HARRY POTTER AND THE LAST REDOUBT

Chapter 1

ENDS AND BEGINNINGS

There were few things in the world that were as peaceful and perfect as a midsummer's eve. The balmy winds of June had not yet released their grip in order to let the scorching breath of July take over. The flowers of spring remained indulgently fragrant and reprieve from ordinary toils was a novelty still.

To say, however, that Harry Potter despised the illusion of tranquility was a gross understatement.

It had been on a calm evening such as this too few days ago that he had returned from a windswept shoreline to find that the Dark Mark had been set over the one place he had been able to call a haven. Professor Dumbledore, weakened by the effort to locate a Horcrux, had insisted on continuing on to Hogwarts because, whatever the circumstances, his first duty had always been to the students.

It was a duty that had forced Harry to watch him die, paralyzed first by enchantment and then by horror. He had been both lauded and condemned as Dumbledore's man, the one who would remain loyal to him in all circumstances, but for all that devotion, he had not been able to even mount a defense on behalf of his mentor.

On another calm night, he had followed his fellow students to the lakeside and watched the solemn ceremony that made a paltry effort at honoring the man who had given everything to the defense of those he served. He had turned his back on Hogwarts and had thought it possible to turn his back on his friends, but instead found that they were as stubbornly devoted to him as he was to the acrimonious task that lay before him.

They could not understand in the slightest what he would have to risk in order to complete his mission, but they could understand that, while he had been abandoned many times in his life, he did not have to be abandoned by them.

So, instead of setting off alone, Harry found himself in the garden of the Burrow on a night that was as perfect as the event that would take place. It seemed odd that normal things such as weddings could be celebrated when every possible familiarity was being stripped away from the wizarding world, but he could not begrudge this joy to two friends.

Hermione Granger sat to his left, her arm linked through his, as if she were afraid that he would disappear at any given moment, but her gaze was fixed on the tall, red-haired young man standing awkwardly in his dress robes near the trellis. Ron Weasley kept shooting her furtive glances and sheepish smiles to suggest that he was distinctly uncomfortable with this arrangement.

Harry barely noticed Ron, however, since he was watching the slender form standing directly opposite Ron. Sheathed in an elegant drapery of pale gold that seemed to inject living fire into her already shimmering hair, he found himself wholly unable to put the way he was feeling into words.

The most inadequate, but appropriate term that came to mind was exasperation. Not towards her in particular, or perhaps he was exasperated that she still persisted in having feelings for him in the same inevitable way that he did for her.

Unrequited love, he had discovered the hard way, was painful, but happily less complicated and much easier to stomach than the alternative. He simply couldn't convince Ginny of that fact.

A change in the lilting music that came from the radio brought them all to their feet and Harry turned to find Fleur entering the garden, her silvery hair twined around the goblin-made tiara that had been promised to her on the night that she had finally earned the approbation of her future mother-in-law. With the long train of her ivory dress brushing the grass, she appeared to be floating as she walked down the aisle on her father's arm.

It had come as a surprise to many, Harry included, that, in the absence of Dumbledore, Bill had asked the erstwhile Professor Lupin to perform the ceremony, but there seemed to be something beyond a shared experience of werewolf brutality that linked them. Despite disparate ages, the two friends seemed to understand better than most how to allow loyalty to endure beyond all obstacles.

Remus stepped forward, a rather uncharacteristically broad smile on his lined face. "Who gives this woman in marriage?"

"I do," Fleur's father supplied before kissing her cheek and placing her hand in Bill's.

He moved to sit next to his wife who was clutching Mrs. Weasley's hand for dear life.

"It is a common fact," Remus continued, "that love stops for nothing, tragedy included. We have seen that in how our family ties have been strengthened even in war, how friendships become unbreakable in the crucible of betrayal, and how the union of hearts cannot be sundered by circumstance."

Undoubtedly, every mind thought of the fact that 'circumstance' had involved the threat of becoming a werewolf and the reality of scars that went deeper than the mangled flesh on Bill's face.

"It is because of that common fact that we come here today," he pressed on. "We thank you for coming to celebrate this union as much as we thank William and Fleur for allowing us this rare joy."

Raising his head, he surveyed the crowd. "If there are any here who know of any reason why these two should not be wed, let him speak now or forever hold his peace."

When only the silence answered, he nodded to Bill and the pair knelt, extracting their wands and linking them with a thin stream of golden light. Remus sent a silver light into the midst of the stream, then cleared his throat.

"William Albus Weasley, do you take Fleur Marie Delacour to be your lawfully wedded wife, forsaking all others to love and cherish her, and to honor and protect her in richer and poorer, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse, as long as you both shall live?"

"I do," Bill vowed.

"And do you, Fleur Marie Delacour, take William Albus Weasley to be your lawfully wedded husband, forsaking all others to love and cherish him, and to honor and protect him in richer and poorer, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse, as long as you both shall live?"

"I do," Fleur echoed.

The silence was broken by a synchronized round of sniffles and sighs from everyone from Hagrid to Hermione.

"By the power invested in me by the Ministry of Magic," Remus concluded, "I pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride."

Needing no encouragement, Bill had already leaned across to perform that duty before Remus even finished the sentence. A round of approving applause rolled across the garden.

Perhaps perfection was bittersweet, but it didn't have to be dominated by the bitter.

"Care for a dance?"

Harry smiled slightly, hand extended to Ginny. "Not fair," he protested. "I was going to ask first."

"You hadn't spoken to me since this morning," she reminded, "so I thought I'd give you a shove in the right direction."

Her hand raised to dancing position as her other rested on his shoulder. "You look preoccupied."

"That's one word for it," he admitted.

She regarded him somberly, then glanced to the side, where her mother and father were waltzing in matching, rust-colored robes and wearing equally matching grins.

"How long?"

Harry turned slightly so he wouldn't have to face that sight when he confessed the itinerary. "As soon as midnight comes," he murmured. "We don't want to interrupt things."

"And you think sneaking about with a war on is the way to avoid that?" she scoffed, turning him back in that direction. "Do you think it will be easier for us if you just disappear…"

Us, she'd said. She was at least respecting his wishes that she remain to help protect the family.

And, if Hogwarts remained in session, she would have to return there. Even without Albus Dumbledore, it offered a protection that Harry could not promise.

"I don't pretend that this will be easy," he shot back, "but I do not wish to complicate things."

"That's the same discourse you've been giving me since the night of Dumbledore's funeral," she snapped, "and I'm still waiting for a good excuse."

This drew his gaze back to her, but he found none of the fury in her eyes that he had expected, only a raw pain that he could only increase.

"I have none," he confessed.

"Damn," she muttered. "I was hoping you were lying about that."

All was prepared, from the packs that they had stuffed with spare robes, miscellaneous tools such as pocket Sneakoscopes and potions ingredients, to the Invisibility Cloak that still managed to cover the three of them.

They crept down the stairs, eyes straining as they carefully avoided the squeaky spots and trick steps, as if they expected any noise, breath included, to bring down calamity on their heads.

Since Mrs. Weasley was the one most likely to respond, this expectation was not that far off.

Nevertheless, the downstairs was empty and the only light came from the moon filtered through the gingham curtains.

"OW!"

"Shhhhhhhhh," Hermione hissed. "Do you want us caught?"

"I stubbed my toe on something," Ron protested, bending to retrieve it.

The package was bundled thickly in what appeared to be three Weasley sweaters in maroon, green, and periwinkle, but inside was a packet of food.

"It can't be from Mum," Ron murmured. "She would have forgotten that I hate corned beef."

Or perhaps it was her apologetic attempt at wishing them well that she remembered this once. The hard object that Ron had stubbed his toe on turned out to be a pocket watch that mimicked the family clock that showed the situation of each family member. This one, however, had three new additions: Fleur, Harry, and Hermione.

On the eve of returning to two of the places he had ever called home, he was being granted another.