A/N: So there I was, wandering through the desert in search of my muse, when an oasis appeared. Miles and miles of wonderful fanfiction stretched out before me, and before I knew it, I was lost. It was only some time later that my muse found me instead and dragged me kicking and screaming back to the barren pages that needed filling.

And here it is: the long awaited update.

In all seriousness, the last chapter received over 230 reviews, and again I must thank you all for blowing my mind. Unfortunately, this chapter (along with the next two or three) were scheduled for complete rewrites, and this one in particular was remarkably difficult. Dumbledore is a pain in the arse to write in this story. That said, I hope you like it.

I intend to start immediately on the next chapter, which will hopefully be out in a few days. I happen to have some time to myself at the moment (*cackles evilly*), so I might actually be able to keep that promise...

Chapter 21

The Announcement

Monday dawned dark and drizzly in stark contrast to Harry's mood. The chill caused Fleur to draw him closer as they trudged toward the castle, and he took significant comfort from her warmth. They were still riding high on the events of the weekend, incredibly pleased that the wedding had gone so smoothly.

The night that followed was a bit less than perfect, but in retrospect, that was to be expected.

While the boys in the Gryffindor dormitory often had crude conversations about girls, they always seemed to speak in some kind of code. Harry had, of course, heard of sex – and the various crass colloquialisms that referred to it – but he honestly had no clue what the word actually meant. There were no adults in his life who would explain such things to him, and he was too embarrassed about it to ask anyone.

That left Fleur to do the honors, and he could honestly say that it was the most embarrassing conversation that he had ever endured. She caught him totally off-guard when she tried to undress him, and his sudden panic clued her in that he had no idea why she would do such a thing. She was patient with him, though, and while she was equally embarrassed, they somehow got through it.

He likely would have run were she anyone else.

They would rather have waited a while before having such an intimate encounter, but they could do nothing about it. Consummation of their marriage was required for the repayment of the life debt, so they had no choice. That said, he could not deny that he enjoyed the experience immensely, and while he was still a bit hesitant about intimate contact, he was looking forward to the next time.

And in the end, it was good for their relationship. Fleur was a remarkably gentle woman, a far cry from his impression of her when they first met, and the way she handled the matter earned his complete trust. There were few important secrets remaining between them – none that he could actually think of, in fact – and between that and the knowledge that she would always be there for him, he felt a deep sense of peace and contentment.

But that only lasted until they entered the Great Hall.

They were a bit late in arriving for breakfast because Sebastian had some last minute things to discuss with them before they returned to Hogwarts, and the silence that fell at their appearance made it clear that the morning paper had already arrived. An involuntary blush suffused Harry's cheeks at the scrutiny, and Fleur didn't fare much better. He wasn't looking forward to the next few days.

Urgent whispers erupted throughout the hall as they made their way to their usual place at the Gryffindor table. Hundreds of curious, jealous, or hateful gazes burned into him, and it was all he could do not to turn around and head for the kitchens so they could eat in peace. Sure, he knew it was coming, but that did not make the scrutiny any easier to bear.

By the time they sat down, the whispers had escalated into a cacophony of shouting voices – most of them female, he noticed. A number of students even stood up to get a better view of the happy couple. With a heavy sigh, Harry let his head fall to the table before he even had a chance to take in the sympathetic expressions most of his friends were wearing.

Fleur gently rubbed his back in a silent offering of comfort, for what little good it did.

"Cheer up, Harry," said Hermione softly. "They'll get over it eventually, just like they always do."

Harry picked his head up and speared her with a dark glare. "Easy for you to say," he groused. "You're not the one who has to deal with it."

Hermione rolled her eyes and tossed her copy of the Daily Prophet across the table at him. "At least the article is good," she shrugged. "Could've been a whole lot worse."

"I can't believe you're doing press releases now," grumbled Ron. "What's next, autographed pictures?"

"Oh, honestly!" snapped Hermione. "What were they supposed to do, Ronald? We all know how accurate Skeeter's version would've been!"

Ron huffed, shook his head, and went back to stuffing his face with wild abandon. Harry was surprised that he was being so restrained; he had honestly expected him to blow up before now. While he still held out a modicum of hope that their friendship could be salvaged, it was really only a matter of time before Ron finally lost control – and something deep in his gut told him that there would be no coming back from it.

While Harry was distracted, Fleur snatched up the paper and unfolded it to read the headline story. Morbidly curious, he leaned up against her so he could follow along:

Boy-Who-Lived Weds Veela In Private Ceremony

by Jean-Claude Laurent
reprinted with permission from Le Journal Magique
translation by Lolita Wood

In a joint press release with Sebastian Alexandre Delacour, Director of Foreign Affairs for the French Ministry of Magic, Harry James Potter today announced his unexpected marriage. On Saturday, 20 March, Mr. Potter was joined in the eyes of Magic to Fleur Annalise Delacour, who is currently competing against him in the world-famous Triwizard Tournament.

This shocking announcement has taken the world by surprise. Why was Potter, who is decidedly underage, allowed to marry a woman three years older, who he has only just met? While some may decry this union for just that reason, it is quite clear that the intentions of all parties are indisputably honorable.

The release states that Mr. Potter's appearance with an unconscious Fleur Delacour at the end of the Second Task was not the coincidence that most believed it to be. Indeed, Miss Delacour was attacked by grindylows and would have been killed were it not for his timely intervention. Because of this selfless action, a life debt formed, owed to Mr. Potter.

The catch: the Beauxbatons Champion is of veela ancestry. As our more astute readers already know, veela magic would have eventually called the debt due. This would have stripped her of her magic and resulted in her untimely demise.

The only way to repay the debt was through marriage, and in Mr. Potter's own words, "there was no other choice." He therefore chose to sacrifice his future in order to preserve her life. He is a truly remarkable hero in our eyes.

But while many will fear for his future, there is a brighter side to the story. Several officials from the British and French Ministries of Magic were present at the event, and we spoke briefly with Madam Amelia Bones, Director of Magical Law Enforcement for Britain, who presided over the ceremony. She had this to say:

"I've seen Merlin's Blessing before, but never as powerful as it was between those two. It was the most amazing thing I have ever witnessed, and I can honestly say they have a bright future together. I've met with them on several occasions, and this is not a loveless marriage by any stretch of the imagination."

Yes, you read that correctly: the couple was granted Magic's rare blessing for their union, which is said to bring good fortune to the recipients. Others who were present indicated that, while Mr. and Mrs. Potter are still getting to know each other, they are remarkably close and very happy together.

Mr. Potter's long-time friend Hermione Granger (who was recently slandered in Britain's Daily Prophet for allegedly toying with his affections) said, "Harry is completely immune to Fleur's allure, and I've never seen him as happy as when he's with her. I honestly think it's a match made in Heaven. They have my full support."

We at Le Journal Magique [ed: and the Daily Prophet] call upon our readers to also throw their full support behind Mr. and Mrs. Potter. They have all the makings of one of the most influential couples in recent history, and we wish them the best.

[ed: The Potters have asked that the public refrain from sending gifts. As an alternative, Mr. Potter suggests donating in their name to the children's charity of your choice.]

Harry had to admit that the article was amazingly good. Given their treatment of the Tournament in general, he would have expected the Prophet to take potshots at Fleur at the very least. But as they read through the rest of the paper, which included a surprisingly accurate article about the veela life debt issue, there was nary a negative word to be found.

Before he could say as much, however, the relative peace at the table was interrupted by the last voice Harry wanted to hear.

"Will you join me in my office, Harry?"

The request was accompanied by Dumbledore's hand coming to rest on his shoulder, and he stiffened at the unwelcome contact. A surge of anger bubbled up within at the memory of what the man had done, and he had to close his eyes for a moment to fight it down. Even so, he did not miss Hermione's poorly-hidden look of concern.

They knew this was coming – the Headmaster wasn't likely to ignore it – but that didn't make it any less annoying. Fortunately, Sebastian had spent much of Sunday evening coaching them on how to handle the situation. It was time for Harry to play his part, as hard as that was going to be.

When he finally opened his eyes and rose from the table, he was aware of the scrutiny not only of his fellow students, but also of much of the staff as well. McGonagall in particular was watching through narrowed eyes, and that actually made him feel a bit better. She knew the situation in regards to his wife, and he was hopeful that she would come to his aid if need be.

Concern flooded Fleur's eyes as he leaned over to kiss her cheek. She knew that this would not be a pleasant encounter, but still remained silent, hiding her feelings as best she could. They couldn't afford for Dumbledore to find out that they were aware of the extent his manipulations – and it was going to be very hard to conceal it.

According to Sebastian, Dumbledore was a Master Legilimens.

"See you at lunch, belle femme," he offered quietly.

"I will be 'ere," she smiled.

Harry smiled back, and then turned to the Headmaster, taking care to keep his eyes averted. Direct eye contact was the key to Legilimency, and he did not want his thoughts read. There was no telling what would happen if the bastard figured out how much he knew. It wasn't a risk worth taking.

Dumbledore turned and set off at an unhurried pace, and Harry trailed his hand across Fleur's shoulders as he reluctantly followed. Sebastian had taught him some very basic mental exercises in preparation for learning Occlumency, and he made a point of employing them now. They would relax his mind and help to control his emotions; he could in no way afford to let on how angry he already was.

With luck, he wouldn't need to act after this meeting; it wasn't likely that the outcome would be in his favor, which would give him plenty of apparent reason to be mad at the old goat.

To Harry, the silence was thick and oppressive as they rode the staircase to the Headmaster's office, but he did his best to ignore it. As he entered, his eyes were immediately drawn to the beautiful phoenix on its perch at the side of the room. Ever since that first encounter, Harry had been quite fascinated with the creatures.

Ignoring the Headmaster for the moment, he made his way over. "Hello, Fawkes," he offered softly as he reached out to smooth the beautiful crimson feathers on the bird's back.

Fawkes trilled a bright note of welcome and cocked his head, examining Harry closely. Between the mental exercises and the calming presence of the phoenix, however, he was in for quite a surprise when he met the bird's curious gaze. It was subtle – almost undetectable – but he was certain that he felt a foreign presence slipping into his mind.

They locked gazes for a long moment before the presence receded.

Where a mental intrusion would have been thoroughly unwelcome from another human being, Harry didn't mind it so much from Fawkes. Phoenixes were purely light creatures, and he suspected that no phoenix would ever approve of what Dumbledore had done. Really, he wondered why Fawkes stayed with the man.

Fawkes chirped brightly and held out a talon to him, and realizing what he wanted, Harry smiled and offered an arm in return. Sure enough, the phoenix happily hopped aboard, letting out another pleased trill. Then he leaned forward and nuzzled Harry's cheek with obvious affection.

"Please have a seat, Harry," offered Dumbledore in a calm, grandfatherly tone.

Harry didn't bother to put Fawkes back on his perch – he was the perfect excuse not to make eye contact with the Headmaster – but he complied, moving to sit in the uncomfortable straight-backed chair in front of the Headmaster's desk. He suspected that it was uncomfortable on purpose; an uncomfortable student was more likely to slip and reveal something.

Dumbledore watched impassively as Harry turned his attention back to the phoenix on his arm. Fawkes seemed to enjoy having the back of his neck scratched, occasionally turning one way or the other to offer a different spot. It made Harry smile a genuine smile; it was hard to be angry, sad, or depressed in the presence of a phoenix.

This went on for a few minutes before Dumbledore finally broke the silence.

"I was quite surprised that you had no reaction to the morning paper," he mused simply.

Harry merely shrugged in response.

Sebastian had advised him not to respond to open-ended statements; it was best to wait for an actual question, and only speak otherwise when necessary. The crash course he received from his father-in-law on handling Albus Dumbledore was surprising, mostly because Harry could identify all of the various tactics in their previous encounters. Sebastian's Pensieve saw quite a bit of use that evening as they reviewed them all.

Leading statements like that one, and the long silence before it, were Dumbledore's favorite methods of gaining information. But now that Harry was aware of it – and his memories had borne it out – he had no intention of falling for it ever again. Sebastian had drilled it into his head that he had no reason to worry, so it was therefore better to wait for a direct question, even if it might seem disrespectful.

And besides, he had absolutely no reason to discuss anything at all with the old goat. Albus Dumbledore was not his guardian and had no right whatsoever to pry into his personal business. In point of fact, his interest in Harry's life was highly inappropriate for a man in any of the positions he held.

His lack of response elicited a frown from Dumbledore that only deepened as the silence stretched. It would have been uncomfortable if not for Fawkes, but as it was, Harry was suitably entertained. Fawkes was in a playful mood, and obviously enjoyed the attention he was receiving.

Finally, though, after nearly a full minute of silence, Dumbledore gave up and spoke.

"I will contact the Daily Prophet for you this afternoon," he offered. "I'm certain they will be willing to retract the story, which should help you avoid the kind of attention you received this morning."

Harry's narrowed his eyes at his presumption, but forced himself to remain polite. "That won't be necessary, sir, but thank you anyway," he replied.

Dumbledore blinked in obvious surprise. "You plan to contact them yourself?" he asked skeptically. "You must be extremely cautious in your approach or they will only slander you further. I would very much prefer that you allow me to handle this for you given my experience in these matters."

Harry sighed internally and prepared himself for what was to come. It was impossible to tell if Dumbledore believed the article or was merely acting. Regardless, this was the beginning of what was sure to be a downward spiral for this meeting if his assessment of the man was correct.

That said, at least for the moment, he needed to play the part of not having anything against his Headmaster, at least until Dumbledore started pressing for information he wasn't entitled to. Only then would he be able to show some of his irritation with the man; it would be only natural as far as Dumbledore was concerned.

"I think you misunderstood me, Professor," he replied calmly. "I don't need to contact them because I don't have a problem with what they printed." Frowning slightly, he added, "I'm not exactly thrilled about announcing something we consider personal, but it was either that or risk having Skeeter get hold of it."

Dumbledore's eyes widened fractionally in surprise at his words, leading Harry to believe that he'd thought it just another flight of fancy on the part of the Daily Prophet. It was suddenly hard to keep a smirk off his face: the man was not so all-knowing as he would like to have everyone believe. He mentally scored a point for himself as he went back to petting Fawkes and waiting for the inevitable reaction.

It took a long moment for the Headmaster to recover, and then–

"I'm sorry," he said slowly, "but are you implying that you did indeed marry Miss Delacour?"

"Everything they printed was the truth, sir," shrugged Harry.

"I see," he said. But then his look turned calculating, which was cause for significant concern. "And where did the wedding take place?" he asked carefully.

Harry sighed and did his best to look regretful. "Sorry, sir," he said with a shake of his head, "Fleur and I agreed to only talk about what was in the press release."

Dumbledore frowned deeply at his response, and Harry quickly realized that this was where things would get ugly. Ignoring the silence that fell once again – the man was either slow, or hadn't figured out yet that the tactic would no longer work on him – he refocused on Fawkes and ran a finger along the crest atop his head. Fawkes closed his eyes at the gentle contact, clearly enjoying it.

"Harry, please look at me," requested Dumbledore quietly.

But Harry just shook his head again; he wasn't about to fall for that! "Sorry, sir," he said again. "I mean no disrespect, but I know you're a Legilimens, and I'm not comfortable with it until I can protect myself. I'm not real big on the idea of having someone else in my head after what happened to Ginny with the diary."

Dumbledore's grandfatherly mask actually cracked at his honest statement, and anger flashed in his eyes, though it was quickly hidden. Harry had no doubt now that the git had used it on him in the past, which was very disturbing. Exactly how much did he know about what they got up to in previous years?

How much did he know about the Dursleys?

He'd gone through many scenarios for neutralizing Dumbledore's Legilimency with Sebastian – it would be a while before he would have sufficient skill to block an ant, let alone the most powerful Wizard in the world – and in the end they decided on simply admitting that he was aware of it. Sebastian figured that the diary issue would deflect suspicion, and Harry agreed. While Dumbledore was a perceptive man, it was also readily apparent that he didn't truly understand the workings of a teenage mind.

The aging Headmaster steepled his fingers under his chin and nodded sagely, but Harry knew it was an act. The anger that broke through for that brief instant said it all. He had just lost one of his most useful weapons, and he was likely to be rather unhappy about it, regardless of how it appeared.

"I suppose that is understandable," he allowed quietly, "I must, however, insist on having the details of the situation."

Harry sighed deeply. "With all due respect, sir, it's not the school's business," he reminded him bluntly. "Our marriage is very personal to us, and we've already said far more than we ever wanted to say about it."

Dumbledore's eyes narrowed, and his voice took on a stern edge. "You are underage, Mr. Potter," he said with surprising directness. "You cannot legally enter into marriage without permission from your guardians, and we both know that the Dursleys would never agree to it."

"I'm aware of the requirements, sir," said Harry simply. "I give you my word that our marriage is completely legal."

Silence descended once again in the wake of his statement, and Harry took to scratching Fawkes' belly while he waited for the next move. It was the truth, though, and all the man had to do to see it was look up their marriage license at the Ministry of Magic. Amelia had filed all the appropriate documents for them, so it was completely and perfectly legal – and besides, it couldn't be changed anyway due to the nature of marriage in the magical world.

The bond was permanent once formed.

Nearly two minutes passed before the Headmaster finally straightened in his chair, clearly perturbed that his efforts hadn't elicited the response he expected. And as he straightened, the grandfatherly image fell away, and Harry felt a small magical eddy emanating from him. He was apparently going to try intimidation now.

"I require your cooperation, Mr. Potter," he said sternly, drawing a surprised sort of look from Fawkes. "I cannot take the chance of inappropriate behavior occurring between yourself and Miss Delacour."

Harry's eyes involuntarily narrowed, and this time he didn't bother masking it. The man wouldn't take no for an answer, and that was cause enough to be annoyed with him. It was hard to have confidence in the face of someone so magically and politically powerful, but he gathered every last bit he had to his name. Powerful or not, the man was a criminal as far as he was concerned.

"Her name is Fleur Potter, Headmaster," he retorted. "And with all due respect, our marriage is none of your business. I won't answer questions about it."

Dumbledore's eyes likewise narrowed, and he leaned forward across the desk, still staring at Harry's ear. "Then I'm afraid I will have to restrict your movements," he warned.

Harry said nothing and simply waited for the hammer to fall. The man had no authority over him as far as his relationship with Fleur went, and if he actually tried to enforce such a punishment, it would bring far too much attention to his interference in Harry's life. It was likely an idle threat, and Harry had no intention of letting him win this particular battle.

After another full minute of silence, the Headmaster finally shook his head. "Very well, you leave me no choice," he said. "With the exception of class time, you are restricted to your dormitory, and you may not have visitors. Dobby will provide your meals."

To say that Harry was surprised at this declaration was an understatement, but it only delayed his anger for the briefest of moments. That was about as heavy-handed as he could possibly get! His entire argument about 'inappropriate behavior' was flimsy, too, considering that Fleur wasn't even a Hogwarts student and didn't live in Gryffindor Tower.

He couldn't help the color that rose in his cheeks, but he somehow managed to bite back his initial response, turning once again to his mental exercises. Eyes closed, he focused on the feel of Fawkes' feathers for a long moment as he forced his anger back. He needed to think rationally.

There was no possible way he would put up with this, and besides, the punishment couldn't be enforced without drawing attention, could it?

In fact...

"No, sir," he said firmly.

He opened his eyes to find that Fawkes was giving Dumbledore a dirty look, and had to suppress a morbidly amused snort. He'd never known that a bird was capable of that, but Fawkes' expression was beyond description. It was clear that he did not approve – but either Dumbledore didn't see it, or he completely ignored it.

"Excuse me, Mr. Potter?" he asked with a dangerous edge to his voice. "I don't believe I heard you correctly."

"You heard me perfectly, Headmaster," Harry countered without missing a beat. "My private business is exactly that, and I won't accept punishment for keeping it that way."

It came out more harshly than he intended, but he really didn't care. Dumbledore was pushing him quite hard, probably because there was very little he could actually do. A letter to the Board of Governors would have him in a world of hurt for a stunt like that.

And from the look on the man's face, it seemed that Harry's sudden rebellion caught him completely off-guard. Never before had Harry blatantly refused one of his requests – let alone an order – and he apparently had no idea what to do about it. It was interesting to watch.

But Harry was shocked when Dumbledore chose to play his trump card.

"Then I'm afraid that I will have to expel you," he said quietly. "I cannot have a student in this school who will not submit to my authority."

Harry couldn't help it this time: he snorted loudly.

That was an empty threat if he'd ever heard one! The Boy Who Lived, expelled from Hogwarts for no good reason? It would be a huge scandal! On top of that, there was no way the man would ever willingly let him leave: he needed him there so he could control him.

It was a great mystery why that was so, but Harry had no doubt that it was true. All that time spent in the Pensieve with the Delacours going over his school career bore it out. The man wanted to be in charge of his life for some strange reason – maybe because of the mysterious prophecy – and he wasn't about to let it continue.

In a moment of inspiration, Harry decided that turnabout might just be fair play in this instance, and he pushed abruptly to his feet before he could lose his nerve. It was an extreme gamble, but he had confidence in his estimate of the situation. The worst that could happen is that he would have to pay for private tutors, which would by no means be a problem.

"You know what?" he said conversationally. "You go right ahead, sir. I think I'll go find Madam Maxime. I'm sure she'll be thrilled to have me as a student."

And with that, he turned and headed for the door, totally missing the look of abject horror that crossed Dumbledore's face.

By the time the man recovered, he was already gone.