
There was a pause.
"Revenge," said 'Khrushchev' moments later.
"For vhat the non-magic people did to my family. For vhat the people vho are in power did to us."
Harry knew the history. Russia and all of the former Soviet territories harbored a small magical populace running into a few thousands. Many of them were divided into small and obscure communities spread throughout former Soviet nations from Ukraine to Eastern Russia. For decades they didn't have an easy existence. The time of Tsar Nicholas II's reign was the last time they experienced freedom and peace. The Bolshevik Revolution ended all that. Grigori Rasputin, a close confidant of the last Emperor of Russia, didn't help matters. His antics and his claim to possess magic didn't help the magical community at all. He was of course a fake. He never possessed any magical powers. That was part of the reasons why wizards and witches throughout the Soviet territory faced severe prosecutions under the government of the USSR. Religion wasn't the only victim. Things only improved after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Even then, scars didn't disappear that easily. And from those scars, hatred is bound to bloom.
Throughout the years, young Khrushchev and his family had to go into hiding. They never stayed long in one place. They would move from one place to another in their quest to avoid the Soviet authorities. They suffered countless narrow escapes. The hunter appeared to know very well about their prey.
Khrushchev's family found solace in the small town of Ainu, located at the southern tip of Kamchatka Peninsula, along with many other magical families. The geologically active region somehow shielded the town from the prying eyes of the Soviet authorities. And it so happen that the region also harbored strong dark magic, thanks to the countless active volcanoes. It was there that young Khrushchev began nurturing his talent in the Dark Arts.
Years of nomadic living changed Khrushchev in more ways than one. He began to hate the Soviets and muggles alike. In Ainu, he found fellow wizards who shared the same hatred as him. They concocted a plan of revenge and together, they began to gather followers. His campaign of terror kicked off a year before the fall of the Soviet Union.
"I read your dissertation," said Harry. "You have my sympathy. I think I understand what it feels like to be mercilessly hunted. I know what it feels like to be looked down on. I've been there before. But you're no better than those people who tried to hurt you. You will only endanger our kind with what you did."
'Khrushchev' began to laugh. That laugh somehow stopped all of a sudden. Her smile turned into a glare and 'Khrushchev' spoke, "You?! You lie! They honored you! They vorship you! They vill never dare to treat you like they treated us! Like pigs!" She spat. "Ve are nothing but rats to them! No! You don't understand. You vill never understand. You vill never know vhat my comrades and I had gone through. You are 'The-Boy-Who-Lived'. You are the hero. You're not like us!"
"There is more to me than what most people know, Khrushchev," Harry replied calmly. At the same time, he glanced at each and every wizard and witch that stood in front of him. Their wands were pointed at him. He wasn't worried about whether or not they will attack him. He got involved in such stand-off before and came out alive. What worried him would be what Khrushchev planned to do next. The Inhabitation Curse, much like the Imperius Curse, could only be thrown away by the victims themselves. He could only hope that Khrushchev would let them go unharmed.
"Even if vhat you said is true, you did nothing," stated 'Khrushchev'.
"I did what matters most."
"Or perhaps that you are veak. Too veak to do the right thing. Like me, I did the right thing. I showed them vhat vill happen if they cross me," said 'Khrushchev'.
"No, I am better. Better at controlling my anger and I don't get blinded by hatred. Some haters are like you and they are those who don't understand. Unlike you, I didn't fell thousands of lives with one strike," said Harry.
"They are the enemy, Harry Potter," 'Khrushchev' insisted.
"No, Khrushchev. They were nothing more than victims of your cruelty. Innocent until proven guilty. I'm sure you heard that phrase before no matter where you are. Even if you're hunkering deep in the far reaches of Siberia, you'll know those words," Harry shot back.
"That does not vork here, Harry Potter. That vould never vork. You don't understand. Here, ve are the victim. Ve are the one being prosecuted."
"Some of the victims you killed are wizards and witches too. Krasnokamsk alone harbored more than three hundred of them. All of them died because of you," said Harry.
"I know. They should not have stayed there. They should not have mingled vith the non-magic. They deserve their fate," said 'Khrushchev'.
"It is not up to you to decide where they can live and how they're going to live their lives. They did nothing wrong and you took their lives away. Don't do unto others what you don't want to be done unto you; otherwise, you'll be just as bad, or perhaps even worse than them."
At this point, Harry felt the anger that was building up inside Khrushchev.
"I am beginning to dislike you, Harry Potter," said 'Khrushchev'.
"The feeling is mutual," Harry replied. "But we're wasting time here. Why don't we meet? I'll even come alone if you insist. Let these people go."
'Khrushchev' raised an eyebrow. "I didn't make a good impression and yet you still vant to meet me."
"Call it a second chance. That is as good as what I could give to you given the circumstances. What do you say?"
"That is a nice gesture but I don't vaste my time on a second chance, Harry Potter. You, on the other hand, should pray that they vould give you one."
Harry's eyebrows furrowed. "What do you mean?"
Without warning, 'Khrushchev' pointed her wand towards the fireplace. A red blob of light shot out from the tip of her wand. It hit the fireplace with an almighty bang, showering the inhabitants of the room with pieces of stone and concrete. 'Khrushchev' and seven others were then lifted above the floor. Greenish, glowing orbs suddenly enveloped each of them. They let out a terrifying scream and fell onto the floor, unmoving. Only one witch remained standing.
The witch began to stir. She blinked several times as if she had just awoken from a deep slumber. Her eyes widened, and her hand cupped her mouth when she saw multiple bodies lying on the floor. She then saw Harry standing in front of her with his wand fully drawn.
"Wait!" Harry shouted at her.
But the witch didn't heed him. She made a dash to the door, opened it, and ran down the corridor, shouting for help. Sure enough, alarms began to blare throughout the building.
He heard shouting. He heard footsteps. They were getting louder and closer to where he stood. He sighed. He knew what would happen next. It would be unwise for him to linger. He gave the bodies one final glance before making his way towards the window.
He could stay and try explaining his way out but knowing how the Russian works, it would probably be a futile attempt. He also wasn't keen on being fed with Veritaserum. Pointing his wand at one of the windows, he blasted it open and quickly stepped out into the cold Moscow night. Through the maze of Moscow, he ran and once he got far enough from the Russian's Ministry of Magic building, he apparated.
Harry spent the next seven months on the run. He spent the nights sleeping under the stars. There were times when he would go for days without eating. It was Forest of Dean all over again. He managed to procure an old and much worn-out tent two months later from a Russian gentleman who lived in Ust-llmisk. The kind muggle also provided Harry with a little bit of food. He couldn't enjoy the man's hospitality for long, however. A group of Aurors arrived and began to sweep the town just as he left. A warrant for his arrest was issued by the Russian Ministry of Magic the next day after the incident inside the Nikolayev's office. Lucky for Harry, he knew this beforehand. He saw the pamphlets while passing by the town of Bataysk a week prior. He could, of course, flee to Britain but it wouldn't solve matters. Kingsley would be on his side of course but that won't be enough. He would still be the prime suspect for the murders. The Russian would demand his extradition so that he could face trial. He could also face backlash back home if he refused to be tried.
He had only one option. He needed to capture Vladimir Khrushchev. Alive. And that was what he was going to do.
Tracking the elusive wizard wasn't easy. Khrushchev and his men were skillful at concealing their whereabouts. His search brought him into the frozen tundra of Siberia, to far eastern Russia, and into the volcanic land of Kamchatka, to the town of Ainu. He even ventured once into the ghost town of Pripyat where the ghostly remains of the Chernobyl reactor loomed on the horizon.
In the meantime, Khrushchev's attack on Russian civilians intensified and as before, thousands of people, both muggle and wizards, died.
It was only in the tenth month that he finally got a strong lead on Khrushchev's whereabouts. He captured one of Khrushchev's scouts at the forest border of Bashkortostan. Apparently, Khrushchev was planning another attack. Through 'gentle' persuasion, the scout led Harry to Khrushchev's encampment located within the forest bordering Poland. As expected, the encampment was protected by various enchantments. He quickly disabled all the enchantments and proceeded to enter the encampment.
No words were exchanged when he found Khrushchev inside one of the tents. He decided he didn't want to hear any of Khrushchev's words. He wasted no time attacking Khrushchev and within the forest bordering Poland, a fierce and violent battle erupted.
Seven Khrushchev's men went down in the first few minutes of the fight. Khrushchev himself was a powerful wizard, but Harry had more skill. He was faster as well due to his youth; he managed to gain the upper hand not far into the fight. In the end, Khrushchev's wand flew into his hand and the dark wizard lay unconscious at Harry's feet. Many of Khrushchev's men fled after they saw their master fall.
He caused quite a stir when he appeared at the Russian Ministry of Magic lobby with a fully bound Khrushchev. The crowd watched in silence as a weary and disheveled-looking Harry walked past them with the still unconscious dark wizard floating in tow.
As expected, the Russian immediately arrested him and placed him inside a lockup awaiting further action. They took Khrushchev away for questioning.
Harry didn't have to stay for long inside the lockup, however. Nikolayev went to fetch him and brought him to his office two hours later.
"You have our deepest gratitude and my sincere apology, Mr. Potter," said Nikolayev as they made their way towards his office. "I tried to convince the council that you have nothing to do vith the murder but they refused to accept it. They vere adamant that you be brought here for trial. There vere many who believed that if you are truly innocent, you von't run away."
"Well, I need to have proof that I am truly innocent anyway. I can't stay," said Harry.
"Ve have Veritaserum, Mr. Potter," Nikolayev reminded him. "You don't have to run away."
"I know I don't have to but Khrushchev was still out there. Someone needs to bring him in and make him answer for his crime. Don't use the Veritaserum on me. Use it on Khrushchev," Harry replied.
"Ve already did. You are now acquitted, Mr. Potter," said Nikolayev.
"Of course, the investigation is still ongoing. By the vay, Minister Shacklebolt is already in my office. But before that..." Nikolayev suddenly stopped on his track. He looked at Harry's long and unkempt beard and tattered clothing. "You look a lot thinner than the last time ve met. Ve need to make you more presentable. Vhen vas the last time you had any meal?"
Harry entered the Minister's Office an hour later, looking cleaner, fully shaved, and wearing new clothing courtesy of the Russian Ministry of Magic. Kingsley, Hermione, and a few British Ministry of Magic officers were already waiting for him.
Hermione threw herself onto him and gave him a bone-crushing hug. Kingsley and the officers all came up to him and shook his hand.
Harry found out that the Russian wasn't the only one looking for him. A joint search between Britain, America, Japan, Brazil, and France was established for the same purpose as well.
There was a media furor over the incident at the Russian Ministry of Magic. Some believed that he was innocent. Others believed that he had gone off rails, that his success and people's adoration of him had gone over his head.
The Russians upon the capture of Khrushchev changed their tone immediately. Apparently impressed with Harry, they offered him a place within the Russian Ministry of Magic with a very attractive remuneration package. Harry declined the offer but insisted on staying for Khrushchev's trial and helped round up Khrushchev's men. After the dark wizard was convicted and was given his sentences - he and his followers were given the Dementor Kiss as a punishment - he departed to Britain.
Godric Hollow, many weeks later...
Many of his friends came to visit him the first day he was back on British soil. Ron came to his house with his wife, Hermione, and Neville came with his fiancée, Hannah Abbot that night. Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnigan wanted to join but they couldn't. Instead, they sent their regards to him via Ron. Hermione had been pregnant for three months now while Neville was engaged to Hannah. They will be holding their wedding in a few months. Neville informed Harry that Headmistress McGonagall offered him a teaching job at Hogwarts. It so happen that Professor Sprout was planning to retire and she had singled out Neville to be her successor. He hinted to Harry that he might take up the offer. Ron meanwhile told him that he intended on joining George in running his business.
The five of them had a few drinks and chatted where Harry told them in detail what happened during his 'stay' in Russia.
"This feels like post-Triwizard Tournament, don't you think, Harry?" said Neville once Harry finished regaling his story. "You remember."
"Vividly," said Harry as he took a sip from his glass. The unpleasant memory of him being accused of playing some part in Cedric's death flashed through his mind. "But like before, I got through it. You just have to have faith in yourself, you know what I mean? Admittedly I didn't have that much faith in myself as I have right now back then."
"All of us thought you were innocent, Harry. You couldn't possibly murder those poor wizards and witches, just like you couldn't possibly play a part in Cedric's death. Urghh I really hate our fifth year. I wish I could just..." Hermione made the erasing gesture with her hand over her forehead. "...erase all the unpleasant memories from my mind."
"I think our sixth year was the worst," said Ron. "Dumbledore died."
"Actually everything went awry right after our fourth year, Ron," said Hermione. "Thank goodness things turned for the better after Harry killed You-Know-Who."
"Yeah, you're right."
His friends took their leave near midnight. Before departing, Neville told Harry that he was expecting him to attend his wedding.
"I'm not going to talk to you anymore if you fail to attend, Harry," said Neville.
Harry laughed. He then gave his promise that he will attend Neville's wedding.
"Well, Ron and I will see you at work tomorrow, Harry," said Hermione as she put on her traveling cloak. "Also, before I forget, you will have a special visitor tomorrow."
Harry raised his eyebrows. "Special you say? Who?"
"I'm not telling. You'll find out tomorrow. Don't lose sleep, Harry. Good night," said Hermione as she planted a kiss on Harry's cheek. She and her husband, together with Neville and Hannah, then made their way to the lawn and apparated.
London, early next day...
Early next morning, Harry met Ron, Hermione, and Neville at The Leaky Cauldron for breakfast. There weren't many people loitering inside the inn at that time, much to Harry's relief. Hermione warned him that due to his exploits in Russia, there was a good chance that he would never be able to walk as freely as before in public.
Hermione seemed to be right in this respect. Throughout the breakfast, Harry couldn't help but feel that he was being stared at. Two young witches were sitting at a table not far from him together with their family. Their face reddened when Harry looked in their direction.
The four of them left The Leaky Cauldron ten minutes before eight and as before, Tom the innkeeper refused payment despite their insistence on paying for their meals.
"Not today Mr. Potter for I am feeling very generous. After all, you and your friends are the heroes. But I'll accept your payment when you come to eat here tomorrow if you insist," he said, smiling.
"That's what he said," said Harry the moment they stepped out into the shopping alley. "We come back tomorrow and he'll use the same excuse of feeling mightily generous all over again. I'd prefer that he treated me just like every other customer he had rather than insisting that my meal is free every time I eat there."
"But every cafe and restaurant within Diagon Alley insisted that we don't need to pay for our food. What can we do?" said Ron.
"You actually sounded happy, Ron," said Hermione with a frown. "You're not exactly feeling embarrassed, are you?"
Ron shrugged. "Who doesn't like free food?"
Despite Kingsley's insistence that he took some time away from work, Harry made a return to his office.
"There's work that needs to be done. Besides, I've been worrying about the state of my incoming tray ever since I got back. Better tackle those first," he said to Kingsley before he departed from the Ministry's premise to Godric Hollow the day they arrived from Moscow.
And the sight of his incoming tray wasn't the only thing that greeted him just as he entered his office, he found that someone was already there, waiting for him.
Someone whom he had not seen or heard for quite a long time.
Fleur looked up. The moment she saw him, she got up from the sofa and threw herself onto Harry in a hug and sobbed uncontrollably into his shoulder.
"Fleur, what are you doing here? Are you alright?" asked Harry as he wrapped her in his embrace.
But Fleur gave him no response. The sobbing continued. It went that way for some time until finally, her crying began to subside. She lifted her beautiful head from his shoulder and gazed at him.
He smiled at her. "Hermione told me to expect a special someone today. I have no idea it would be you."
Between sniffs, she replied, "Zhere iz anozher special someone?"
"Err... no. I-... I don't have anyone special at this point. I think you know that," replied Harry. He glanced at Hermione who was standing at the door, watching them.
Hermione smiled and gave him a meaningful look as she closed the door, leaving Harry and Fleur alone inside his office.
"Zhat iz okay. I don't mind if you 'ave a special someone. You should, you know," she said softly. "'Ermione told me you came back. I 'ave to see it for myself."
He reached up and gently wiped Fleur's tears with his thumb. "Well, here I am. Did your family know that you're here?"
"Only Papa. I know Maman will prohibit me from venturing out zhis far alone but I 'ave to see you in zhe flesh," Fleur replied, sniffing.
"And your father didn't come with you?"
"'E wanted to but I told 'im not to."
Fleur continued to gaze at him. Her beautiful eyes wandered his face, taking in the lines, the wounds, and various scars that marked it. "Zhe last few months must be terrible for you," she muttered.
"I had worse. I'll survive," said Harry.
She nodded. "Of course, you will."
There was a momentary silence.
"I should go back," said Fleur, wiping her tears as she let go of Harry. She went on to put on her traveling cloak hung on the coat stand near the door.
Fleur's sudden change of tack took him by surprise. "That soon? I thought that since you're here, we might get lunch together and do a little bit of catching up."
But Fleur shook her head. "Maybe some ozher time. I told Madame Maxime I am taking a short time off. I 'ave meetings and classes zhis afternoon. Beauxbaton's final exam iz coming. I need to prepare my students. Besides..." she glanced at the incoming tray on top of Harry's desk. "...you are going to be very busy, I am sure of it."
Harry nodded. "Alright. Some other time it is. Let me escort you to the public fireplace. It will be very busy at the lobby at this hour."
"I'm using zhe Minister's fireplace, 'Arry. Papa arranged it for me. It iz more secure, plus I don't do well in public if you know what I mean."
"Ah, right. Should have thought of that. Shall we?"
Harry and Fleur exited his office and made their way towards Kingsley's office. They met Hermione who at that time was in deep conversation with Kingsley within his office.
"You're going back? I thought we could have lunch together later," she said to Fleur.
"I'm sorry, 'Ermione. Duty calls," said Fleur, glancing at Harry. "Anyway, certain zhings are better to be left unsaid. For now zhat iz."
Harry who had no idea what Fleur meant by that raised his eyebrows.
"Well in that case, please send my regards to your family, Fleur," said Hermione as she watched Fleur stepping into the fireplace inside the Minister's office.
"I will. It iz good to see you back, 'Arry," she said before disappearing behind the green flame.
"That was a short meeting," said Hermione, crossing her arms to her chest the moment the green flame died down.
"Yeah, it was short. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to work. Kingsley?" said Harry as he made his way to the door.
Kingsley simply nodded at him.
"So I guess all is well then?" said Hermione.
"All is well," he replied before exiting Kingsley's office. Little did he realize that Hermione was staring at his receding back with an odd expression.
It took him five working days to clear out piles of paperwork that were on his desk. That and the countless meetings he had to attend bored him to death. Lucky enough, things were winding down by the second week so he was able to once again, go out into the street together with his Aurors doing patrol.
In the meantime, the communication between him and Fleur resumed. He had to get a new cell phone and a new number, however. The one he had was damaged during his isolation in Russia and since he didn't get the chance to pay his phone bill throughout that many months, his number got canceled.
Normalcy returned between both of them. He, however, could not help but feel there was a certain barrier subconsciously erected between him and her. His only guess was that all that had changed between him and Fleur was due to his confession. Of course, they never talked about it again. They no longer talked about him visiting France either.
In truth, he missed her. He missed her a lot. He missed listening to her voice. Yes, he talked to her on the phone but it wasn't the same. He missed looking into her eyes. He missed her wonderful smell. He missed the softness of her touch. He missed everything about her.
Several times Hermione suggested that he visit Fleur in France. That woman seemed unusually interested in his friendship with Fleur lately. He refused. He never gave any reason for his refusal. He would change the subject of their conversation every time Hermione tried to pry it out of him. He didn't want to waste his time; that was the real reason. Strong was his feeling for her but he accepted the fact that he and Fleur shall forever remain only as friends. He would still talk to her through text messages and phone calls. That should be enough. He still remembered that small talk he had with Monsieur Delacour. He hoped his absences would provide the indication to Monsieur that whatever his plan was between him and Fleur failed to work.
He was ready to move on.
Months went by. December came. Neville will be holding his wedding on the evening of the third day of Christmas that year. It would be a small ceremony to be attended by a small circle of classmates, teachers, and relatives. The wedding venue would be held at Augusta Longbottom's house.
Harry had agreed to attend the wedding with the Weasleys. Together, they would depart to the venue from The Burrow early in the afternoon. As before, he would only arrive at The Burrow on the second day of Christmas. He decided to cover for his Aurors on Christmas, especially those who have families so that they could celebrate the holidays properly.
Of course, as before, he didn't forget to send them Christmas presents despite his inability to join them in celebration.
A surprise awaited him when he arrived at The Burrow that evening. Ron greeted him upon his arrival and when they both entered the house, he saw Fleur who at that time was sitting inside the living room together with Mrs. Weasley, Hermione, and Ginny.
All of them smiled at him the moment they saw him. Mrs. Weasley got up and gave him her customary hug.
Apparently, Neville invited Fleur too for his wedding.
"He invited you and you never bother to tell me?" asked Harry to Fleur once Mrs. Weasley let go of him.
Fleur smiled and shook her head. "I want to but ultimately decided against it. 'Ermione told me about zhe plan and I thought whatever it iz, we are still going to zhe wedding togezher. I know you wouldn't miss your friend's wedding no matter 'ow busy you are." She then patted the empty space beside her. "Please, sit down 'Arry."
Harry briefly hesitated but he did as told.
They spent the majority of the evening chatting. At this point, Harry no longer felt awkward in the presence of Ginny. They both made peace with each other. To him, Ginny now truly was nothing more than a younger sister. She currently dated Nicholas Heggins, one of the Holyhead Harpies beaters and he was happy for her.
He didn't get to meet her boyfriend that day, however. Hermione whispered to him that Ginny was concerned that her boyfriend would fall for Fleur if she brought him to the Burrow.
They were having dinner out in the garden later that evening. Harry, Ron, Percy, and Mr. Weasley helped set up the table. George and his wife, Angelina Johnson arrived half an hour before seven and under the clear, deep blue sky, they all settled themselves down to eat.
The dinner setting reminded him of his fourth year at Hogwarts. Two tables groaned under dishes and dishes of Mrs. Weasley's excellent cooking. The nine Weasleys, Harry, and Hermione would settle themselves down to eat and the very next day, they would be on their way to the Quidditch World Cup Tournament.
Except for this time, there was no Fred and Bill. And they would be attending a wedding instead of a world-class Quidditch tournament the next day.
Harry looked around the table and then shook his head in sadness.
"What iz it, 'Arry? What iz wrong?" asked Fleur in concern. The girl was sitting beside him and she somehow noticed his behavior.
"Err... nothing," he replied and proceeded to help himself to a slice of chicken and ham pie.
Fleur stared at Harry for a few moments before she returned to her salad.
It was a small but beautiful wedding.
Harry and the rest of the attendees watched as Hannah, holding a bouquet of white roses, walked down the aisle with her father towards Neville who was waiting for her at the altar. They watched in silence as Mr. Weasley, the officiator of the wedding, declared Neville and Hannah husband and wife. Very few eyes were dry during that beautiful moment. Mrs. Abbot and Augusta, sitting in the front row, could be seen sobbing into their handkerchief.
Harry felt someone squeezing his hand. He turned to look and saw Fleur, her eyes brimming with tears, smiling at him. Sitting beside him, she had been holding his hand ever since Hannah made her entrance into the tent.
Unlike Bill and Fleur's wedding, there was no dancing session after the main ceremony was over. Instead, all the guests were ushered into another tent where the wedding reception was held. Harry took the advantage to congratulate the newlyweds.
"Thanks," said Neville, grinning. He then leaned toward Harry and whispered, "Sorry there won't be any dancing. I would love to but Hannah doesn't want to. She thinks it won't be appropriate after everything that happened. She's still traumatized, you know."
"Understandable," Harry said, smiling. "I'm not a good dancer anyway. The last time I tried it was a train wreck."
He got to meet Nicholas Heggins, Ginny's boyfriend. Of course, this was only after Fleur glided away from him to join Mrs. Weasley at her table. Three years older than him and originating from Scotland, Nicholas was well-built with a rounded face and dark eyes. He had very thin hair though.
"Everyone in my family has thick, luscious hair. I'm the only one who's going bald. Can't say I'm not jealous," said Nicholas, laughing.
Harry returned to the Burrow together with Fleur and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley later that evening. The rest of the Weasley children and their spouses meanwhile returned to their own homes directly from the venue. Harry and Fleur would be staying at the Burrow for another night before returning home.
After taking a nice hot shower and cladded in a pair of warm clothing, Harry went down towards the living room. Just as he landed at the bottom of the stairs, at the far end of the living room he saw Fleur looking at the many family portraits hung on the wall. One particular portrait seemed to attract her attention apparently. It was the portrait of Bill Weasley.
Harry decided not to disturb her. He silently went on his way towards the front door.
The night was getting colder. But despite the dropping temperature, he still wanted to go out and enjoy the night air. And he wasn't the only one. Mr. Weasley was already there, sitting on the swing on the porch. Harry joined Mr. Weasley and they both spent the next hour talking about many things.
Mr. Weasley took his leave half an hour before midnight, citing the need to go to his office the next day. He bid Harry good night and entered the house, leaving Harry alone. Harry on the other hand would still be on leave the next day so he could afford to stay up later.
It was a dark, partially cloudy night. The stars were playing hide and seek under the cover of the night cloud. Cold, fresh air blew in from the west. The sound of the frogs and the crickets competed against each other as if to see which of them produced the best melody.
He found himself completely at peace.
But he found that he wasn't alone for long, however. He heard the click of the door. He turned to look and saw Fleur leaning out of the door, looking at him.
"It iz already midnight," she said. "You should go to sleep."
Harry smiled at her. "I could say the same to you."
Fleur shook her head. "I can't sleep. It 'as been a while since zhe last time I slept at someone else's 'ouse."
"Yeah, I know that feeling. It's like spending the first night in a hotel at a location you've never been to. You'll wake up the next day feeling even more tired than before," said Harry. He then gestured to the empty space beside him. "Why don't you join me? We could talk until we both couldn't open our eyes anymore."
Fleur nodded. She closed the door behind her, walked towards the swing and sat beside him. She shivered a bit from the coldness of the night and pulled her scarf closer to her neck. She was wearing a plain nightdress at that time. The nightdress didn't show her beautiful figure which was perfectly understandable. With her long silvery hair flowing over her shoulder, she still looked astonishingly gorgeous.
"I saw you 'eading out," she began. "I want to join you but zhen I saw Monsieur Weasley. It may not be appropriate."
"Well, this swing can only accommodate two people at once anyway. You just have to find another chair or be contented to standing the whole time if you want to join us," said Harry rather cheekily.
Fleur chuckled and playfully slapped Harry's arm. "Zhat iz so ungentlemanlike, Monsieur Potter."
"Yes well, I'm not known to be a gentleman nor a romantic kind of person," Harry replied, grinning.
"You're definitely not any of zhose, 'Arry," said Fleur, still chuckling.
"Glad we have an understanding."
For the next few minutes, they sat on the swing, silently enjoying the night. From time to time, the noise of the vehicles traversing the nearby M5 motorway could be heard.
"Zhat waz a beautiful wedding, don't you zhink?" asked Fleur.
"Yes, it was," Harry agreed. "And so is yours. I'm sorry." Harry quickly apologized upon seeing the look on Fleur's face.
But Fleur waved off his apology. "You don't 'ave to apologize. Yes, it waz a wonderful ceremony but after seeing Neville's wedding, I'm beginning to zhink zhat mine waz a little bit too extravagant."
"I thought it was perfectly done. I loved it," said Harry. "The special effects, the food, and the dance. Too bad it was cut short."
Fleur smiled at this. "I was terrified. Zhe first thing Bill looked for iz you. We were relieved when we found out zhat you managed to escape."
"Yeah. I'm glad everyone made it out safely after that ordeal."
"Yes, zhat iz true. But you know what, if I remarry, my wedding will be az simple az possible. No more of zhese extravagant stuff. It will be just a simple formal ceremony and a reception," said Fleur.
"I'm looking forward to it," said Harry.
"And I'm looking forward to yours az well," said Fleur.
Harry chuckled. "It is going to be a very long wait, Fleur. I'm not sure you have the patience to wait and I am very sure you will remarry first before I do."
"You 'aven't found anyone yet?" asked Fleur.
"I have no time for that," Harry answered.
"Duty calls," Harry affirmed.
Fleur shook her beautiful head. "Iz zhere a way to make you zhink ozherwise?"
"Don't think so."
"So all zhose talks about me showing you zhere iz more to life zhan just being an Auror were nozhing more zhan a bluff?"
Harry immediately went silent. He truly had no idea how to respond to her argument.
Fleur looked away. Staring into the depth of the night, she continued, "I've been doing a lot of zhinking zhese past few months and I 'ave reach a decision. I know you saw me looking at Bill's portrait when you were on your way out 'ere. I waz talking to 'im, 'Arry. Do you know what I told 'im? I told him zhat 'e shall forever be remembered. I told 'im I am ready to move on. I told 'im I ready to love again and zhat I want his blessing. I told 'im I am ready for zhe new chapter to begin."
She turned to look at him and continued, "If I am truly zhe one who could bring changes into your life, I want to continue to be a part of it. You 'ave been reckless with your life 'Arry, and I want to change zhat. I want you to prove to me zhat whatever you said to me on zhat bridge iz true."
"Fleur, I am an Auror and forever will be. Danger will always be with me," said Harry.
Fleur replied rather fiercely, "Did you think about zhat when you confessed about your feelings for me zhat day? I don't zhink so. Do you zhink I am not aware of zhe risk? Do you zhink I won't be ready for any inevitabilities? Bill's death shook me to zhe core but I 'ave learn so much from it. It made me a different person zhan before. It made me strong and I want to be strong for you. My only fear iz regret. Will I regret my decision, 'Arry Potter?"
Harry was amazed by the girl's ability to torn down his argument. At this point, he began to realize what Fleur's intention was. It still took him a while to reply, however. "I have no control over that."
Fleur cocked her eyebrows.
Without looking at her, he continued, "But I can tell these to any girl I am lucky enough to marry. I will tell them that I can't make any regret that they might have gone away. I will tell them that I can't give them back all the time they wasted on me. I will tell them what I can and will do. I can love them. I can care for them. I can defend their honor and uphold their trust the best I can. I will not abandon them and I will always be with them until my dying breath."
Fleur smiled satisfactorily. She then took Harry's hand and leaned forward to give a surprised Harry a light kiss on his lips.
"Zhen my 'eart iz yours," she said softly. "Nobody else sees me zhe way you do. I choose you."
Their wedding took place a few months after the event at the Burrow. It took everyone by surprise but nevertheless, they were happy for him, especially Hermione.
All of Harry's friends attended his wedding. It was held for the first time ever at Chateau Delacour. Harry held his breath as he watched Fleur, accompanied by her father, walked down the aisle. Gabrielle and a girl Harry assumed would be one of the Delacour's relatives followed from behind as bridesmaids.
She was breathtakingly beautiful. Her radiance alone shined on all of the invitees. And on the altar, they both exchanged vows and were finally declared husband and wife.
Fleur moved to Godric Hollow a few weeks later. Monsieur Delacour was gracious enough to provide a house elf for the newlyweds. Harry had the fireplace within the house especially connected to Beauxbaton's campus so that his wife could continue teaching. Fleur however decided to resign from her post the moment she found out that she was pregnant with Victoire. She wanted to concentrate on her family, just like her mother.
For many years, the couple and their children led a good life. They watched their children grow. They accompanied them to King Cross Station when their children were accepted into Hogwarts. They were there when Harry gave Victoire away to her husband. They were there when Dominique and Louise got married. They were there to celebrate the birth of their first grandson.
And during all those times, despite the twist and turns and the ups and downs, the bond between Harry and Fleur grew stronger than ever. And throughout all those times, Harry kept to his words.
He woke up with a start.
It was pitch black. The storm was still raging. Cracks of thunder shook the building from time to time. Lightning flashed through the window, providing momentary illumination within the room. He could clearly see the hangings surrounding his four-poster bed.
He pushed open the hanging. He could hear them snoring amidst the incessant crack of thunder. They were still asleep. The storm and the racket it made bothered none of them.
He got up and sat on his bed. He could no longer sleep. His mind was racing. His memory was all jumbled up.
Sighing, he put on his glasses and walked towards the window. Flashes of lightning dominated the night sky and yet he could see nothing through the thick curtain of rain.
Not even Hagrid's hut. Or the Dark Forest.
He had no idea how it happened but it happened anyway. He wasn't sure if he was dreaming.
One thing for sure was that he had gone back to Hogwarts. He had gone back in time.
To be continued...
A/n: I had mixed feelings when editing this chapter. At that time, Russia - Ukraine hasn't started yet when I published the last chapter.
In addition to various life issues that plagued my ability to update, this chapter also saw major changes that made it even harder to write.
But anyway, here it is. Enjoy. Oh, by the way, I faced rejection before. I know what it felt like. And I know whatever happens next depends on the maturity of both sides. Just because you're being rejected doesn't mean that both of you have to become enemies.