"And that," Harry ended with a sigh, "was that." The room was utterly silent, Bill looking a rather pale green. "I was lucky," Fleur began, seemingly unsure of what to say. "Compared to 'Arry, it was not so bad. But we are finished 'ere, non? I do not want to talk of this again." The last was added with a furious glare at her fiancé, who had the decency to look away, embarrassed.
Dumbledore nodded, ever the compromiser. "Indeed. Mr. Potter, Ms. Delacour, thank you for being so open with all of us. As you can well imagine, we have been most upset about your abductions, and while at times we no doubt say the wrong thing," again, the eldest Weasley looked down, turning a bright red, "I promise you that everyone in this room has your best interests heart."
"Now then," he added in a cheery tone, doing his best to clear the air. "Now that we are finished here, there are but a few short days until term begins once again. No doubt you could find far more interesting ways to employ yourselves without being under the eye of a dreary old headmaster," Dumbledore chuckled. "Professor McGonagall, Professor Snape, Mister Lupin – if I might see you privately for a moment, and then I will be gone. To all of you, enjoy the rest of your holidays." With that, Dumbledore and his small procession left the room, leaving behind a slightly uncomfortable silence.
"Right then... Wizard's Chess, Harry?" Harry sighed internally, relieved. Ron might be impervious to the tension around him, but at times like this, that came in handy. "Sure Ron," Harry answered with a grin. The room seemed to loosen ever so slightly.
Three embarrassingly short games later, and Harry's mind began to wonder. "Harry... Harry – your turn mate." Shaking his head, Harry looked dismally at his riotous pieces. The pawn, the pawn – move him, we can afford to lose him. No! The other one! King's Knight... why do I bother? 'Why Indeed?" Harry sniped petulantly to the offending bishop.
Hermione suppressed a smile – sulking at enchanted objects was surely a sign that things could go back as they had once been. "Harry, pay him no attention. You're doing fine." He wasn't, but that was beside the point. "Anyway, don't the two of you think perhaps four games is enough for a while? You'd really be better off getting some work done."
Ron looked up, gobsmacked. "Bloody hell, Hermione! You can't take a bloke who's been kidnapped and then subject him to homework! Why if anything, we ought to get a holiday extension, not rot away in a couple of musty books!"
The argument was lighthearted however, different from most of Harry's memories of Ron and Hermione's constant bickering, and it was clear that they were simply trying to make things easier for him. For the first time since he came back, he felt a twinge of guilt – they could never know what had happened. Shaking his head, he joined the conversation.
"S'alright Ron. Probably ought to get a bit of study done. Dumbledore's going to have me receive private lessons to try and catch me up before anyone notices I'm falling behind, but you know Snape..." Harry looked around, checking to make sure the professor wasn't within earshot. As expected, he was nowhere near. Even so, he lowered his voice. "Great brooding tosser will probably push things as far as he can, going on about what you can do with Boomslang skin or Herbert's Law of Volumes or where to find who-knows-what. Petty bastard."
Two looks of surprise greeted the tail end of his rant. Then, a grin crept across Ron's face.
"Nobody's told you yet... About time I got to be the first to say something! Snape isn't the potions master anymore. New... well old... chap named Slughorn." Ron's face took on a look of jealousness. "Course, he isn't much better. Oh, he doesn't pick on anyone, but he plays favorites like you wouldn't believe. Even has his own little club for students. Invitation only. Snakes – all the same, really."
Harry nodded, taking this in. He knew the name, though couldn't for the life of him remember where from. Perhaps meeting him face-to-face would refresh his memory. "Hermione... Hermione, you're staring." Harry looked up as Ron was waving his hand in her face, causing the girl to blink twice before blushing slightly.
"Sorry – just impressed. Herbert's Law... oh nevermind!" Both boys grinned, obviously pleased to see Hermione so flustered. Glancing over his friends' heads for just a second to where Fleur and Bill were talking quietly, Harry looked back, responding, "What can I say... impressing you is just something that comes naturally."
Ron let out an enormous laugh as Hermione turned redder. All was well.
The evening continued as pleasantly as the afternoon. Harry, for the first time since his return, stayed awake throughout the entire day, sharing in a large dinner prepared by the Weasley matriarch, and spending the time afterwards in the spacious living room by the fire, spending time with his hodgepodge extended... family.
Under such conditions, it was rather strange that at two in the morning, he was up on the roof, staring up at the night sky, alone, wrapped up warmly in the winter night. "
'Arry?" He jumped slightly, though he had been expecting her. "Hey Fleur." he responded quietly, "Sorry about the scene earlier."
She waved her hands dismissively, though her expression was uncomfortable. "C'est rien. In truth, I was more angry at his... timing than his concern. Still, it seemed an opportunity, and so I used it." Harry shrugged. "Still, don't mean to pull you two apart like that."
"Alors, you are an amazing young man Mr. Potter, but you are not a seer, are you not." She smiled, a beautiful expression. "Non, you are not. And so as we had planned this rendez-vous several nights ago, I think you did not bring me up here to apologize for things that would happen in the future. So then, what is next for us, Mr. Potter?"
Merlin's Balls, but could she not say his name like that? Whispering suited her well – very well in fact. Still, those three seconds could be relived at leisure in the future - hell, he needed a pensive anyway. For now though...
"Yeah, um... obviously, I'm going back to Hogwarts. There's some stuff that I need to do there, and uh... well, obviously, I'm going back." He cursed himself for sounding like an idiot. They had discussed this dozens of times, had the plan fully down backwards and forwards. It shouldn't be so damned hard.
Fleur, for her part, looked amused.
"Ah, the great 'Arry Potter in action. He has stuff to do! He has things! Will wonders never cease?" The bite was mellowed by her laughter, but Harry burned nevertheless.
"Yeah well, there's been a slight change of plan, and I need your help. I don't think you're going to like it." She silenced, part curious, part wary. Their relationship had changed over the months, but there was always an edge of uncertainly – their current alliance always at odds with what ought to have been their natural factions. War made strange bedfellows.
"I'm not going to be able to get out before we get back to school, and once we're there, even with all I've learned, six months of training won't be worth anything in terms of getting out of Hogwarts and getting back in without Dumbledore knowing. I need you to send me something... sneak me something into the school." She nodded, slowly, and Harry took a deep breath, before gaining the courage to ask for it specifically.
Fleur gasped, and Harry looked up, eyes wide. "Not like that. Well... not entirely. But..." He paused, looking down in shame. "I've been thinking it over and over, and I really don't know what else to do. Not without doing something that will hurt them – hurt them words than this anyway." He looked up, meeting Fleur's eyes. He had to – had to prove to her that what he was doing was the right choice, even if it felt like he was rotten on the inside, that this plan was turning his heart to so much filth.
"Ron and Hermione... I love them to pieces, I really do. But... they're not ready for this, they won't ever be able to accept what I've done, what I need to do. I've killed Fleur. I've used people, manipulated them in the worst possible way. Don't look at me like that," he snapped, suddenly angry at the hypocrisy of it all. "You and I, we're cut from the same cloth. We're both foolishly idealistic people most of the time, but when push comes to shove, we're twisted and cold and pragmatic. We try and do the right thing, but don't pretend that in doing so, we're always righteous. Because I'm not. I might have been at one time, but I'm not anymore." He stopped, and she made no rebuttal, no defense of her character, of his.
"So, we're playing a very dangerous game here. I lied to Dumbledore, all but told him that Bellatrix was dead. We have a very limited time table, and I have lots to do – stuff that I don't necessarily want being scrutinized or watched, and that means that I can't have Ron or Hermione with me. And I can't push them away, not because it would hurt me or crush them, but because Dumbledore would wonder what the hell is going on. So..." he said with a sigh, "instead, what I need to do is have the relief of my return make them realize their feelings for one another, and if that means they spend a little more time together, then so be it."
Fleur has not uttered a word at all during his rant. She shuddered when he finished, before looking sadly up at him. "You have changed."
He nodded, pacing back and forth on the roof. "Yeah... I suppose I have. What I'm doing... it's wrong, no question about it. And if they find out – and odds are they will, I can't possibly hide something like this forever, they'll have every right to damn my name. But... I'm the chosen one, aren't I? The only one who can defeat Voldemort. So that's what I have to do. The best shot I have at redemption is giving them a world without him in it. Whether it's enough... who can say?"
The stood in silence, before Fleur nodded. "I will get you the Amortentia, but promise me you will never – never ask this of me again. I understand – I do not approve, but I understand that there are some things that you must do. I however, cannot. I will do this for you this once, but that is all. I have, as you say, drawn my line in the sand. After tonight, I will not cross it, comprends?
He nodded, relieved, until he saw the glint in Fleur's eye – the putting together of another puzzle piece. Damn.
"You told Dumbledore Bellatrix Black is dead? Why, why on earth would you do something so foolish?"
"Well, actually, I told him Bellatrix Lestrange is dead. Since I rather forcefully killed her husband, I didn't really lie" he responded glibly, before taking in her frown. He let out a shaky breath. "Fine. I told him because he needs a loophole. When I run away next time, it's for good – until either I'm dead, or Voldemort is. I can't fight this war under the restrictions of an underage wizard, and I can't not fight this war – not when every day more people die."
He paused for a breath. "And when that happens, Dumbledore needs to be able to reverse the process, figure out what happened – not waste time trying to find me when I won't be found. Bellatrix won't be out and about for a while. First the wand, then I bested her husband and his brother. Then, the Christmas party – no, Voldemort won't have Bellatrix out on her own for a while."
"You have gambled Harry. I only hope you have not done so foolishly."
A tight laugh. "Me too Fleur, me too."