See the end of the chapter for pertinent information.
Bill scrapped his short nails over the back of his neck, watching as his youngest brother, Ron, pulled Hermione Granger up off the ground where she'd fallen when their portkey landed. It had taken a good twenty minutes for the order to sort out exactly who was going to be sent on this little rescue mission. None of the adult members of the order had liked the idea of Ron or Hermione going, but Krum had already shown he wasn't exactly welcoming to strangers and Hermione was the one he knew. Ron had insisted on going with her immediately, dragging a blush out of Hermione and vehement objection from Molly. She'd just barely been persuaded by Dumbledore himself, who'd taken a liking to this idea. As he put it, Bill had already introduced their cover story as Harry's friends being ever so concerned with his whereabouts; the next logical step would of course be for them to seek him out.
"Okay." Bill intoned over his shoulder as the two teens trailed slightly behind him. "Just remember – you can't say anything about the Order, or Dumbledore, and don't mention Siri- !"
"We know, Bill!" Ron hissed, tugging on his brothers' arm. "We've been keeping Snuffles a secret for ages."
"We're here looking for Harry, as concerned friends, that's all." Hermione said, dusting invisible bits off her jacket. "You are our mode of transportation, so just let me talk to Viktor."
She pushed passed him as they came up to Krums townhouse, making sure Ron had come to stand beside her, slightly in front of Bill before she reached out and rapped smartly on the door as Bill raised his eye brow at Ron.
Ron shook his head and waved Bill down, as though saying just not to bother arguing. They waited in silence for a moment until they finally heard footsteps approaching. The door was wrenched open to reveal Krum scowling out at the world, though the dour expression did lighten considerably when he noticed Hermione.
"Herm-own-ninny." Krum said.
"Hello, Viktor!" Hermione said warmly, reaching a hand towards Krum, which he promptly clasped. Ron instantly acquired a sour look, only getting worse as he noticed Bill suppressing a grin.
"Vat are you doing here?" Krum asked, the scowl returning as Bill himself was spotted. "You are Fleur's friend?"
"Yeah, we spoke earlier." Bill said, glaring at Ron as the boy snickered.
"We're actually looking for Harry." Hermione said, bringing Krum's attention back to her with a squeeze to his hand.
"Potter? He is not here."
"Can – I mean, do you know where he is?" Hermione pressed, trying to signal Ron to shush as she saw him make a jerky distressed motion to interrupt.
"Vhy must you find him?" Krum asked.
"He hasn't been responding to our letters." Hermione supplied promptly. "And then last night we went to see him, and he was just gone! We're just worried, Viktor. We want to make sure he's alright."
"He vas here." Krum admitted after a pause long enough to have the concerned smile Hermione wore cracking at the edges. "But he and Fleur have gone home."
"Gone home?" Hermione repeated, dropping Krums hand. "To Surrey?"
"No." Krum shook his head. "Harry is staying with Fleur."
"Oh, yeah?" Ron blurted out. "When did that happen?"
Krum shrugged and looked at his watch. "An hour ago."
"Alright, can you tell us where Fleur lives, Viktor?" Hermione said. "We just really need to find him."
"You can't?" Hermione said, crest fallen, at the same instant that Ron blurted out, "Why the hell not?"
Krum wrinkled his nose at Ron, then turned his attention back to Hermione. "I cannot. I do not know where she is staying."
"You don't have any idea?" Hermione asked. Krum's face scrunched in a way that made Bill think he was sorry he couldn't answer the girl, and shook his head. Not that it really mattered.
"Alright," Bill said, clapping his hands together loudly and making both Ron and Hermione jump. "We'd best get going then."
"But, Harry – " Ron protested.
"He's not here." Bill said, slowly like Ron was still a toddler. "Mr. Krum doesn't know where he's gone, so we're just wasting time. I'm sure he's a very busy man."
"You cannot stay for a visit, Herm-own-ninny?" Krum asked.
"Can't, sorry." Bill said grabbing both Ron and Hermiones hands and tugging them away before Hermione could so much as open her mouth to reply. "Must carry on!"
"Good bye, Viktor!" Hermione called, waving frantically. "I'll send you an owl, we'll catch up!"
The two teens allowed Bill to haul them down the street, probably mostly due to shock, for an entire block before they managed to gather their wits.
Ron wrenched himself free first, and quite a bit more violently than Hermione, who followed suit a moment later.
"What the hell, Bill?" Ron yelled.
"Ronald!" Hermione hissed, stepping up beside Ron and gripping his arm. "Keep your voice down!"
"Sorry," Ron grumbled. "Sorry, I'm a little upset my brother isn't bloody doing his job!"
"Don't be so dramatic, Ron." Bill said, rolling his eyes.
"Dramatic? Harry could be anywhere, and Krum is the only one who might know where he is!" Ron's voice cracked half way through the exclamation, as he tried to keep his voice level.
"First off, Krum already said he didn't know where Harry was." Bill said, ticking off a finger. "Second, we don't need him to tell us because I already know where Fleur is staying."
"What?" Ron asked blankly, as Hermione nodded, rubbing at the wrist Bill had pulled on.
"Well then, let's go." Hermione insisted.
"Where are we going?" Ron asked, looking from Bill to Hermione.
"Wherever Fleur is staying." Hermione said, turning to Bill expectantly.
"Right," Bill grabbed a hand each from his brother and Hermione and hauled them into a nearby alley way, "We're off to London then."
"So, exactly how long have you been dating Fleur again, Bill?" Ron asked for the fifth time as they trooped down the footway of Upper Brook Street looking for the Delcour's building.
"I'm not dating Fleur." Bill said through gritted teeth. The first couple times his brother had asked that question Bill had just tried to distance himself from Ron, the same way he had when Ron was a kid, but walking too fast for 'little Ronnie' when the kid was almost as tall as Bill himself hadn't worked out nearly as well as it had in the past. That, coupled with the sound of poor Hermione panting as she very nearly ran to keep up with the two Weasleys, had Bill dropping back to a regular persons walking speed and wearing his molars flat out of frustration.
"Sure you're not." Ron chuckled. "That's why you didn't tell mum you knew where she was staying?"
"I didn't tell mum because I knew she'd over react." Bill snapped over his shoulder at Ron. "It has nothing to do with my relationship with Fleur."
"Sure it doesn't." Ron said, openly grinning now.
"Look," Bill said, coming to a stop and turning to face a very startled looking Ron and Hermione. "Fleur and I have gone out on a couple of times, but not enough to be called dating. I do like her though, so if you screw this up for me I'll pay the twins to make your life a living hell, got it?"
"Got it." Ron said, going pale.
"Good." Bill turned and started walking again, letting a smug grin slide over his face as he heard the other two scramble to keep up with him.
They rounded a corner and Fleurs ground floor flat and Bill pointed it out to the other two, falling back just a bit to let them pass.
"It's number eight there." He said pointing over Hermione's shoulder.
"Aren't you going to ring the bell?" Hermione asked when Bill made no move to approach the door.
"It's probably best if you do it." Bill said solemnly. "She'll remember you from Hogwarts, right?"
"I hope she doesn't." Ron muttered.
"Still," Hermione said, rolling her eyes at her friend. "She is your . . . friend. It'll be less confusing if you ring."
"Yes," Bill agreed, "but she might not answer."
"Ugh, why not?" Ron asked.
"She poured water all over our floo connection last time we talked," Bill shrugged. "I didn't exactly take that as an open invitation to pop in for a visit."
"Why'd she do that?" Ron snorted, choking on the end of it as Hermione elbowed him in the ribs.
"She just sort of flew off the handle when I told Harry to come home." Bill said, glaring at Ron. Ron and Hermione both raised their eyebrows at him, both thinking the same thing – What was this woman's plan?
"Just go ring the bell." Bill prompted waving a hand at them.
Hermione stepped up and gave the bell a ring, Ron standing close behind, and Bill trying to fade into the background.
They waited and soon enough they could hear light footsteps approaching. The door knob rattled around, and the door opened to reveal Fleur peering around the edge of the door.
"Oui?" Fleur said, not opening the door fully. "Can I 'elp you?"
"Hello Fleur." Hermione said brightly. "I don't know if you remember us, but I'm Hermione Granger, and this is Ronald Weasley. We –"
"Oui, je vous connais!" Fleur exclaimed, eyes lighting up when she saw Ron and pushing the door all the way open. "'Arry 'as spoken of you! And I remember you of course! You – "
Bill waved, forcing out a grin as Fleur stopped mid-sentence when she'd spotted him. Her eyes narrowed, lips pursed, and brows crossed, starring at Bill in silence. Just as the silence stretched out to the point where even Hermione was fidgeting, Fleur slammed the door closed, drawing out a flinch from the three on her step.
"Wow," Ron chuckled weakly, scratching at the back of his head. "You weren't kidding."
"Thanks, Ron." Bill snapped. "You're a great help."
"Fleur!" Hermione yelled, pounding furiously on the door. "Open this door!"
"Hermione!" Bill yelped, lunging forward to grab her arm.
"Let go!" She screeched, attempting to yank her arm out of Bill's grip. "I'm sick of this running around! She knows where he is!"
"You're going to have to stop if the muggle police come take you away for being a bloody lunatic!" Ron hissed, trying to help his brother rein in his friend by gripping her other arm.
"I don't care!" Hermione said, kicking her foot out at Bill. "We told Snuffles we'd find Harry, and I'm not going back until we do!"
"Shut up about Snuffles would you?"
All three combatants whipped back around to face the house only to find the object their search, one Harry James Potter, standing in the door way looking positively scandalized.
"Harry!" Ron and Hermione cried launching themselves on their friend. Or at least Ron did; he picked Harry straight up off the ground and squeezed all the air out of his lungs, before dropping him back onto his feet. Hermione simply jerked back abruptly, as Bill still had a firm grasp on her forearm. She whirled around, ready to bite off his fingers if he didn't let go, but Bill dropped her arm before she had the chance. Once she was free she tackled Harry, who had only just regained his balance, and immediately started berating him.
"Oh, Harry!" She said into his shoulder. "We were so worried! Are you all right? Why did you leave like that? Do you have any idea what we'd thought happened to you?"
"Would you get in here?" Harry hissed, tugging at Hermione's jacket as she tried to hold him at arm's length to get a better look at him. "Before somebody hears you!"
Properly chastised, Hermione let Harry pull her inside and give her a shove to keep her moving into the entry room. Harry held the door for the two Weasleys with his jaw set in a painful line and shut the door with a loud snap when they'd made it through. None of them went far, not really knowing where to go, a little bit afraid of being run back out by Fleur, and distinctly wrong footed by Harry's irritation left them milling about midway between the coat rack and the front sitting room.
"What were you thinking?" Harry snapped, turning back to his friends. "Running around London in the middle of the day, shouting your head off about Snuffles? You're going to get him caught!"
"I-I'm sorry, I wasn't thinking!" Hermione stammered through both sets of fingers over her lips. Her cheeks flamed red, as she wavered before seeming to find her mental footing. "Do you realise the chaos you've caused? The O – Everyone has been looking for you, why on earth did you leave?"
Harry blushed, mouth snapping closed with a loud click. He ran a hand through the hair on the back of his head. "I thought I'd be back before anyone noticed." He replied honestly.
"You are unwelcome 'ere, Bill." Fleur's voice snarled from down the hall. She stood in the entry sitting room, fists clenched and eyes locked onto Bill.
Ron leaned over to his brother, never taking his eyes off of the angry woman and muttered out of the side of his mouth, "I believe you now."
Bill glared at his brother, who shrunk away so he was leaning more towards Hermione, before he focused back on Fleur. "You've made that very clear, and we'll go, but we really need to take Harry with us." Bill never saw the murderous expression take over Fleurs face as he turned to Harry and said, "His guardian is very concerned over his disappearance."
"Yeah, you mentioned that," Harry muttered.
"His guardian has no business being concerned now!" Fleur said folding her arms over her chest and staring Bill down, daring him to disagree.
Ron and Hermione looked wide eyed from Fleur to Bill and finally to Harry, who was only marginally less confused than they. Though he was stumped on exactly what he should say. How was he supposed to diffuse the situation with Sirius' secrecy intact? Could he trust Fleur with this? It wasn't really his secret to tell though. . .
"Er, what?" Bill said, looking to Harry for any explanation. Harry didn't have one; he was looking to Bill for guidance, what should he say? Should he leave with them, just like that? He shot a glance to Fleur from the corner of his eye, she had so many plans. Plans to help him, plans that included him; no one else had ever extended him that curtsy before, even Sirius had been so closed lipped. He couldn't just walk away from that, not after everything she'd done for him. On the other hand though, there was no way in hell Ron and Hermione going to walk away without a proper explanation.
"Anyone else starting to feel like there's been a misunderstanding?" Harry asked the room at large, shoving his hands in his jean pockets.
"Is that what we're calling it now? I thought we were just playing really a really shit game of twenty questions." Ron said with a lopsided grin for his best friend; which Harry returned, albeit with a more rueful air.
"If we're all quite done with the jokes," Hermione huffed, "perhaps we could all sit down and talk about this rationally? I mean – " She backtracked suddenly, looking nervously to Fleur. "If it's alright with you?"
Fleur, who had been glaring holes through Bill's skull nodded once and stormed away into the kitchen in a whirl of blond hair and billowing robes leaving the rest to mill about in the entry way.
"So, we're following her then?" Ron asked, pointing to the still swinging kitchen door Fleur had disappeared behind. Harry rolled his eyes and led the way through the door Harry assumed led to the kitchen, belatedly he thought this made him look as though he knew where he was going and wished he had followed Fleur faster.
Fortunately for him the door did lead to the kitchen and Fleur hadn't gone any further than that; she was banging about the counter with a kettle and five tea cups. Harry wavered for a moment, unsure of what to do next. Should he help Fleur with the tea? He felt like he should, but he was a little bit afraid she'd bite his head off if he got too close. She solved his dilemma for him just before he caused a pile up in the door way as the others filed in after him by waving him over.
"Do not let him talk you into anything," Fleur only half whispered to him when he made it over to her. "You do not have to go anywhere you do not want to."
"I don't think that's really the issue," Harry assured her as she levitated the assorted tea cups and kettle, "these are my friends."
"Hmm," Fleur sniffed, directing the cups towards the dark stained wooden table that the others had sat themselves around. For a long couple of minutes it seemed no one was willing to risk rousing Fleurs' wrath by breaking the silence. There was much shuffling, shifting, and folding of limbs, until finally Hermione couldn't take it anymore.
"I think we've all done quite enough running around in circles." She said, looking straight at Harry. "Do you have any idea what a fright you gave us? What were you thinking?"
"I'm sorry." Harry said, his shoulders getting tenser the longer she went without blinking. "It was just supposed to be a quick trip. There and back before anyone even knew I was gone, you know? Actually, how did you know?"
"Know what, that you were gone?" Ron asked with a forced sort of chuckle as Hermione's eyes narrowed – still not closing completely. "Didn't think we'd just leave you alone after a Dementor attack, did you?"
"You'd left me alone till then." Harry muttered, the bitterness eeking out between the satisfaction of seeing them both so abashed and the guilt over knowing he'd caused them enough concern to chase him down in London.
Ron and Hermione exchanged that both seemed to say I told you so, and a healthy amount of you go first. Ron lost the staring match, and turned pleading eyes on Harry.
"We wanted to write more, mate. Hell, we wanted you to come straight back with us, but, well. . ."
"Dumbledore felt you were safer with the Dursleys for the time being." Hermione finished as he faltered.
"Ha!" Fleur cried at the same time Harry scoffed "that worked out really well, didn't it?"
"Fleur, can I talk to you privately for a moment?" Bill stood, knocking his chair back so it teetered on its back legs. He waited as Fleur eyed him, she seemed ready to tell him to either throw him out or order him to sit back down, and Bill braced himself for a proper dressing down when she nodded. He blinked at her back for a moment as she headed for the door at the back of the room, before he snapped out of his shock and followed her out.
Ron and Hermione sent him worried looks as he passed while Harry watched Fleur go with a frown. Bill grimaced at his brother and closed the door behind himself and turned to face Fleur, who was standing in the middle of a spacious sitting room, hands on her hips.
"Well?" She demanded, barring her teeth.
Bill raised his hands in peace. He'd never seen Fleur like this before. Sure, she'd been fairly spirited but this was a whole other Quidditch match! Energetic, eager to prove herself, and proud had morphed into bad tempered, and kicked over hornets' nest defensive. "I don't know where you got his idea that we're out to get Harry, but I swear we're not!"
"I do not think you are 'out to get 'im'," Fleur groused, "but I will not let you take 'im back to those people."
"What people?" Bill demanded, throwing his arms out his arms. Why, he wasn't sure, but it did sort of make him feel better; as though at the very least the world could see his frustration. "I've been trying to take him back to stay at my parents place!"
Fleur deflated quite suddenly, she had one hand extended to wave a finger at him with whatever she'd been about to say; but now the finger was slightly crooked and her shoulder drooped. "Your parents?"
"You are not taking him to 'is relatives?"
"No." Bill said, vowing to never run half-cocked into one of Dumbledore's errands ever again.
Fleur blushed a vibrant red and swayed on the spot a bit; like she was unsure whether or not she wanted to flat out jump for the window or just make a dash for the floo. The moment passed, and she squared off her shoulders, and lifted her chin up.
"So you know about the Dementor attack then?"
Bill blinked once at the change of subject, but then let his own shoulders droop a bit and a solemn expression spread over his face. "Yeah, Harry sent Ron a letter right after it happened. He and Hermione were so worried I agreed to side along aparate them over to Little Whinging."
Fleur pursed her lips over crossed arms. "I 'ad not realised that 'Arry 'ad not told anyone where 'e would be. 'is uncle was also very surprised to see me."
"Oui," she nodded. "I was going to take 'im right back, you know. It was only meant to be a quick visit."
Bill chuckled, running a hand through his hair. "Yeah, well that's what a miss communication will do."
"Mhm, I can only imagine the confusion it would 'ave caused if we 'ad simply kept traveling." Fleur chuckled. "Really though, you should 'ave just said where you wanted to take 'im. You were saying "'ome" I assumed you meant 'Arry's 'ome."
"Ugh, well, it's been a fairly stressful night."
"My intention was never to cause your family worry. I thought only to get 'Arry out of that place."
"Yeah, about that, what happened exactly?"
"At this point it is becoming a long story," Fleur sighed.
"In one night I've been thrown out of the same fire place twice, had to tell a room full of people I'd lost the Boy Who Lived, and listened to a kid whose diapers I used to change take the piss out of me for all of the above. I'd really appreciate an explanation."
Fleur smiled apologetically, and turned to sit on the edge of the nearest love seat. She patted the cushion next to her and waited for Bill to accept her invitation before she started her tale.
"The whole thing was Viktors' idea." she said "'e felt we should find a way to honour Cedric's memory in our own way. After everything, it only seemed right."
"We, as in you Krum and Harry?"
Fleur nodded, clasping her hands in her lap. "We were all there as Champions that night. It could easily have been Viktor or I in Cedric's place. 'e was a very kind boy."
Bill nodded. He'd never met Cedric Diggory himself, but his dad had been working on and off with Amos Diggory for so long he'd heard enough stories. "So, what did the three of you do exactly?"
"Viktor thought Cedric should 'ave a memorial, only, well," Fleur dabbed at the corner of her eye with her sleeve.
"Only no one is going to call attention to his death, not with everything else going on." Bill nodded.
"Exactly. So, Viktor suggested we created a memorial it would 'ave to be kept between the three of us. Drawing attention to Cedric or even 'Arry could be problematic; and then I 'ad and idea – if we carry ze memorial with us we could always honour 'is memory."
If this whole mess was over these three getting matching charm bracelets, Sirius might actually pull something laughing. Actually, Bill wasn't sure how to handle this. On one hand the kid had sent an entire secret organization into an uproar over a memorial trinket; on the other the kid had been pulled through the ringer and gone to pay his final respects to a friend. Merlin, he hoped his mother didn't fly off the handle and emotionally scar this kid for the rest of his life.
"That's really sweet, Fleur." He said "I'm glad the three of could do that together, but, ugh, why did you all have to go to Bulgaria for it?"
"Well, Viktor's friend knew a very talented artist. 'E did a fantastic job, though 'e did try to charge us far too much!"
An artist; how the hell was artwork a practical alternative to a traditional memorial . . . oh no.
"Fleur," Bill said, already lamenting how much of his mother was going to come out in this question "did you take a fourteen year old kid to get a tattoo?"
To her credit, Fleur did blush; though she followed it up by defiantly raising her chin and glaring at him over the ridge of her own nose. "It was 'is choice, I only gave 'im the opportunity."
"Yeah, this is going on the list of things I can never tell mum."
Fleur lowered her chin back down to non-confrontational level with a smile. "Is it a very long list?"
"Getting it longer by the day." Bill clamped his jaw shut so fast he clipped the tip of his tongue with his front teeth. "I, ah, I didn't mean that how it sounded."
Fleur pulled blush from him with a delicate laugh. "I am sure you are a perfect gentleman."
"Right, so you took a minor to get a tattoo in memory of Cedric Diggory, without the consent of his go–guardians – "
Fleur scoffed, her spine snapping out of the relaxed postured she'd adopted and back into the battle ready pillar she'd been sporting previously. Bill was sure some day he'd learn to filter his words, someday.
"Alright" Bill said, heaving a sigh through his nose "before I put my foot in it anymore, you'd better explain."
Fleur's posture loosened a touch, though her shoulders stayed tight. "I went to pick 'Arry up from 'is relatives 'ome – we 'ad agreed before that I would collect 'im and bring 'im to meet Viktor in Bulgaria. I got there just after the attack, 'e didn't say anything about it at first, though I do not blame 'im."
"What do you mean?"
"That dreadful man 'it 'im!"
"What! What man?"
"'is Uncle! When I arrived at the house 'Arry 'ad a 'and print on 'is face!" Fleur practically snarled, holding her own hand up to her face to demonstrate. "That-that baleine of a man tried to tell me that 'Arry didn't live there, but 'Arry 'eard my voice and called out to me. 'E came out of the kitchen and my 'eart nearly stopped." She pressed her face into her hands as a sob bubbled out of her throat.
Bill blinked – oh fuck. Harry had seemed okay when Bill had spoken to him, hadn't he? Bill thought back to the floo call earlier, he hadn't noticed any unusual redness or bruising. The kid had been in good enough spirits, despite all the confusion. He'd seemed a hell of a lot better than the last time Bill had seen him at any rate.
"Arry swears it wasn't a regular thing." Fleur continued "E says it was the stress of the attack that brought it on, but, well . . ."
"That's what a lot of abuse victims say."
"Oui." Fleur nodded, she pulled her wand out of her sleeve and conjured herself a proper dainty looking handkerchief to dab at her cheeks with. "E insists that 'e and 'is relatives co-exist well enough, even if they do not get along."
"You think he's lying?"
"Non, non I do not. I pressed 'im on it, I did." She assured him "I eventually got 'im to admit to some rather sever neglect, and 'e seemed so surprised."
"Surprised that you pressed him you mean?"
"Non, it was like 'e was just realising how badly 'e 'ad been treated. It was 'eartbreaking."
Silently Bill thought back to the summer before, when he'd met dark haired boy who'd tumbled through out of his parents fire place covered in soot. The same kid who had stepped between Bill's father and the twins to defend their actions against his own family. Bill had dismissed it as siblings squabbling. Merlin knew he'd gotten into enough fist fights with Charlie when they were growing up, but what if it was more than that?
"Is he alright?"
"Oui, oui, the swelling went down and there does not seem to be a mark. 'E even accepted my 'elp."
Bill nodded, twisting his fingers together before he pressed his palms together. "Yeah, made him a bit hard to get a hold of."
Fleur had the decency to look a bit sheepish, even if she couldn't hold back her smile entirely. "I am sorry. I should 'ave realised someone would come looking for 'im sooner or later – especially with 'is expulsion."
"Does he know he isn't actually expelled yet?"
"Oh, 'e does! I promised 'im I would get mon papa's Speaker friend to 'elp."
"Oh," Bill said "you think a Speaker will be necessary? It's just a hearing – dad says he'll just have to explain what happened to Madam Bones."
"They expelled 'im for self defense against dangerous creatures, do you really think that a hearing is all this will be?"
Point to Fleur, Bill grouched silently. "Honestly, I wouldn't put it past Fudge; but this is a case for Bones' department. She's fair, as soon as she hears what happened she'll let Harry off."
"It may be Bones' department, but it is Fudges' Ministry."
Bill had to admit, her slight paranoia was frighteningly probable. It wasn't like the papers had been pulling its punches when it came to discrediting Harry in the eyes of the general population. How convenient would it be for Fudge if Harry were expelled for shooting off advanced spells just for the hell of it in a muggle neighbourhood? "Okay. Yeah, you're probably right – but I'm sure Dumbledore will be able to handle anything Fudge can cook up."
Fleur cocked her head to the side, a slight wrinkle in her nose. "Dumbledore?"
"Yeah, he is the Headmaster. The expulsion of students is kind of his jurisdiction, isn't it?"
"'Arry made no mention of 'im. I assumed the Ministry 'ad taken the matter out of 'is 'ands."
"Eh, they're trying but Dumbledore usually has a couple of plans up his sleeve."
"I did not realise you knew the man so well." Fleur said, rearranging the hem of her own sleeve. ""E seemed a bit aloof from the students while I was at Hogwarts."
"Ah, he's a . . . family friend." Oh good. A pretty girl was half a step from getting him to spill the secrets of an underground society whose only protection for its members was secrets. Fantastic.
"And you believe 'e will be on 'Arry's side in all this?"
Fleur hummed, nodding her head. "Good, 'e will be useful asset. Despite 'is own trouble with the press lately. 'E should still 'ave some pull with the older members of the Ministry. Don't you think?"
"I'd say so, yeah." Bill said, trying not to laugh. This might actually work out his way!
"Bon!" She declared triumphantly. She got up and very nearly waltzed to a beautifully carved writing desk by the window. From it she pulled out a sheaf of parchment and an ink pot, and continued to call out over her shoulder as she fished around for a quill. "Will you pass on a letter for me? My owl is off delivering a letter to mamen."
"You want to write to Dumbledore?"
"Oui. We will need to coordinate our efforts if we want present a solid defence."
So much for keeping her uninvolved. If Bill didn't turn her off this path she was going to get wrapped up in the conflict, wrapped up in the Order of the Phoenix. With all its secrets, codes general espionage, and silent warfare. The more Bill thought about that, the less it seemed like a bad idea, actually. Fleur had successfully kidnapped the Boy Who Lived right out from under their noses. She was smart, magically talented, and apparently resourceful – she'd make a good addition. Would she want to join though?
"Yeah, no problem."
Fleur beamed at him, and turned to begin scratching out her letter with the quill she'd unearthed while he was thinking. "Will you see 'im soon?"
"I'm sure I could get it to him today."
"Really? That would be very helpful. Thank you Bill."
"It's no trouble. I'll just swing by after I've dropped the three troublemakers with my mum."
Fleur stopped writing abruptly, turning back to Bill with narrowed eyes. "Three?"
"Yeah, um, well they - that is my parents, they sent me to pick Harry up and bring him back to their place." Had he not said that? He was pretty sure he'd told her that.
"I told 'Arry 'e could stay with me."
"Not really your call though, is it?"
"No," Fleur said, turning back to her parchment and carving out a last line "but neither is it yours. You can't take him, and I will not make 'im leave."
"He's still a minor – "
"Who's guardians are not fit to tell a dog where to be, let alone a boy."
Well, this turned into a circular argument ridiculously quickly, Bill groaned internally. Seriously, the last time Albus Dumbledore got Bill to run his errands. Bill took a deep breath, he could still turn this around.
"I know," he sighed "it's just, my mum is half out of her mind with worry over the kid. She tried to get Harry to go straight to their place when school let out – did Harry tell you?"
"Non . . . 'is relative would not let 'im go?"
"You've met them, do you think they let him do much of anything?" Not a total lie. They probably didn't let Harry do much.
"Non, I do not." Fleur said over crossed arms.
Bill waited, biting the inside of his cheek as she appeared to mull over what he'd said – should he push a bit more? Would she snap and toss them out?
"Why do you not bring your mother 'ere?"
Bill blinked – what? "Bring her here?"
"Oui," Fleur nodded, uncrossing her arms and rolling up the parchment, neatly tying it closed with a bit of ribbon. "Bring 'er 'ere – we will 'ave lunch, she can see 'Arry is in perfect 'ealth, and 'Arry can decide if 'e wants to go or stay."
That might very well be the best he could hope for. Mum wouldn't completely rip his head off for it, Sirius would find the whole thing hilarious and Bill could tell Dumbledore to deal with it himself.
"That sounds like a good idea." Bill said, smiling as Fleur gifted him with a bright smile of her own. "We should go let her know now – she'll want to bring something along."
"Oh! She does not need to do that!"
"She'll still want to. Don't worry she won't have time to get much together."
Fleur chuckled delicately and waltzed back over to Bill, handing him the scroll. "Perhaps you could 'urry 'er along if you left your brother and 'is friend 'ere with 'Arry and I. I am sure 'Arry would like to spend time with them both."
"It might be impossible to tear them apart anyway." Bill agreed, tucking the scroll into his pocket. His mum might tear him an entirely new hole for leaving her baby out in the world unprotected, but it would definitely 'hurry her along'.
They walked back towards the kitchen together, Bill stepping ahead to hold open for Fleur to enter first. He earned himself another smile for that, so he was warm with pride as they walked into the insane asylum formally known as Fleur's kitchen.
*Meanwhile in the kitchen*
"What's gotten into her?" Ron blurted out before the door had finished swinging shut on the heels of his brother and the very irate Fleur.
"She's a bit worked up." Harry said, running a hand through his hair.
"Yes, we noticed." Hermione huffed. "Why is she worked up?"
Harry shrugged and lent back in his chair with a sigh. "I think she thinks that Bill wants to ship me off back to the Dursley's."
"Is she worried more Dementors will come after you?" Ron asked slowly.
"Well, maybe. Hadn't really thought of that . . . do you think they will?" Harry looked to Hermione. Would the Dementors be able to track him down at Fleur's or would they try Little Whinging again?
"I don't know." Hermione admitted, "but Dumbledore didn't think there was much danger of it."
"Well, if Dumbledore says so, it must be true." Harry groused. He folded his arms over his chest and ignored the looks his friends shot each other. "Fleur's more concerned because she thinks Uncle Vernon will take another swing at me."
"Ah," Ron said, sitting back in his chair and letting his hands fall to his lap.
Hermione leaned forward onto her elbows, "Another swing at you?"
Harry cursed silently as Ron's eyebrows shot up into his hair line as he swivelled his attention between Harry and Hermione. There had to have been a better story to tell than that. Seriously, where was his head lately? "Yeah, well, he wasn't too pleased about Dudley getting mixed up in the whole Dementor business . . . and I did get a bit smart with him."
"That's no reason to hit you!" Hermione nearly shrieked.
"Keep it down would you?" Harry said rubbing his ear. "It's not that big of a deal."
"It is a big deal, mate." Ron said "those muggles treat you worse than dirt, but here you are effing defending them!"
"I am not defending them!" Harry snapped back "It's just not a big deal."
"Harry please!" Hermione cried, reaching for his hand "we're worried about you."
"Yeah, well, could've used you around after the tournament." Harry said bitterly. He couldn't make himself throw off Hermiones' hand though. Hermione's displays of physical affection were sporadic, and usually a bit overwhelming, but it was a comfort he'd come to expect. As angry as he was he couldn't bring himself to slam that particular door.
"Harry," Hermione said with another squeeze to his hand. "We wanted to be there. We wanted to be there for you. You must know that."
"Yeah, cause it was so apparent as you lot buggered off to the burrow and left – "
"We've not been at the Burrow!" Ron protested. Harry's mouth snapped shut on the latter half of the accusations on the tip of his tongue.
"What do you mean? Where were you?" He asked. Ron's face flushed a deep red as his own mouth clamped shut. He avoided Harry's gaze by looking to Hermione, begging her with wide eyes to step in.
"You have to understand, Harry." She soothed, reaching over the table and placing her hand on the crook of his elbow. "We're not – "
"What? Not allowed to say?"
"It's more than that!" Hermione said "We can't say."
"Can't? What're you, sworn to secrecy?" Harry scoffed. Hermione
"Well, yeah." Ron said.
That brought Harry to a halt again. "Sworn to secrecy?" They both nodded. "About where you're staying for the summer?"
"I did try to tell you it was more complicated than you thought." Hermione huffed, crossing her own arms.
"So, can you tell me why you can't say?" Harry asked, getting annoyed again. What right did Hermione have to be upset with him? They were the ones who left him alone for ages, after all.
"Not sure how much we can say, mate." Ron admitted with a shrug. "It's sort of sensitive information."
"And what, I can't be trusted?"
"That's not what I said."
"It's what you meant though?"
"No." Hermione said firmly. "But it's not something anyone wants overheard by the wrong ears. Especially you, as it involves Snuffles."
"Oh, now you're concerned with not giving Snuffles away."
"Harry stop!" Hermione cried, giving the table a little slap. "We're sorry that you've been left in the dark, we really are, but we'll never get anywhere if you keep snipping at us!"
"I didn't realise we were trying to get anywhere." Harry said "from where I'm sitting, it looks like we're still pretty much in 'keep Harry in the dark' territory."
"We're not –"
"Yeah, yeah, but you can't say anything so we're right back at square one."
"Here, we can't say anything here." Hermione hissed through her teeth squeezing Harry's arm with each 'here'.
Harry hesitated in jerking his arm out of her vice like grip, ultimately leaving it where it was. He was definitely going to have some interesting bruises later. "What do you mean?"
Hermione noticed the aborted motion though, and released him with a huff. "Honestly, Harry, don't you think there might be magical ways to keep people from talking about something?"
"What, like a curse?"
"A charm actually." Ron said with a sigh "We can talk around the thing till the snitch comes back, but with this charm over us we couldn't so much as tell you what color it is."
"You actually can't tell me what's going on?" Harry said, feeling a bit numb and more than a little foolish. He could feel his face heating up, as Ron looked relieved and Hermione vindicated. "Because of this charm?"
The pair of them nodded.
"Who charmed you?"
"Ugh, well, Dumbledore."
"Can you at least tell me why?"
"It's for our own protection as much as anything – not a whole lot of point torturing someone who can't speak . . . at least that's the theory." Hermione said.
Harry nodded, rubbing a knuckle over his upper lip. So, there at least was something that needed to be kept secret then. It was a little encouraging – to know that Dumbledore was actually doing something about Voledmort's return; and it was also a bit reassuring to know there was a reason behind his friends silence over the past few weeks, a bit. It didn't make anything better, but a magical explanation made things much clearer, easier to swallow.
"So, you can't ever tell me then? I have to wait around till Dumbledore decides I need to know?"
"Like I say, we don't know a whole lot, but!" Ron said, holding up a hand to keep his friend quiet. "We can tell you what we do know when we get back."
"Back where? I thought you said you hadn't been home?" Ron and Hermione shared anxious looks and Harry threw his arms up into the air with a groan "Do you two realize how frustrating that is?"
"We're not doing it on purpose!" Ron snickered at his friends dramatics.
Harry shot him a half-hearted glare, but couldn't put too much heat behind it – he was exhausting himself being angry about something none of them could change. "Why didn't you just say you'd been charmed?"
"Dumbledore said not to put that sort of thing in writing, because the owls could be intercepted. I'm not sure if he was more worried about the Death Eaters or the Ministry finding out that he had a large group of people essentially sworn to secrecy, but I'm sure both would be very interested in that information." Hermione said "All we could do was wait for Dumbledore to bring you to us."
"We spent ages trying to get someone to tell us when you were going to get brought in." Ron said, nodding towards Hermione. "They're bloody tight lipped about security stuff like that."
"Huh, how long do you think they'd have left me there – if nothing had happened, I mean?" Harry asked, only half wanting to know the answer.
"I don't know."
"Never thought getting attacked by Dementors would be an improvement."
"Oh, Harry! Don't say that!" Hermione exclaimed, curling her fingers fruitlessly over the table top.
"You wouldn't take it any better if Ron started waxing poetic about having his leg broken so we could find out Si – Snuffles was innocent, would you?" Hermione said, doing her best to keep her voice steady. She was unsure if she wanted to scream at the idiot boy or hug him. How could he be so callous about his own safety? Did he honestly think they wouldn't care if he was hurt? Had their weeks apart made him forget everything they'd been through? No, Harry was their friend, and they were his. He was grieving, he was angry, he obviously felt betrayed, but he was still their friend. Nothing would change that; he just needed to remember it. She could see him fuming over what she'd said and knew she was right. He was flushed, chewing on the inside of his cheek, his bright eyes were darting around, looking for something to throw back at her. If he needed a fight she'd give it to him.
"That was different." Harry said finally.
"Oh is it? How?"
"Guys!" Ron said, looking like he'd rather be anywhere else but between his two best friends. "None of this is helpful."
"And what would be helpful, Ron?" Harry asked, cursing Hermione silently. Had an answer for everything that one.
"Look, we all kind of messed up – none of us meant it!" Ron said, holding up his hands as both Harry and Hermione flushed a fresh angry red "but come on! We never wanted you to get carted off, remember? And I know you didn't want to scare the ever lovin' hell out of us all – so can we at least agree that nobody is innocent here?"
Harry and Hermione exchange shamefaced glances, looking away from each other quickly.
"Yes that's fair."
"Well. . . good." Ron said, nodding. He knocked his knuckles on the table top once, nodded again. The three sat in silence, avoiding each other's gaze. None of them wanted to kick start another argument, but none of them knew how to resume with the conversation either.
Scrubbing at the back of his head Harry sighed heavily. He reached out his foot and gave Hermione a nudge with his toe. "Should we be concerned, do you think?"
Hermione scrunched up her nose "Concerned? About what?"
"Ron was the voice of reason. Isn't that like a sign of the world ending, or something?"
Ron's face scrunched up like Harry'd shoved a lemon into his mouth, pulling a laugh out of Hermione by the nose. She slapped a hand over her mouth and nose, wide eyed, as the boys both blinked at her in surprise. She lowered her hand with a glare. Daring them to comment.
Later both Harry and Ron would claim the other broke first. Regardless, all three of them were laughing barely a minute later. Full belly laughs that made them feel like their ribs were being pulled apart. It hurt and none of them could stop, because the whole damn situation was too ridiculous for words. They exhausted themselves trying to put words to it, and now all that was left were mad giggles and uncontrollable snorts. That's how Bill and Fleur found them – rolling around in their chairs, gasping for breath, desperately trying to wipe tears out of their eyes.
"What on earth 'appened?" Fleur asked the room at large, smiling herself at the sight of the three happy teens. "I would like to know the joke!"
"Apparently," Hermione said, choking a little as she forced human speech on herself "the world's ending."
"Right." Said Bill as the teens dissolved into another howling fit "When they stop that, tell them where I've gone, will you?"
Fleur nodded and waved Bill out. She sat down next to Harry, watching with a happy smile of her own as the boy clutched at his sides. The exclusion from their private joke was worth this moment, she decided.
Before anyone says anything yes this is a very very late update. My father has had some very poor luck combined with some very poor health. Family came first, then school, then writing. I'm in my last year of my BA so it'll be a about a month or so before I can do too much more work on this story. This chapter was mostly written before dad got sick, but the next is going to need more work.
If anyone is interested I've been toying with an idea for a HP/Avengers crossover for a couple years now, I'll be posting the first chapter to test the waters for interest. Its solidly HP for the first chapter, but the Avengers take up most of the second.
I beg your patience and understanding