Disclaimer: I do not own any characters which appear in this story that also appear in the Harry Potter series written by JK Rowling.
***July 24th, 1995 continued***
Gabrielle was finding it hard to fall asleep in the room she shared with Ginny at number twelve Grimmauld Place. Besides the creepy feeling of the house and the odd sounds, her bondmate was currently being kept awake by the overly loud snoring of Ron Weasley. His frustrations were evident over the bond as he tossed and turned.
"You can always sneak in 'ere and sleep wiz me," Gabrielle suggested to Harry.
"I would love to Angel," Harry replied. "But Fleur is right, Mrs. Weasley needs time to understand our bond and its permanence," Gabrielle felt Harry wince as Ron let out an extra loud snore.
"We can wake Fleur and 'ave her cast a silencing charm around your bed…or Ronald's," Gabrielle said.
"No, I've lived with Ron in my room for over four years now," Harry replied with a mental sigh. "I'll get used to it again. I've just been spoiled by the last few weeks with the three most beautiful women in the world sleeping next to me. Now try to go to sleep and I'll do the same."
"Will you wake me wiz kisses?"
"Maybe; if I can I will," Harry promised.
Gabrielle snuggled deeper into her covers with thoughts of being awakened by her bondmate. She was almost asleep when she heard the door to the room open and then shut quickly.
"I thought you weren't coming in 'ere," Gabrielle said to her bondmate and then realized Harry had finally fallen asleep. She opened her eyes in time to see the very faint outline of a small arm reaching toward her.
Gabrielle's shriek tore through the quietness of the house awakening everyone instantly including the portrait of Walberga Black who started unleashing her normal venomous words. When Harry felt Gabrielle's fear, he was out of his bed and down the steps so quickly that Fleur and Hermione were barely ahead of him from the room across hall. All of them had their wands out as they entered the darkened room.
"Lumos," Fleur said and the room lit up instantly in her wandlight. Gabrielle was sitting up in her bed clutching her wand; Ginny was sitting up as well trying to blink the sleep out of her eyes as she looked on in confusion, the only thing that seemed unusual was Kreacher wiping an extremely filthy rag over the top of a dresser while ignoring everything around him.
"What's going on?" Harry asked still trying to discern what made Gabrielle cry out.
"Ze elf scared me," Gabrielle replied. "E was trying to grab me."
By now Sirius was in the room as well and his brow furrowed at that explanation. "Kreacher you miserable little elf…"
"Sirius," Hermione interjected. She was torn between wanting to protect her bondsister and wanting to help the obviously deranged elf. "He's obviously…"
"No Hermione, you don't understand," Sirius said. "He's a nasty being who would lick my mother's boots. He's always been like that," Sirius hated what Kreacher represented; a link to a childhood that disgusted him. "Well Kreacher," He snarled. "What do you have to say for yourself?"
"Kreacher is just cleaning master," The elf said then continued in a lower voice as his rag moved toward the end of the dresser that was closest to Gabrielle's bed. "Oh how my mistress would be distressed at the befouling of her home with these half-breeds and blood traitors."
"OUT!" Sirius ordered. "Get out of my sight you wretched vermin."
Kreacher looked longingly out of the side of his eyes at the locket on the small table beside the bed but then gave a deep bow as he turned to Sirius. "Yes master. Of course master."
"Sirius," Hermione started but Fleur put her arm around her.
"Let it be for tonight," Fleur said softly. "Tempers and fatigue are very bad for discussions."
"But the elf obviously needs help," Hermione argued.
"I agree, but 'e's not our elf," Fleur explained. "We can talk to Sirius in ze morning but everyone is tired. Right now why don't we make sure Gabrielle is okay? She's been zrough a lot recently."
"Of course," Hermione replied as she looked over at her younger bondmate. Harry was already there sitting on the bed with her holding her hand.
"I'm fine," Gabrielle said to Harry. "E just scared me. I thought…I thought it was you sneaking in."
"I'll change the wards tomorrow so that Kreacher can't come in this room at night," Sirius said. "I'm not sure what that miserable elf was trying to do, but it won't happen again."
"Maybe he really was trying to clean," Hermione argued.
"Have you seen this house?" Sirius asked. "That elf was not trying to clean anything."
Hermione couldn't argue with that statement.
"Well, I think we can all go back to bed now," Mrs. Weasley said.
Harry could see and feel the anxiety that Gabrielle was experiencing. Too many things had happened to her in a short time. "I'm staying here," He said as he climbed into bed with Gabrielle. "She needs me."
"Harry Potter, you will do no such thing," Molly protested. "You get out of that bed and back to your room. I'll not let you take advantage of this to...to get your way with that young lady."
"I'm not trying to get my way with her," Harry said. "She needs me and I will be here for her."
"Just because she's your...your fiancée does not mean that I'm going to allow such things in this house; that young lady is too young to have you taking advantage of her."
"Molly," Sirius started in an irate voice, but Fleur cut him off.
"Mrs. Weasley, Arry isn't taking advantage of Gabrielle," Fleur explained. "Zey 'ave slept together before. We 'ave all slept with 'Arry and I do mean sleep. Nothing else happens."
"We weren't going to mention it, Mrs. Weasley," Hermione added. "But Gabrielle has been through a lot recently and she's nervous."
"Molly," Sirius said with a yawn. "I'm Harry's guardian and Alain knows Harry sleeps with his daughters. I really don't see where it's a concern of yours."
It was obvious that Molly Weasley wanted to protest but as her face reddened she finally sniffed. "The light will stay on and I will be checking on you during the night. Ginny, you let me know if anything happens."
"Yes mum," Ginny replied as she rolled her eyes toward Gabrielle.
Molly nodded authoritatively and stalked out of the room before anyone else could argue with her.
"Harry, Gabrielle," Arthur said. "You don't have to leave the candle burning if you don't want, but it'd probably make tomorrow easier if you did."
"Eet's fine," Gabrielle replied as she snuggled into Harry's body warmth. "I don't mind it."
"You do know that you're losing a night with Harry when we get back home don't you?" Fleur asked her sister with a tone of mirth.
"We'll see," Came Gabrielle's reply as she smiled.
"I think we can all go back to bed now," Sirius said as he watched his godson wrap his arm around Gabrielle. "It seems Harry has everything in hand..."
"And arms.." George added.
"Where did we go wrong brother?" Fred asked.
"Maybe you'd like to be hit with a killing curse?" Fleur asked as she followed the twins out of the bedroom. "Or a fireball?"
"Hmm...she makes a good point Fred," George replied. "He is going to be marrying two women who can toast him and a witch who can be downright scary in her own right."
"Maybe there is something to a simpler life," Fred agreed with a wink at Fleur.
*** E E ***
July 25th 1995
"You got what you desired," Snape said to the Headmaster the next morning. "The Dark Lord is satisfied that Potter is not at Privet Drive."
"That is good news but I find this information from Kingsley a bit disturbing," Dumbledore said as he regarded Severus for a couple of seconds over his half-moon glasses. "He reported that you were about to use an unforgivable on Mrs. Dursley when you visited them."
"Kingsley is a simple-minded fool," Snape sneered. "How would the Dark Lord had accepted my memories of being slapped by some muggle woman without some retaliation? I knew Shacklebolt was there and also knew he'd stop me. Afterwards, when I returned to the Dark Lord with the information he desired, I could clearly show him my memories that I was ready to torture the muggle woman but was prevented from doing so. To him it appears I agree with his sentiments about muggles while at the same time I ensured your desires were met of the Dursleys being left alone."
"Ah…thank you for clarifying that misunderstanding," Dumbledore said. "So you believe the Dursleys will not be bothered?"
"The Dark Lord quickly lost interest in them once he knew Potter wasn't there," Snape replied. "Especially once it became apparent that there was no emotional attachment between them."
"And do you have anything further on Tom? What his plans are?"
"I believe he continues to be concerned about the prophecy," Severus said. "He's troubled by his last encounter with Potter and what it might mean."
"He's not planning on anything of consequence then?"
"I am not privy to all of his plans of course, but I don't think so," Snape replied. "I believe he's not strong enough to launch a major initiative and small attacks will not gain him anything. I also believe he is currently searching for a new hideaway where he can feel more secure and make his next plans."
"And you can't tell me where he is now?" Dumbledore asked hoping Voldemort had made a mistake in his haste to flee his last residence.
"No. I can see it in my mind but I am unable to explain where it is."
"I understand," Albus replied. "So you don't think he will disrupt the award ceremony tonight?"
"When I told him of it, he appeared annoyed, but again I do not believe he's strong enough to make such an attempt and he can't afford another failure."
"Thank you Severus. I know how much danger you put yourself for this."
"I do what I must Headmaster," Snape replied with a slight nod of his greasy head. "Now if you'll excuse me I shall retire."
*** E E ***
"Did you bring your dress robes?" Molly asked Harry. "There's still time for me to run to Madam Malkins if you need them resized."
"I'm fine, thanks," Harry replied. "We bought new robes while in France and we double checked everything before we left," He wasn't going to mention that the robes were bought the same day they were captured or that it was their House-elves who made sure everything was in their trunks.
"Let me see…oh those are very nice," Mrs. Weasley said as she examined the robes Harry pulled from his trunk. They were dark green with black piping. "Is this…"
"Silk? Yes Mrs. Weasley," Fleur replied. "It's made from ze silk of ze giant Brazilian Tarantula."
"But that's too expensive," Molly exclaimed. "Harry you shouldn't be wasting your money on such things."
"Mrs. Weasley, I appreciate your concern," Harry said. "But I bought these because I liked them."
"Actually I believe it was because WE liked them," Hermione suggested as she glanced past Mrs. Weasley at her bondmate.
"True, but you bought your new bikinis because I liked them," Harry reminded her with a smirk.
"Wonder what Mrs. Weasley would think about those?"
"It might prove to be amusing."
Mrs. Weasley was about to say something else when Fleur added. "Mrs. Weasley, ze shopping trip was ze first time 'Arry 'ad a chance to pick out what 'e wanted. So 'e might 'ave…eh…splurged. Eet isn't like 'e is going to spend all of 'is galleons on clothes."
Mrs. Weasley sighed as she sat the robes carefully aside. "I guess."
"At least we didn't let him get the fur lining he wanted," Hermione revealed.
"What did he want?" Mrs. Weasley asked.
"Ferret fur," Fleur replied. "Zough I didn't know ze meaning of it until 'Ermione let me know of what 'appened at 'Ogwarts before I got zere."
"You mean Malfoy?" Fred asked. He and George had entered the room carrying their robes.
"What about him?" Molly asked.
"That fake Moody turned Draco Malfoy into a ferret last year," Hermione explained.
"The single best memory of my life," Ron said entering the conversation as he got a far off look of someone remembering a pleasant experience. "The amazing bouncing ferret."
"I really must speak to Dumbledore about what's going on at Hogwarts," Mrs. Weasley said in a flustered voice.
"Speaking of Draco; think he'll be there this evening?" Hermione asked.
"If he is, will you punch him again?" Harry asked.
"I was more concerned about Gabrielle," Hermione replied as she glanced at her bondsister who was showing Ginny her robes. "With what he did and now those slavers…I didn't want her to have to deal with him; at least not until she's had more time. It's evident from last night that she's still nervous."
"Stay with her this evening. If Malfoy is there let me know," Harry said, "and try to keep her away from him. If he starts something though…suggest that Gabrielle work on her wandless magic again."
"It was a joke between Gabi and me. I told her when she kicked that Slaver it was an outstanding wandless silencing charm."
"True." Hermione grinned but then the grin disappeared as she continued in a more subdued voice. "Speaking of him…wonder if Marl and Tonks….."
"I wish we knew something. Those ten days are coming to end really soon."
It didn't take mental communication for each of them to remember what Alain had said about if they failed.
"They'll be okay," Harry said trying to convince Hermione and himself with the words.
The rest of the day had the entire house enduring Mrs. Weasley's preparations for the award ceremony. She got so flustered she actually sent the twins to Diagon Alley unsupervised for some needed items.
"Well at least I don't have to wear that thing I had to wear to the Yule Ball," Ron said later as he glanced at himself in a mirror. He was dressed in dark red robes that clashed with his hair. Molly Weasley had been poor too long to not still shop at second hand stores, but now she was able to purchase from the newly arrived rack of robes instead of the clearance section.
"Put your yellow scarf on and you can be a true Gryffindor," Harry suggested as he glanced at his friend.
"No thanks, though you're looking all Slytherin in that robe," Ron declared. "Especially once they put that silver medal around your neck."
"They are the ones who picked it out," Harry replied with a shrug. Who 'they' were was immediately understood.
"Just wished they'd gone with my mother to pick out mine," Ron grumbled.
*** E E ***
"Draco, you need to go put your robes on," Narcissa Malfoy said to her son who sat cross-legged on the ground in front of his father's grave. "We need to leave in twenty minutes."
"What part of no did you not understand," Draco drawled as he turned his cold grey eyes upon his mother. "I will not go to some stupid Ministry event and watch them fawn over Potter and some half-breed whore."
"Draco Malfoy, I am your mother and you will do what I say," Narcissa said trying to gain some purchase back against her son but those eyes that looked exactly like her dead husband's had already given the answer she didn't want to hear.
"Yes, Malfoy; that is my last name. What is yours?" Draco asked as he rose to his feet. He moved to the headstone of his father and traced the last name.
"I do not know what you believe, but I loved your father," Narcissa said.
"Loved him enough to sell this house where he's buried?" Draco asked in a mocking voice. "Run along mother or you'll be late for Potter's big night."
Narcissa fought to keep the tears from her eyes but she finally turned and left her son at his father's grave. As she changed into her best dress robes, she kept thinking of what she could do to get through to her son and get him to change his mind. She even had hopes that he might change his mind and be waiting for her at the bottom of the steps, but she knew she had been fooling herself when the entryway proved to be empty. A glance out the window still showed him at his father's grave.
"I'll speak with him tomorrow," She thought. "Somehow I have to get him to understand." With a final sigh and a heavy heart, Narcissa went to the fireplace and floo'd to the Ministry.
"Mrs. Malfoy," A black robed gentleman with a parchment in his hand addressed her when she appeared. "Platinum invitee as always. Such a sad affair about your husband."
"Thank you," Narcissa replied.
"And your son?" The man asked as she reviewed her information one more time. "Will he arriving soon?"
"He fell ill," Narcissa lied. "He won't be attending."
"That's unfortunate," The attendant replied. "Now if you'll come with me I'll personally see you through security," He held out his hand and Narcissa placed the expected five galleon tip in it before he led her toward the far end of the Atrium where private screening booths were located.
*** E E ***
"Harry Potter," The Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge said as he reached out his hand to the black-haired young man when Dumbledore escorted the bondmates to the award ceremony that evening. They were also accompanied by the entire Weasley family and Sirius. "You must be excited about all of this," Cornelius continued. "Now there's no need to thank me for this…here," Fudge turned Harry to face a photographer who took a quick picture of Fudge with the Boy-Who-Lived-Twice. "The wizarding community is the one grateful for all that you did that night," Fudge continued after the picture, but as another photographer approached he smiled turned Harry in that direction and smiled as the next flash bulb popped.
"You mean what we did right?" Harry asked as tried to clear his eyes from the white spots created by the flash. "In fact Fleur deserves this much more than I do. You remember Fleur Delacour?" Harry motioned to his older bondmate whom the Minister had ignored.
"Of course, of course," Fudge replied with a bit less enthusiasm. "Nice to see you again Miss Delacour. Is your father coming this evening?"
"E was supposed to meet us 'ere," Fleur replied as she looked around for him.
"I'm sure he'll be here soon," Fudge said then turned back to Harry. "Now after the award ceremony, there will be small gathering so you and Miss Delacour can meet some of the more influential members of the community. It shouldn't last more than an hour or so."
"I don't think I want to sir," Harry replied. "I'd prefer just to leave."
The smile wavered on Fudge's face but then he recovered. "Surely you can see the importance of such an event. Those people are the ones who…who…eh…the rest of the wizarding world will…eh…follow."
"And 'oo decided 'oo will attend ze gathering?" Fleur asked suddenly suspicious of the affair.
"Zat was done by who would pay ze fees to ze Minister's reelection fund," A familiar voice said from behind them. Harry and his bondmates whirled and found them looking at the tired face of Alain. Beside him was his wife, Apolline and Remus.
"What…" Harry started but when he saw the look on Alain's face he stopped. "What happened?"
Alain shook his head slightly. "We will discuss it later, but I received word about our friends 'oo were visiting overseas," A significant glance at Minister Fudge let the bonded know why he wasn't saying anything further.
"Good news?" Harry persisted.
"Good and bad, but as I said we shall discuss it later," Alain replied.
Harry wanted to ask more questions and he could feel the same desire for information from his bondmates, but Fleur was first to speak, changing the subject. "What about zis…zis reelection fund?"
Alain held up a parchment with gold trim around its edges, "Zis," He waved the parchment, "is an invitation to zis event. To get first or second row seating and come to ze get together afterward, a contribution was required; a very hefty contribution. Minister, wasn't zis an inappropriate occasion to solicit funds for your reelection?"
"Well…uh…it was just a standard invitation… eh...I'm sure my assistant sent out the other thing by mistake…eh," Fudge stammered.
"That's…" Hermione started but then stopped. She grew quite for a second and from how Fleur turned to look at her, it was obvious to Harry that the two were speaking silently. Finally after a couple of seconds Hermione smiled. "That's understandable Minister. I'm sure it was a simple mistake and of course I'm also sure Harry will be glad to attend."
"WHAT?" Harry exclaimed to his bondmate in disbelief.
"Trust me," Hermione said. "I'll explain in a couple of minutes. Just go along with it. Say you'll be glad to attend the after award get together."
"Eh…of course Minister," Harry replied but his eyes were on his best friend trying to get her to tell him more silently.
"Excellent," Fudge beamed but decided it would be a good time to get away. "Oh I see someone I truly must speak to," He disappeared before anyone else could say anything else.
Harry was conflicted. He wanted to ask Hermione about what she was thinking while at the same time ask Alain about Marl and Tonks. The indecision was short lived. The endeavor to release the women in slavery was much more important than meeting people. "Sir…"
Alain lifted his hand to stop Harry. "It truly must wait for later to give you ze full story," He said in a quiet voice. "But 'ere is ze general information. Forty-eight women were recovered with information obtained for possible recovering many more around ze world. A special team is coordinating a world-wide response zis evening trying to get to zem before word gets out. That includes two individuals who, according to your Madam Bones are supposed to be 'ere tonight and she plans to arrest zem when zey show up."
"That's great, but you said there was bad news?" Hermione asked. "What about Tonks and Marl?"
Alain sighed as his posture took on a slight slump. "Tonks was badly injured. She's under medical care but is expected to make a full recovery."
"And Marl?" Fleur asked.
Alain shook his bed as if clearing a bad memory. "E's…missing. I do not know ze complete story and would not want to speculate, but according to ze aurors zere, 'e was with Tonks when zey got ze women to the rugs, but that's when ze…ze slavers attacked. Zey 'ad ze area in a crossfire and according to the aurors on ze team, it was all zey could do to protect ze women. In fact several of zem were 'urt. Marl ordered ze Aurors to take off while 'eld ze attackers off. 'E promised to catch up with zem at ze agreed upon rendezvous point. Ze last anyone saw of 'im was of 'im dashing out into ze open sending blasting hexes every few steps to draw ze wandfire of ze attackers. Two aurors waited for over an 'our but Marl never made it," The pained expression in Alain's face showed what he believed happened to his oldest friend.
"Oh Papa!" Fleur exclaimed and wrapped her arms around her father.
Harry didn't know what to do or say but Fleur pulled him closer as both Hermione and Gabrielle arms encircled him and Alain. "Sir…" He finally said. "He might still be alive and just hiding so he can escape."
"Oui," Alain agreed. "E might be and I shall 'ope 'e is, but I must also face ze possibility of a different outcome."
"What about Tonks?"
Alain took in a breath and let out another sigh. "Ze carpets were chased by several brooms. She took a 'ex to 'er side, but ze 'ealers 'ave said she'll make a full recovery. Now let's worry about Marl and Tonks later and prepare for zis evening. 'Ermione, why did you let your Minister…eh…off ze 'ook?"
"What…oh that. Well you know what Harry and Fleur are going to do with their awards? I mean it was your suggestion."
"Well I think when Harry announces it…he can ask for a donation from that fund don't you? Or even put the Minister on the spot by saying he's already agreed to the donation."
Alain's face relaxed into a smile. "You, young lady can be quite devious."
"I am learning from Fleur actually," Hermione replied as she smiled at her bondsister. "She also suggested that as Harry meets these influential people who can afford such a contribution, he should suggest they might want to contribute as well for further donations."
"Very good plan," Alain said.
"Is this the same idea you were discussing before?" Dumbledore asked.
"Yes," Harry replied.
"This shall be entertaining then," The Headmaster said with a twinkle in his eye.
"There you are Mr. Potter," said a feminine voice from behind them. When Harry turned around he could see the heavy jawed Rita Skeeter, dressed in bright orange color robes making a beeline for him. She had Xenophilius Lovegood in tow behind her. Following both of them were Luna and Neville.
"Now see here ma'am," Mr. Lovegood said when she finally stopped pulling on his arm. "I am positive that was an Arumus Cancarus in that fountain. I was just about to capture him when you dragged me away."
"That was only one of those fancy golden coins that are used in Africa," Rita replied offhandedly.
"Of course you thought it was a coin," Xeno explained. "That's how they disguise themselves. I described their magical capability to do that fully in an article I wrote last summer."
"If you'd taken that coin out of the fountain, Aurors would have arrested you," Rita argued.
"Hi Neville, Luna" Harry said while Rita and Xenophilius continued their argument.
"Hi Harry," Neville replied.
"Hello Harry," Luna added. It was then Harry noticed the wreath made of flowers in her hair. It wasn't the flowers that were unusual though but the way each flower would change color every few seconds. "Oh do you like my flowers?" Luna asked as she reached up to touch them. "Neville gave them to me."
"I only picked them," Neville murmured in an embarrassed tone when everyone looked at him. "Luna made the hair thing."
"They're beautiful flowers and I wanted to wear them tonight," Luna explained.
"Are you two seeing each other now?" Gabrielle asked.
"Why? Have we been invisible?" Luna asked as her eyes moved to Neville and she studied him carefully. "I can definitely see Neville; Neville can you see me?"
"Non, I mean..." Gabrielle tried to explain but Rita had finished her argument with Xenophilius and her tone of exasperation suggested she hadn't won it.
"I believe you were going to give me those interviews this evening?" Rita asked. "Mr. Lovegood," She paused to give Xenophilius a forced polite nod "is ready to publish the next Quibbler."
"So you got the information on the Platypuses?" Hermione asked Luna.
"Yes and daddy was so pleased," Luna replied. "We are going to Austria next summer to see them."
"Australia you mean?" Hermione asked. "They live in Australia."
"Well of course they want you to think they live in Australia," Luna explained. "That way they're never disturbed in their natural habitat."
"But..." Hermione started and then stopped. "Good luck," She finally said.
"How about after that thing with the Minister later?" Harry suggested to Rita.
"I'll be waiting," Rita replied. "Don't try to sneak away."
"In ze meantime Miss Skeeter, you might find it most informative to read zis chapter in zis book," Fleur added as she handed over the book that Mrs. Weasley had been given. "Zen later, you are going to be given the biggest story so far."
"Really?" Rita's eyes widened as she took the book. She read the title and then looked at Gabrielle. "Is there something about Veela that's going to change my story about you?"
Gabrielle smiled as she took Harry's arm. "I think you will be amazed."
"We'll see you after the get together…oh and Rita," Harry said. "Make sure you emphasize how the Minister was happy to donate the proceeds to our cause."
"Proceeds? What do you mean and what cause?"
"I think you'll understand in a few minutes," Fleur replied.
"I believe it's starting," Dumbledore nodded toward the platform where the Minister moving toward the podium. "If you'll excuse Mr. Potter and the rest Miss Skeeter?"
"Of course Albus," Rita replied. "Did you enjoy my little exposé on your mishandling the entire Barty Crouch Jr. affair?"
"I must say you've got a talented artist working with you," Dumbledore replied. "I haven't been so amused since you called me, what was it again, an obsolete dingbat?"
"We better get to our seats," Arthur said to break up the exchange between the reporter and Dumbledore.
"Where are you sitting?" Hermione asked.
Arthur looked at his tickets. "Row eighty-four," He said as he nodded toward a location some distance away from the platform.
"You mean that the people who paid Fudge whatever they had to pay, get the first couple of rows while you're near the back?" Harry exclaimed. "I mean besides these lovely ladies and the Delacours, you're the closest thing I have to friends and family."
Arthur shrugged. "After working at the Ministry as long as I have, you get used to it."
"But you're a department head now," Hermione argued. "That should have at least got you front row seats."
"Only if you have the right connections with the right people who plan these things," Arthur said. "I refuse to play those games."
"Because you're too good for those people," Molly Weasley added in support of her husband.
"No…that's just not right," Harry said. "Alain where are you sitting?"
"Front row," Alain replied. "And no we did not pay ze fee. Position does 'ave its privileges. Apolline and Remus are with me."
"What about Hermione and Gabrielle? I don't remember anyone saying where they're supposed to sit," Harry continued.
"For safety, I planned on them being with me," Dumbledore said quietly. "If, by chance, your bonding has made it to the wrong ears, they would be prime targets this evening. We'll be in that area to the left of the stage covered by the curtains. That's also where you and Fleur will need to be to come out when called."
Harry glanced up at the platform and noticed a curtain strung along the back of the platform to give visual relief. A small alcove of darkness could be seen to the left of the platform.
"I think there needs to be a row zero tonight," Harry said. "Sir, can you conjure some chairs behind that curtain there."
"Certainly but…" Dumbledore started. "Ah…you'd like the curtain raised or parted when you're called?"
"Yes sir. I don't think it's fair for my friends and family to be excluded from this."
"There's no need Harry," Arthur said. "Though my family and I are definitely appreciative of the thought, I believe it's for the best if we take the seats we have tickets for. Remember that I do work for the Ministry."
"I agree Harry. Remember what you plan to do," Hermione said. "No need to cause Mr. Weasley trouble by including him in the moment."
"Did we just hear that you are planning some kind of prank Harrykins?" George asked.
"Anything we can do to help?" Fred added.
"You boys behave," Molly said. "I'm sure Harry is not planning on any kind of prank," She said, but her eyes were not as sure as her words.
"Maybe," Harry agreed with Hermione and then turned to Arthur. "But you'll come to the thing afterwards right?"
"If you wish us there, then we'll be glad to attend as long as it doesn't cause trouble," Arthur replied. "Remember that I do work for the Minister and could not pay to attend."
"There won't be any trouble," Harry assured him.
The ceremony started with a politically hyped speech by the Minister extolling the Ministry's recent achievements as well as a couple of public safety announcements. It was about forty minutes later that the Minister retook the stage and announced. "Now for what you are came for. I would like to present the two people who exemplify the word 'Bravery'; two people who showed that courage isn't just a word but to them a personal virtue; two people who took on He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and prevented him from winning a crucial battle that might have led to the very destruction of all that we know. I, of course, mean our own Harry Potter and the prior Beauxbatons Academy of Magic Champion and daughter of the Deputy Minister of Magic of France, Fleur Delacour," Fudge motioned to the curtains where Fleur, beautiful in her golden robes gently led a less than enthusiastic Harry out from the alcove and onto the platform. The Minster motioned for them to stop near him as he turned back to the crowd.
"First let me start with young Miss Delacour. As you all know this will be only the second time an Order of Merlin is bestowed on a foreign citizen, but for what she did for our country she deserves nothing less. As I'm sure most of you have read in the published accounts, Miss Delacour risked her own life to save our other Hero, Harry Potter. Alone and faced with numerous dangers and challenges she did what no one else could. She made it into the graveyard in Little Hangleton and personally freed Mr. Potter from the clutches of You-Know-Who and one of his most loyal Death Eaters. Miss Delacour…" Fudge lifted a silver medallion that hung from a golden chain from the podium as Fleur moved forward. "I award you Great Britain's Magical Society's second highest honor, the Order of Merlin, Second Class," Cornelius lifted the chain and put it over Fleur's head. He then motioned for her to take the podium for any words she might want to say.
"Thank you Minister Fudge," Fleur said as she first turned her head toward the Minster and then back to the crowd. "And thank you people of zis great country. Zis 'onor is much more zan I deserve but eet ees accepted gratefully. I shall not bore you with a long speech but I would like to quickly recognize zose who mean so much to me and gave me ze courage and ability zat made ze rescue possible. Of course zere is my father, Alain Delacour. Zough ze Minister recognized 'im for 'is title and position, I think 'e and my mother, Apolline are much more zan zat but to describe all zat zey are to me would take much too long. I would also like to recognize my Grand-mère, Aglaia Laurent. Zough she isn't 'ere zis evening, she is always in my 'eart. As I'm sure most of you know I am of Veela heritage and it is she who showed me what zat means," Because of what Harry was going to do next, Fleur wanted her heritage out in the open so there was no confusion. She wasn't surprised when murmuring broke out in the crowd and several faces showed their disapproval, though she was happy that no one made a rude comment. She waited for several seconds and then concluded. "Again thank you Minister and to all of you for zis recognition," Fleur nodded to the Minister that she was finished and moved back to stand next to Harry.
The Minister returned to the Podium. "Well spoken Miss Delacour." He paused and waited for the murmuring to cease before continuing. "Now for our own hero…Harry Potter," The applause that started was extremely exuberant and loud; Cornelius allowed it continue for several seconds before finally he waved for quiet. "As you know Mr. Potter, after being rescued by Miss Delacour, showed his own courage when You-Know-Who tried to kill her. Without concern for his own life, he threw his body in front of the killing curse that was meant for her. For the second time in his life, Mr. Potter rose from the curse that's unblockable and never survived. Not only did Harry survive it, but turned the table on He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named by rejoining in the attack against him. It was Harry Potter's own spell that not only injured You-Know-Who but drove him into the night in complete failure," Again the applause was deafening and the Minister let it continue for some time before waving for silence once again before continuing. "And again just over a week ago, Harry stood toe-to-toe with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and once again defeated him," Fudge turned to Harry. "If you'll come forward," When Harry took the three steps to stand beside the podium, the Minister lifted the medal and slipped it over Harry's neck and shook his hand. "Now would you like to say a few words?"
"Uh…thank you Minister," Harry started as he inwardly groaned. He glanced at Fleur who was smiling at him. He could feel her amusement along with a hint of fear as the words of the minister had brought back the time in the graveyard when she had been sure her bondmate had died. He returned a reassuring smile and he could feel the love she had for him. He turned back to the podium and the audience. "As my…as my friend Fleur said about her award, I do not deserve this honor for I was just doing what I had to do…" As he said those words his eyes fell upon Alain, Apolline and Remus. Harry swallowed as tears threatened to come to his eyes. He knew that there were people who loved him and were there to support him. As he continued to stare, he thought of Marl and Tonks and he knew the words he needed to say. He swallowed again and continued.
"What I had to do…" Harry repeated. "Simple words, but a very wise man told me that how someone interprets those words defines him more than anything else can," Again Harry's eyes moved toward Alain's and he felt more confident in his words as he continued. "We are in a fight against darkness, against Voldemort," A ripple of noise made it's way through the room at the name but Harry ignored it. "We…and I do mean we, are in a war. When it's over, all of us will have to look upon what we did in this time. When that time comes and you look at yourself and ask did you do what YOU had to do, what do you want that answer to be? Do you want to say you did the safe thing or the right thing? All of you are here because you believe I am a hero, but I want you all to leave believing yourselves to be heroes. In the coming months we will all face decisions and make choices. You may feel you have no choice but to act in a certain way, but another wise man once told me you always have choices, they are just not always equal. So when you are faced with those decisions…will you make the right choice or the easy choice? Will you be your own hero? Will you be able to say 'I did what I had to do'?"
At first no one did anything when Harry finished. Finally a shout ranged out and a cheer and that was followed by people getting to their feet to cheer their hero. The clapping and cheering rose to a thundering noise. Only then did Harry realize what he'd done and that the applause was for his words. His face reddened but he kept his eyes toward the audience. Finally when the noise subsided he continued. "Thank you, but I want to add one more thing. In this fight we are going to need all of the help we can get. Help from people and other races that you might not trust or believe in. As many of you might have read, there is a man, a werewolf who is like an uncle to me. I would trust him with my life and gladly give my life for him. I mean of course, Remus Lupin," Harry nodded toward the front row. The person sitting next to Remus looked at him in horror and quickly stood up and started to walk away. "That man just made a wrong decision," Harry said as he pointed at the man. "Will you do the same? I will admit that there are bad werewolves just as they're bad wizards and witches, but most of them are good. If you have his attitude," Again Harry indicated the man, "why would the werewolves want to help us?" Harry waited for several seconds and continued. "Fleur's grandmother is Veela, a proud and noble being who I am proud to say I know and respect. Many people see Veela as something less than they are. Some even go so far as to think they can own them," Harry turned and smiled at Gabrielle who he could see in the darkened alcove. "That is the attitude of Voldemort and his followers. I am friends with a half-giant who has a gentle heart." Harry paused for a several more seconds before continuing once more. "If Voldemort comes to power all of the races are in danger, but what alternative are we offering them? Hatred? Scorn like he did?" Again Harry pointed at the man who had fled the seat next to Remus. The entire audience was staring at the man now. He glanced around himself looking for support. When none came, he finally, hesitantly moved back to his original seat and sat down next to Remus. His body language and the fact he was sitting on the edge of the seat furthest from Moony indicated he was still unsure he wanted to sit next to a werewolf.
"That's a better decision," Harry said and laughter broke out among the audience. Harry then lifted his award and held it out toward the audience. "Think of why this was awarded to Fleur and me. It's because we…a human and a part veela worked together to thwart Voldemort. THAT is how we must fight…together."
The applause this time was more polite than enthusiastic. Once it ended, Harry continued. "To show what races can do together, Fleur and I have decided to use the galleons that come with these awards to use in that regards. We are going to try to open a cultural center that shows the various races and their history as well as how and why we depend on each other. Our Order of Merlins will be a key exhibit there to show that mutual respect can exist."
Again the applause was minimal but there was enough to give Harry hope that his speech would make a difference. This had been Alain's suggestion. To use the awards to emphasize how the races can work together.
"Don't forget Hermione's idea," Fleur reminded Harry.
"Oh yeah…And finally I would like to thank Minister Fudge who generously agreed to donate the proceeds from his special invitees this evening to our endeavor when he heard what we planned," Harry's eyes met Cornelius' who was standing with his mouth opened. He'd been caught about to say something and the statement from Harry had left his mind a complete blank. Harry extended his hand to Minister and smiled when he heard the flash of the camera. "Isn't that correct Minister?"
"Uh…" Fudge started but finally realized what had happened and also knew he was cornered. "Of course, of course. Noble cause and everything."
"Thank you," Harry replied out loud and then whispered. "A perfect way to deal with the mistake wouldn't you agree? I mean I'm doing an interview with Rita Skeeter later this evening…." Harry left the threat dangling in front of the Minister and walked back to stand with Fleur.
"Very well done 'Arry," Alain said sometime later when the ceremony had ended but before the get together started. "I'm very proud of you."
"Thank you sir," Harry replied as Apolline kissed him on the cheek.
"Well Mr. Potter," Rita had turned up once more. "I now understand what you meant. I noticed the sour look on Fudge's face; I presume he wasn't expecting it?"
Harry shrugged. "As much as I was expecting him to try to use this event to pad his reelection campaign."
"You are full of surprises Mr. Potter," Rita said. "Your little speech was very impressive as well."
"I think we can still give you another surprise or two…or three," Harry grinned. "I think you'll find our interviews later a lot more interesting than you thought they'd be."
"I was reading that chapter during the boring stuff," Rita said. "I'm wondering if you and Miss Delacour?"
"We'll tell you later," Fleur said.
"That's great. I have a photographer ready to take your picture Gabrielle," Rita added. "Witch Weekly is very interested in your story."
"We 'ave pictures for you already," Gabrielle said. "Ones taken by a photographer my maman approves of."
"Well…uh…that will simplify things I guess," Rita said and notice Apolline. "Oh, here comes the minister. I'll see you in a while."
Harry quickly grew bored of being introduced to person after person, but about forty minutes into the get together a young man and woman rushed up to him. "Harry Potter…we are so excited to meet you…really. Oh…this is my wife Una and…and I'm Tilden...Tilden Pilliwickle," His voice carried an obvious air of excitement. "We're really big fan of yours. We even did the new tour a couple of weeks back. It was great. They really have a great actor playing your evil uncle but that one playing your aunt doesn't have the right spirit. We even had to ask her to yell at us."
"The tour…..you know number four Privet Drive?" Una explained.
"Uh…actor?" Harry asked.
"Simply outstanding. He turned this putrid shade of purple as he called us freaks," Tilden gushed.
"I think you met my real aunt and uncle," Harry said cautiously. "At least I wasn't told they were being substituted."
"REALLY?" Una looked at her husband. "We really must go back tomorrow. To think we got locked into the cupboard under the stairs by his real aunt," She turned back to Harry and added. "It's been such a pleasure."
"Did…did that really just happen?" Harry asked Fleur when Una and Tilden moved away.
"Oui," Fleur replied. "I think eet's safe to say your relatives are 'aving a very interesting summer."
Before Harry could reply a very familiar blonde woman was led over to them by the Minister. "Harry, Miss Delacour have you met Narcissa Malfoy?"
"You were actually there last year when I met Narcissa in the top box at the World Cup," Harry replied as he eyed Narcissa cautiously. He noticed that she was not carrying herself with the same snobbishness and had a hint of sadness in her eyes.
"Mr. Potter," Narcissa said as she held out a polite hand while ignoring Fleur altogether.
"Wait," Fleur said to her bondmate who was about to ignore the offered hand. With a mental agreement, Harry took a step to the right at the same time Fleur moved in front of Narcissa and took her hand. "Eet is a pleasure to meet you Ms. Malfoy," she said nicely as she shook the offered hand.
"Eh…" Narcissa said as she overrode her inclination to pull her hand back. "Miss…Delacour is it?"
"Oui Madam," Fleur continued her polite tone. "I read about your 'usband. I am sorry for your loss."
"Thank you," Narcissa replied but refused to make eye contact with the Veela.
"Draco's not with you?" Harry asked as he looked around.
"He is ill," Narcissa lied.
"For the best," Harry said. "I'm not sure how tolerant I would be after what he did to Gabrielle last year."
"I will not argue with you this evening Mr. Potter," Mrs. Malfoy replied, "but my own tolerance for attacks on my family is fairly low."
"Good evening then," Fleur said "It was a pleasure to meet you," as she pulled Harry away.
"Attacks on HER family?" Harry snarled.
"What did you think she'd say?" Fleur asked. "She's going to defend her family just as you'll defend yours."
It was a short time later that Harry noticed Narcissa in the queue for the floo departure line. In front of each fireplace was a Ministry employee with a container of floo powder. Guest after guest took the powder and threw it into the fireplace. As the flames turned green each time, the departing guest would state their destination and step into the flames.
Angry at how Draco's mother had reacted, Harry continued to glare at her from the distance as she strolled up to the next available fireplace. She took the offered powder and threw it into the fire. As the flames turned green, she started to speak her destination and a strange confused look overcame her features. She opened her mouth again, and again she stopped. The flames died back down to the normal red embers as she continued to stare at the fireplace. As other witches and wizards started complaining about the delay, she took a bit more floo powder and threw it into the fireplace. Again when it rose in green flames, she started to speak her destination...but nothing. She looked around the atrium, panic now clearly evident on her face.
"I wonder what's going on?" Harry asked his bondmates as he pointed toward Mrs. Malfoy.
"I don't know," Hermione responded with a shrug as she glanced over. "She's not happy though."
"Good," Harry replied. "Probably broke a nail or something."
"Interesting," Fleur said. "Dumbledore is zere," She nodded toward Narcissa. As they watched, Dumbledore crossed the Atrium and approached her. After a couple of minutes they saw tears start flowing down her face as she was led away.
It was a few minutes later that Dumbledore appeared. "Sirius and Alain will escort you back," He said. "I have some issues that I need to take care of."
"What happened with Mrs. Malfoy?" Hermione asked.
"She can't remember where she lives," Dumbledore replied in a low voice.
"What? How can she forget where she lives?" Harry asked.
"I do believe you are staying somewhere that is forgotten," Dumbledore replied in a quiet but significant tone.
"I mean that I believe we both know where Voldemort is while at the same time, we have no idea where he is," Dumbledore said.
"What about Draco?" Harry asked.
"Exactly what Narcissa Malfoy is asking as well."