Chapter Twelve

Welcome to Durmstrang

"Don't look at me like that!"

Harry snatched another broken ink bottle from the bottom of his trunk and launched it at the rubbish bin. "I know what I'm doing."

In the silence that followed, he removed three more ink bottles (each of them flying through the air faster than the previous one), five broken quills, (they weren't very good for throwing, unfortunately), some of Hagrid's candy that accumulated in a corner of the trunk, and a pair of socks he had intended on giving to Dobby.

Finished cleaning it out, he began to pack—if cramming everything a person owned into a trunk haphazardly could be called packing—and ignored the pair of eyes boring in on the back of his head, until it was accompanied by an irritating clicking sound.

"What now?" he demanded, not bothering to turn around.

Nope, that tone definitely wasn't the right one. There was an explosion of feathers and Harry was smacked upside the head once, twice, three times.

"What in the name of Salazar's soggy—"

Another smack to the head cut him off.

"What's wrong with you!" he finally yelled at his owl.

Hedwig flew back into her cage on the dresser and pulled the door shut with her beak, turning her back to Harry.

"Oh come on, don't you start with me too. It's bad enough as it is."

Hedwig's body remained motionless, but her head slowly rotated a full one hundred eighty degrees, until she could glare at him as if he was her next meal.

"That's downright creepy," Harry said, as he piled the last of his books into the trunk. He closed the lid and moved it off his bed.

"You know I told her, don't you?" he asked the owl. "She said to go on with my life; 'Do whatever I needed to,' as if she couldn't be bothered - probably never was."

There was another quick burst of hooting and feathers.

"OUCH! Bloody hell, Hedwig! Knock it off."

Hedwig gave him another hard nip on the ear, flew around the room once, shot past Harry (nipping him again on the top of the head), and right into her cage with such force the blanket fell down over it, effectively cutting off conversation.

Harry rubbed his head and glared at the covered owl's cage. "What's gotten into you?" he demanded.

The thin sound of a cage door hitting its latch cut through the blanket.

Harry rolled his eyes and looked at his watch. It was lunchtime - and a little over an hour before he had to leave. With a deep breath, he decided to venture upstairs. Fleur would still be at the ministry, which was good since he hadn't told her he was leaving today—actually, he hadn't told anyone, yet.

This was not going to be a fun lunch.

X ~ X ~ X ~ X

"There's no reason!" Gabrielle stabbed a piece of pheasant with her fork and shoved it into her mouth.

Harry figured he was on too thin of ice to ask about eating something out of her own biological classification.

"Tell him, Maman!"

"'Arry is making the decision 'e thinks best. We need to respect it, even if we disagree."

There's a ringing endorsement, "The decision he thinks . . ."

"But 'e's wrong!" For the second time in an hour, Harry distinctly felt a set of avian eyes boring into him as Gabrielle continued. "You know why 'e's going to Durmstrang. 'E's learning how to go get himself killed on that stupid island."

"GABRIELLE!" Mrs. Delacour snapped.

"What? It's true. Ask 'im."

Mrs. Delacour put her hand on top of Gabrielle's, her voice resigned as if she didn't want to believe what she was actually saying. "I don't want 'Arry going either, but if 'e must fight, then 'e needs to learn as much as possible so 'e stay can alive. that also means that we support 'im"—Mrs. Delacour's voice turned authoritative—"do you understand me, Gabrielle?"

"Sure, but I'm not the daughter that needs to hear that, no?"

What is it with cheeky birds this morning? He fought off a smirk and finished the piece of bread he was nibbling on. "Gabby, you know it's best if I leave."

"Oh? I do?"

Harry shook his head at the petulant Veela. "Come on, you've felt the tension every time Fleur and I'm in the same room."

"Yeah," she said. "It's so thick a Veela could taste it on your lips."

"GABRIELLE AIMÉE DELACOUR!" The silverware jumped two inches off the table and Gabrielle off her chair by four.

She reached down and massaged her left knee and shin. "Maman!That hurt!"

"Good. Now behave. I'm sure this is tough enough for 'Arry as it is."

X ~ X ~ X ~ X

"Do you 'ave what you need, 'Arry?" Mrs. Delacour asked an hour later.

Harry pulled his eyes away from the jagged mountain range that sat to the west of the Delacour home. "I think so. Thanks again for everything."

"There's no need to thank us. Just remember to make it back here before December fifteenth. We have our annual Christmas party that evening and most of our family and friends will be around. I want you to meet them."

"I don't know when Christmas hols begin, but I'll try."

"Good," Gabrielle said, "Maybe I won't get bored this year. Don't worry about being late; the real fun doesn't start 'til about two in the morning."

"Real fun?" he asked.

"Yeah, that's when the Veela get drunk and start acting stupid."

"That is not what 'appens at my Christmas parties." Mrs. Delacour corrected her daughter.

"You're not up at two a.m. with Fleur and our cousins, are you Maman?"

Harry laughed. "I'll try to be back by two, then." He pulled out the letter that doubled as a Portkey and dug out his wand from his other pocket. A lump rose in his throat as he realized how much he was going to miss this—especially Gabrielle, but there was too much to say in too short a time, so he remained silent.

"You're not getting away that easily," Mrs. Delacour said. She reached over and pulled Harry into a hug. He was unresponsive at first; she was still a breathtakingly gorgeous Veela, but the hug reminded him too much of Mrs. Weasley and Harry ended up wrapping his arms around her and returning it.

He barely broke away when Gabrielle mauled him.

"Ribs . . . air . . . need to breathe," he wheezed.

She loosened her grip and put a hand on his cheek, pushing his other cheek against hers. "It's not fair, I finally get a big brother, and now I'm losing him."

Damn, he didn't expect both Delacour sisters to break his heart. He held her tightly for a couple of seconds. "You're not losing me, Gabby."

He leaned back so he could look at her in the eyes. "Why don't you come up with your father when he visits? If it's on a weekend, maybe we can even spend the day together."

"Okay," she whispered and pulled him to her again, holding on even tighter. Harry couldn't find it within his heart to complain about her death-grip.

She finally let go and he stepped back, taking one last look at the two Veela and wishing with all his heart that a third one was with them, but also glad she wasn't. The Portkey began to glow and a few seconds later, he felt the familiar pull behind his navel, taking him to Durmstrang.

Or so he thought.

The ground materialized in front of him as he landed, falling to his hands and knees on a stone walkway. He got back up quickly, and spun around in a complete circle, gawking at rubble amidst a green valley. His breath quickened and his heart began to race as his eyes darted from the crumbled remains of a castle to the ancient forest beyond, searching for enemies in the bright sunlight of the early afternoon.

Oh, please God, not another school—

"It's okay, Harry. Put your wand away."

He whirled to face the owner of the voice. Professor Sirko crested a small hill from a village in the distance.

"Where am I?" he asked again, this time hoping for an answer.

"Durmstrang, or at least, what was Durmstrang a little under five hundred years ago."

He looked around, this time noticing the moss on the broken walls and weatherworn floors of the school. "Let me guess, another war."

"Sadly. You'd think people would learn," Professor Sirko said. "Have you ever heard of the Peasant war?"

"No," he answered. "Should I have?"

"Probably not. It was a Muggle war in what is now Germany. Peasants were fighting the princes' troops and some mercenaries, about a hundred of whom were wizards. One day a cease-fire was negotiated, but once the troops and mercenaries had their reinforcements, they broke the agreement and the peasant army was devastated. Some of them got away and fled through this valley, down into the village and beyond.

"Even though the peasants couldn't see the school, the mercenary wizards entered looking for them. When the teachers opposed. . . ." He slowly waved his hands, encompassing the wreckage. "The school was razed and everyone killed."

Harry closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Voldemort, Grindelwald, wars in France, this. . . Does it ever end?"

"No, Harry. It never does. There is always someone, some mad-wizard who is waiting to take up their wand against someone else for a grandiose scheme or imagined slight."

"Then what's the point of fighting?"

"Remember my sister I told you about, the one that's still living?"

"Yeah."

"She has a little boy now. I want him to be safe."

"So?"

"So what happens to him if I don't fight the wars of my day? What happens if you don't fight Voldemort? Are you willing to pass him off to your children?"

Harry pulled the collar up on his robe against the chill that ran through his body. "Of course not."

"So the right thing, then, is to fight our own wars and make the future as safe as we can for the next generation."

"I guess, but if there's always going to be someone waiting to pick up their wand against someone else . . ."

"Then why not pass them on so one evil can battle the other?"

"Yeah, at least that way, good people don't have to die."

"What makes you so sure they would battle each other? What if they joined forces instead?"

Harry looked back out over the ruined castle. So was that the only choice then? Either fight the evil of the day, or let his children fight a double evil in theirs? When had man become so wicked?

After a minute or so of contemplation, the professor reached into his robe. "Grab your trunk and owl and let's Portkey to the school."

"I thought I already did that once today," Harry said, with a little sarcasm.

Professor Sirko let out a short bark of laughter. "I hope you packed a lot of winter clothes—thick, winter clothes."

"Uh, not really," Harry looked at his trunk, wondering how he'd fit anything else in there. "Maybe we can stop somewhere and I'll do a little shopping."

The professor grinned. "You don't need to worry about it now. Plus, I have a few people in mind that would probably love to take you shopping."

Harry wasn't exactly comfortable with the look on the professor's face—it reminded him too much of Seamus's smirk just before he would wind up Ron.

God, I miss them all. "Why did you bring me here?" Harry asked quickly to distract himself.

"This is the way station for Durmstrang; we don't want people to know exactly where the school is, so everyone meets here, then the professors arrive with Portkeys for the second leg to school."

The older wizard pulled out a two foot-long staff and tapped it with his wand. "Grab your owl, I have your trunk."

X ~ X ~ X ~ X

Fleur came home later that afternoon and slipped through the door, hoping to avoid Harry.

"Fleur, are you eating with us tonight?" her mother called out.

She rolled her eyes. So much for avoiding anyone. There was no way that she would stay home and suffer through a meal with Harry if she could help it. It hurt too much after he rejected her. Sure, he didn't know everything about Veela magic, but she wasn't going to tell him either. She refused to be the kind of Veela that relied on her magic for a relationship.

"What?" her mother said again, "I didn't hear you."

She turned around in the hallway and walked back to the main living room, arranging her features in the snottiest possible way, just in case Harry was there.

"Of course I'm—"

Her throat closed up and a knot formed in her stomach when she saw her mother and sister; loss clear in their red-rimmed eyes.

"He left," Gabrielle said, after getting up from the couch to face Fleur.

"Who?"

"Don't play dumb. You know exactly who I mean."

"Harry? Why. . . ." Color drained from her face and the knot tightened.

"He used a Portkey this afternoon. He's at Durmstrang now."

"No!" Fleur threw her cloak on the couch and rushed down the stairs to the apartment, only to find that his trunk, his broom, everything but the jersey he had worn over the summer was gone.

Slowly, she made her way to the bed. Tears fell as she took the jersey and held it to her face, breathing in his scent. A shadow appeared on the floor and she turned around to see her sister standing there, and their mother behind her.

"Did . . . did he leave me a note?" she asked.

"Too late for that, don't you think?" Gabrielle answered.

Fleur glowered at her sister.

"Don't you dare look at me like that, you selfish bitch."

"GABRIELLE!"

Gabrielle turned to her mother. "Why do I keep getting yelled at today? Do you want me to start lying or something?"

"You have no idea what you're talking about." Fleur snapped.

Gabrielle turned back to face her. "I know exactly what I'm talking about. I heard you two arguing; your Silencing Charm wasn't cast nearly as well as you thought. Of all the stupid, bird-headed things—and don't you dare tell me your not in love with him!"

Gabrielle huffed in disgust. "What is wrong with you?"

"With me? HE was the one that refused to let me help him. HE was the one that kept pushing me away. HE'S the one that left!"

"Oh? I'm sure it was all him!" Then Gabrielle mocked her sister's voice. "'No, real men are 'andsome.'

"That was him pushing you away, right? I found him sleeping on the couch a couple of weeks ago after your 'talk'. His arms wrapped around himself like he was trying to keep his heart from falling out of his chest, but that's a clear sign he was pushing you away, right?"

"I—" Fleur began, but Gabrielle, it seemed, didn't intend to let her get in a word.

"I hope you enjoy his scent on that jersey, because it's probably the last thing of his you'll ever have and a damn sight more than you deserve."

Fleur jumped up off the bed and sprinted out of the room, up the stairs, and to her own bed, where she remained the rest of the night, missing dinner. She lay there and cried for hours, the jersey held to her chest. What had she done? Why did it all go so wrong?

X ~ X ~ X ~ X

The new Durmstrang was a small castle that sat in a high valley. Behind and to both sides of the school, mountains rose, almost vertically, another fifteen hundred to three thousand feet. Snow still covered the peaks and the few slopes among the sheer rock and cliffs, but it was just like a typical English summer in the small valley. A large pond or very small lake was situated about a hundred fifty yards from the front of the school. It drained into a lake about another thirty yards away. This lake however, was almost two miles long and a quarter-mile wide at its middle.

The grounds were well manicured, with stone pathways cutting across the green grass in several directions from the front doors. One path led to an immaculate Quidditch stadium on Harry's right. The stands were smaller, to match the student population, but everything screamed "quality." Or, more specifically, "We have a world cup Seeker that trains here."

A few trees dotted the grounds. Each one had a ten-foot wide, raised flowerbed built around the trunk, with benches leaning against the side of the massive planters and flowers of various colors growing in them.

Primarily built out of stone, the school was accented with marble and had matching marble floors, which contributed to its cold beauty and uninviting feel.

"Those doors are the same size as Hogwarts, but they have to be twice as thick," Harry said.

Professor Sirko chuckled. "Probably so, they're heavy too, made with solid Oak."

A wizard at least three years Harry's senior walked out of them and right up to Harry.

"This is Markus," Professor Sirko introduced them. "He's the equivalent of your Head Boy at Hogwarts, though here, the Head Boy and Girl have tutoring duties, since they've completed their seventh year already."

"Guten Tag," Markus said, extending a hand.

Harry did a quick survey of the older boy. He had to be a couple inches over six feet and was powerfully built, but he had a ready smile that spoke of both friendship and confidence. "Willkommen in Durmstrang. Ve're going to have fun this year."

The smile turned mischievous. "Especially in our defense sessions."

The Professor laughed. "Markus is an extremely gifted duelist and not just for sport. He's going to help me train you in fighting battles, and in both the use of– and defense against darker spells.

"Come on, Harry. I'll show you to your room." Markus said.

Harry followed him into the equivalent of the Entry Hall. Inside, the castle carried on the theme with arched walls of stone and marble accents. There were no pictures and even their footsteps echoed ominously.

"An overpowering impression, nein?" Markus asked.

"Different from Hogwarts, that's for sure."

Markus snorted. "It won't be as bad as last year, though."

"Why's that?" Harry asked as they made their way up three flights of stairs.

"Professor Sirko is the new Headmaster. He's already set fires in the fireplaces at night for no magical purpose at all. Quite different from our last one."

Harry grunted—not wanting to share his opinion of the last headmaster of Durmstrang.

They reached the third floor and turned left, walking through another set of oak doors that opened into a common room.

He looked in and noticed a large fireplace with chairs and couches situated haphazardly around the room.

"Is this the same common room for everyone?"

"No. We're split into three groups—similar to your houses, I think, but our only competition is Quidditch."

"So, you do have Quidditch teams?"

Markus laughed loudly when he saw the smile on Harry's face. "The teams form in September. We play six games throughout the school year."

"Six? You play each team three times?"

"No," Markus said, a gleam in his own eye, "The faculty have their own team, but don't get your hopes up. You're in my House and our team is already stacked—unless you're a Seeker. Viktor was ours; we hadn't lost a game since we got on the team in our second year."

"I'll keep that in mind," He said, and tried to repress his grin.

Markus raised an eyebrow. "You're a Seeker?"

"Yeah, since my first year and I only lost once—though the Dementors distracted me a bit that time. They seemed to like me for some reason."

"Dementors?"

"They were guarding the school from Sirius Black, who turned out to be innocent—"

"Yeah, I saw that."

"And also my godfather."

"Oh come on; stop yanking my wand."

"Trust me; I want nothing to do with your wand."

Harry found himself laughing comfortably with Markus.

"Sirius is the one that gave me my Firebolt after my Nimbus Two-Thousand was destroyed by the Whomping Willow tree that day."

Markus ignored everything else. "You have a friggen Firebolt?"

"Yep, right here." He tapped his trunk.

Markus's grin grew twice as large. "First chance we get, I'm putting you through some Seeker drills to see just how good you are. I don't get to play this year, but I can still help coach."

Harry's eyes lit up. "Let's go now; I haven't had a chance to fly for the fun of it since . . . well, the first task."

"I forgot all about that. Viktor sent us a vial with his memory; he was right impressed, by the way." Markus went through another door and up a set of stairs. "That was some good flying you did against that dragon - we may just win the Quidditch championship again after all."

"This is the living area for our dorm room," Markus said when they reached the top of the stairs and entered another room. "The beds are through those doors; the bathroom is in there as well. Go get settled in and we'll come get you before dinner.

There were four beds in the room, two sitting against the wall that ran against the back of the castle, and two that sat against the opposing wall of their dorm room. Markus already occupied one bed, so Harry took the opposite one, as far away from the doorway as possible, and wondered if the same company supplied beds to all magical schools. Each bed had a full-sized desk next to it.

After unpacking his books and assorted trinkets, he settled into the chair at his desk and opened the volume by Shelley that he had taken from the Delacour home (with permission). One particular passage had confused him, and for some reason, he was intent on learning what it meant.

"Harry?" A female voice called out to him some time later.

He looked back over his shoulder to find a femme fatale standing in his doorway; her long, blond hair gently swayed in a non-existent breeze and her lithe body was backlit in a soft glow. The pinkish full lips and slightly darker skin completed the sultry picture. Harry wanted to brag that he had killed a basilisk, four of them at once, actually. He even fought the Dark Lord—defeated him three, four, twenty times now without any help, blindfolded even . . . with basilisks—while they were still alive!

He bit down on his tongue and commanded himself to stay in the moment. "Um, sorry about that."

The young Veela smiled sweetly and sat down on his bed. "You're very impressive, my name is Azzurra. Markus told us to meet him up here so we could go to dinner together."

"Us?" Harry asked.

"Myself, Jaleena, and Médée. I'm the equivalent of your Head Girl, and the other two are the same as your Prefects . . . speaking of which—"

Two other witches walked into the room. Harry turned his back on Azzurra for a second to greet them—and realized that he was alone in a bedroom with three Veela. Dudley had VHS tapes hidden under his dresser that started out this way; a lonely bloke in a foreign place, visited by three gorgeous blondes in his bedroom. . . Harry closed his eyes and shook his head to clear away the thoughts.

"That's interesting; 'ow did 'e do that?" asked a Veela with long, purposefully messy platinum blonde hair, and wisps that framed her face when they weren't fallen across it; as if she was playing a sexy game of peek-a-boo, and, oh Merlin, did you ever want her to see you— He pushed that thought out of his mind as well.

The third Veela, a pixie-cut goddess with porcelain doll delicacy and as thin as a waif followed her in and alighted on the bed across from Azzurra—A pixie-cut goddess porcelain waif alighted? I really need to stop reading those stupid books from the Delacour's library. They're making me sound too much like Hermione . . . I wonder what she'd say to me now . . . god do I ever miss her and Ron—

"'Interesting's an understatement," the waif-goddess said.

He pulled himself from his thoughts and raised an eyebrow at her.

"You are fifteen, no?" The peek-a-boo Veela asked. Harry nodded. "Most men twice your age would be blithering idiots about now."

"I'd be a blithering idiot if I could get my mind to work enough to remember how," he said honestly.

Two of the three Veela smiled, but he noticed the waif-goddess stared at him, not amused.

"This is Médée." Azzurra said, nodding to the peek-a-boo Veela.

"And this," Azzurra continued, gesturing to the other Veela, "is Jaleena."

"Nice to meet the both of you," Harry said.

Jaleena smiled, but a person at wand-point could smile more naturally. "I'm glad to finally meet you in person after hearing about you in Viktor's letters."

And now, he was overcome by Jaleena. Her eyes were wide, honest, and piercing. She could open the soul's window and almost seek out the deepest—

Harry broke eye contact.

"Hmm. Veela magic, you have little problem with, but Jaleena hits you with those eyes of hers and you're a puddle of goo." Azzurra smirked. "Kind of sad, really. I'm a full Veela and she's the one that captures your attention."

Harry turned to Azzurra, afraid that somehow he had offended her. "I promise, your eyes are just as—" There was nowhere good that sentence could lead and Harry was suddenly at a loss for words. Of course, very few words were ever spoken in those VHS—

No! No! No! NO! NO!

Azzurra laughed quietly and laid a hand on Harry's arm. "It's fine. I would rather you be able to resist our magic anyway."

"Why's that?"

She made a cute little noise in the back of her throat that sounded like a sophisticated giggle, if there could ever be such a thing.

"Veela get tired of men staring at them. Be careful. Many Veela here would love to spend time with a young wizard who can look past their magic. You're also quite handsome and those Vulgaire clothes make your culo look very nice . . . you just may be in trouble."

"Culo? Do I even want to know?"

"I believe the Brits call it an 'arse.'" Médée said, rather bluntly, Harry thought.

"And blushes as well?" Azzurra continued. "You are in trouble."

Harry cursed the fact that every woman he met lately seemed to enjoy making him do that. "I think I'll hide up here this year."

All three Veela smiled this time. "I don't think that's going to happen," Jaleena said, surprising Harry. "It feels like you've already spent too much time alone."

"What. . . ?"

"Harry," Azzurra began, "If Jaleena says you shouldn't be alone, then you won't be alone."

"I'm fine. I'm used to being by myself."

The three Veela looked at each other. "Wizards," they chorused.

Harry thought their synchronized eye roll was a bit over the top, but he grinned anyway. There was something disarming about the three of them and it wasn't their magic, or their beauty, though the latter didn't hurt.

"So," Azzurra continued, "Professor Sirko said you've been staying with a 'special' friend?"

He clenched his jaw and began playing with the hem of his shirt.

Azzurra's demeanor softened. "I sense a story about a witch, and it isn't a happy one. I'm sorry, Harry. I didn't mean to pry."

"S'okay."

The silence grew uncomfortable before Harry remembered something Azzurra had said. "You're a full Veela?"

"As full as it gets; Italian on top of it, as well."

Médée groaned and rolled her eyes again. The corner of Jaleena's lips pulled up at the antics of the other two in a way that told Harry there was a long history between the three of them.

He scratched the side of his head, thinking back to a conversation with Fleu— another Veela he knew.

"I thought that in order to become a full Veela, it had to be offered to you by the Zekānōt and you had to go through the Gegenumenou?"

They stared at him, dumbfounded. Even at the young age of fifteen, Harry knew this would be the only time in his life that he would get three Veela to do so.

"You're right." Azzurra answered after getting over her surprise. "Most Veela like Jaleena and Médée must go through the ceremony in order to become full Veela, but for a very small handful, such as me, the magic naturally comes about at transformation."

"Does that mean yours is stronger?" he asked.

"You might say that," Médée quipped, trying to hold in a laugh at some inside joke.

He looked from Médée to Jaleena to Azzurra, and noticed how the other two subtly oriented themselves around— "You're going to become a flock leader, aren't you?"

Azzurra's eyes widened. "You really do know about us."

"I . . . yeah, I guess."

Harry missed the look Jaleena gave her and Médée as they all caught each other's eye.

"It's a pretty good sign," Azzurra finally answered, "though it doesn't always happen."

The door to the dorm room opened and Markus stepped through it. "Hey, are you Veela-chicks done giving the new kid a hard time?"

"Veela-what?" Azzurra got up out of Harry's desk-chair and zeroed in on her target across the room.

"I could call you a hen instead if you'd like."

Azzurra launched at Markus, but he slid out of the way. With a big grin, he grabbed her while she was still off balance and yanked her into him. She took the opportunity to swat him across the chest before leaning in and kissing him tenderly on the lips.

"Veela-chicks!" she huffed and pushed him away. "I remember when you couldn't say three words around us."

Markus rubbed his forehead. "Uh, yeah, let's not dig into the past. We should be heading down to eat soon, why don't we give Harry a tour of the school and finish in the Dining Hall."

Harry followed everyone downstairs, and stepped into the main common room when Médée and Jaleena reached out for him. Forty minutes later, Markus and Azzurra led them to the Hall for dinner, with Jaleena and Médée on either side of Harry, holding his hands.

Professor Sirko joined them. The Hall was quite a bit smaller than Hogwarts and a lot more utilitarian.

Damn! That's it, no more of those stupid books—I don't even know if that's the right word!

Harry chuckled and continued to look around. There were four big openings for fires, one in each corner of the room. The massive chimneys climbed towards the ceiling, which was a marble and stone arch.

He realized his first impression of the school was dead on; a cold beauty—uninviting to outsiders, but Harry was learning that not everything cold and beautiful on the outside was necessarily cold on the inside.

The food consisted of dishes from all over Europe. At Markus's insistence, Harry tried the Labskaus. This particular version, according to Markus, originated from Bremen and included corned beef, onions, and mashed potatoes, instead of beetroot and herring (after a taste, Harry was thankful those were served on the side).

Azzurra made him try the Butternut Squash soup, as it was her favorite dish from back home. It was okay, but he preferred the English style soups more. Médée informed Harry that she wasn't going to waste good French food on English taste buds, before cackling with laughter and pushing a plate of breaded cod fillets and a bowl of chips at him.

After the meal, they sat at the table long into the evening talking about Harry's knowledge of Dark Arts, Transfiguration, Charms, and even Potions.

"Remember Harry," Professor Sirko said about three hours later. "You're not in school. This is training. If you want to accomplish your goal, it isn't going happen with fifth-year spells and jinxes. We're going to push you both magically and physically like you've never been pushed before."

"Great," he mumbled, a little unsure of what he had gotten himself into.

"You'll be fine," Markus encouraged. "I need to stay down here and go over a few things with Professor—er, the Headmaster."

"It's okay, Markus," Professor Sirko said. "I'm not quite used to the idea yet myself."

"Thanks, Headmaster. Anyway Harry, Azzurra will see you upstairs; we don't want you getting lost your first evening here"—he turned to his girlfriend—"if, of course, that's okay with you?"

She pushed her chair back. "Come on Harry," Azzurra said as she began to imitate Markus's voice, "it looks like I've been charged with 'seeing you to your room.'"

Halfway out of the Dining Hall, she took Harry's hand and smiled at him. He looked back over his shoulder at Markus, who evidently found Harry's shock and fear humorous.

He waited until they were walking down a long hallway before asking the obvious question. "Um, not that I don't appreciate it or enjoy it—probably too much," he whispered the last phrase, "but I was wondering why. . . well—"

Azzurra stopped and turned to him. Her lips were pursed slightly and her head was tilted barely to one side. No model, magical or Muggle, could pull off the look as well as she did.

"You're wondering why three older Veela haven't let go of your hand except to eat, right?"

"Ahh, yeah."

"I'm not sure how to answer you," she said.

"Why not just tell me the truth?"

"Are you sure? Médée may be blunt in normal conversation, but she pales compared to me when it comes to stuff like this."

"Seeing as how I don't think I've had a blunt conversation with a witch in a month, it might be refreshing."

Azzurra hesitated, then narrowed her eyes. "Witches can be confusing, even dangerous creatures when it comes to matters of the heart."

She paused again.

"But I think you've figured that out already, haven't you?"

Harry remained silent, afraid he'd say too much if he tried to speak.

"Hmm, I think we're going to add another course to your curriculum," she said, talking more to herself than to him. "Of course, that means even less unstructured time, but if it has to be. . . ."

"Wait a second—"

"No, never mind that right now—"she cut across him.

He opened his mouth again, but she put a finger on his lips and smiled. "Didn't you want to know why Veela are lining up to hold your hand?"

"I wouldn't exactly put it that way," he said, his wide-eyed innocence showing.

"You are too cute," she mused before turning serious. "You're broken, Harry."

Harry stared at the marble accents in the hallway, but saw nothing as he tried to process what he just heard.

"Broken?" he finally asked.

"Yes, broken. And we've decided we want to help."

Harry yanked his hand out of hers and stepped back. "So you took me on as a project? Is that it? You're trying to 'fix' me?" His voice grew even louder. "I'm sorry to disappoint, but I don't need your help."

He stormed off down the hall, took the stairs two at a time up three flights, and threw open the doors to the common room.

"Why can't people just leave me alone?" he asked the empty room. "Either I'm a Dark Wizard, trying to be the center of attention, or a leetle-boy who needs his hand held everywhere he goes. . . ."

The sun had set and the room began to get cold. Harry decided to make a fire and started walking towards the fireplace, but shadows bathed the room and he didn't see the leg of the coffee table. The walls echoed the noise his body made as it slapped down on the marble and wood flooring.

"You okay?" a voice asked from behind him.

"What do you think?" he answered, still lying face down on the floor.

"I think you'd rather be alone than let anyone inside. You're scared of the intimacy, and you're doing a bang-up job of pushing people away; if you really want to know what I think - or were you asking what I thought about your fall?"

Harry rolled over and sat up to see Jaleena standing over him, arms crossed and looking like a hawk eyeing its prey from above.

Hedwig would be so proud of her.

"I thought Azzurra was the blunt one," Harry said. "How did you get up here so fast?"

"She is; and if you haven't noticed, voices carry in these halls, especially when you're shouting.

"Oh."

"So, I don't get it. Why do you want to stay broken?"

"What?"

"Knock off the one-word answers. You're too intelligent to play stupid, Harry."

"I agree," another voice said from behind her.

Azzurra stepped into the room—now looking more like a literal femme fatale then a figurative one—and closed the door behind her. "We need to get one thing straight," she began, her lips barely moving. "You are not our 'project'. Why would Veela who are still objectified as nothing more than sex-pets, turn around and objectify you?"

Harry looked down at the floor. "I didn't think about it like that."

"No, you didn't," she snarled at him. "Nor did you consider the danger in turning your back on me once you really pissed me off."

Azzurra turned her hand over and opened it. Flames were flitting across the surface of the skin.

"The next time you walk away from an angry Veela, it's going to hurt; I promise. Only children run away so they don't have to deal with whatever they're feeling. You're not a child, do you understand?"

Harry bobbed his head like a five-year old.

Azzurra made a fist and then released it. The flames were gone. The anger and tension drained from her face and she reached out and took Harry's hand.

"Your eyes and body language tell us how much you've already been through. We hold your hand so you'll know someone cares for you, and hopefully safe enough to begin talking with one of us about what's really going on."

Harry looked down at his feet and wondered if anyone had ever made a bigger ass of himself.

There's always Malfoy. The corner of his lip pulled up at the thought. A minute later, Harry concluded that he might as well be honest. "I just don't like being thought of as a child, or someone that needs to be taken care of. It's the opposite of what I've been my entire life."

"You may not have been cared for, but it's not what you needed," Jaleena corrected him in a soft voice. "We all need someone to care of us, and take care of us at times—"

Harry opened his mouth, but Jaleena cut him off. "Don't even think about arguing with me."

Harry let out the breath he took and resigned himself to listen.

"You'll learn quickly, you can't go through life alone, no matter what you're trying to do; even if that includes revenge against Dark Lords . . ." she continued to speak and the words were very nice; the platitudes made even sweeter by the care with which they were spoken, but Harry knew the path that destiny had set before him was a solo journey. It had always been that way.

Hadn't it?

Then why did he have not one, but two dead best friends back home? Why did he agree with Cedric to finish the maze together? That wasn't being alone, was it? No, it wasn't, and look at what happened to him—to them for being with him.

They pulled Harry up off the floor and led him to the couch. A fire roared in the fireplace thanks to Azzurra, who then settled next to him. The three of them sat silently for the next hour, the two Veela again holding his hands as he wrestled with the truths that had been so bluntly presented to him.

After almost falling asleep, Harry bid them goodnight and walked up the stairs to go to bed.

"Wait a second," someone said from behind as he walked through the smaller common room.

He turned around to find Jaleena at the top of the stairs.

"I want to talk to you alone."

Harry's chest clenched at the thought of delving any deeper into his emotional state, but he had a feeling that it'd hurt a lot more if he said no, what with Azzurra's earlier words and all.

He stepped back towards Jaleena. "Okay. . . ."

"There's no reason for you to go through this life alone," she said. "Though it's easy to sense that's exactly what you're trying to do, even if you won't admit it to yourself. You've built a tough exterior and buried anything that you think makes you vulnerable behind it, but if you're not careful, it's going to become your Achilles heel. You're familiar with the saying, right?"

He nodded.

"Good. Then stop pushing people away who care for you."

The knot in Harry's chest tightened a little more and his brain seemed to take its own Pepper-up Potion, working double-time to protect him. "I don't get it. If I'm not your 'project', why do you all even care about me? You haven't even known me a day yet," he argued.

He couldn't help but notice the sad and slightly disapproving look Jaleena was giving him. "In some ways, we've known you for years. We're Veela; we sense and see things that tell us all about your life. We can't put it into words, we just . . . know."

"That makes no sense to me whatsoever."

Jaleena sat down on the arm of the couch. "When you affect men like we do, you need to be able to sense their intentions. Most Veela never spend time developing it, so they end up with an inkling, or feeling about a person; others develop it, and can sense both intentions and a person's character decently well. Both Azzurra and Médée have done that."

"And you?" Harry asked.

"It seems my human magic and Veela magic are both strong in that way. I can tell that you're enjoying the discussion at one level, fascinated by the way my magic works, but your also deeply troubled at another, afraid that I'll sense your secrets and vulnerabilities. There's something else too, but you have it very, very well hidden beneath everything else; especially the loneliness, which you're using as a protective blanket. It's the reason you keep everyone else out."

It took a physical effort for Harry to breathe. He could have been standing bum-naked in the middle of the Great Hall at Hogwarts, the moment Dumbledore read his name as the fourth Champion, and not felt as exposed as he did now.

"I won't say anything else. I know it's a lot to take in." Jaleena pulled his head down and planted a kiss on the top of it. A genuine smile graced her face.

"Oh and there's no need to worry or feel guilty, either," she said. "While all three of us think you're a rather good-looking bloke, as you Brits say—and Azzurra is right about your culo, none of us are interested in you that way, so relax."

"You could sense all that?" Harry asked, amazed.

"We could see that in your body language. Hell, Professor Sirko and Markus asked us about it, it was so obvious."

Harry shook his head, unable to say anything else.

Jaleena laughed, and Harry noticed that when she did, her face lit up, reminding him of the little angels with bright rosy cheeks he saw in the department stores around Christmas; cute, innocent, with no secrets to hide and completely vulnerable—

It hit him. She was letting him inside her private little world on purpose so that he'd reciprocate.

She was too bloody good at this touchy-feely bollocks.

X ~ X ~ X ~ X

Harry looked over at the clock and decided to get ready for bed. Professor Sirko had said they were getting up "early" the next morning. The way Markus laughed, he was sure that meant earlier than he would have liked.

"So, what do you think so far?" Markus asked, walking into the dorm room.

"Confusing," he answered with a chuckle.

"Naa, the castle's easy to find stuff in. Just remember, staff and faculty on the first floor, classrooms on the second, dorms on the third; oh, and the Dining Hall is back on the first floor, at the far end."

"That's not what I meant," he confessed.

"I didn't think so, but I forgot to tell you that earlier."

Harry pulled his shirt off and changed for bed, then quickly climbed under the covers. It felt like it was already winter.

"So what did you mean," Markus asked.

"Just, a lot of unexpecteds, I guess."

"Like?"

Harry looked at the bare nightstand next to his bed. If he was back in Hogwarts, the top would have been decorated with pictures of his parents; that one of him and Ron, Seamus, Neville, and Dean celebrating after winning the Quidditch Championships his third year; and an assortment of pictures with Ron, Hermione, and himself. There would even be a couple of pictures with various Weasleys running about trying to prank each other.

His breath caught in his chest.

"You okay?"

"I guess—so one thing I didn't get . . . if you just finished last year, how do you know so much about dueling and fighting?"

"I've been training all my life—preparing for the Auror service back home."

"You've wanted to be an Auror your whole life?"

"I didn't have a choice." Markus said as he climbed into his bed.

"Yeah, well, I guess I can understand that part."

Markus let out a rueful chuckle. "You probably would. It does seem unfair though, doesn't it?"

"What's that?" Harry asked.

"Destiny picks people like us and demands that we make sacrifices. All we can do is prepare for it."

"Like us?"

Markus yawned. "It's a long story and trust me, you need to go to sleep soon, so I'll shorthand it for you. Did you ever think it strange that Viktor played for Bulgaria, but in private, preferred speaking German?"

"I never really thought about it."

"Viktor and I were from the same Wizarding—tribe? Group? I'm not sure what the right English word is. We grew up together, trained together to be our version of what you call Aurors, we were best friends . . . it's hard to believe he's gone," he finished in a small voice.

He rolled over on his side to face Harry.

"Were you with him when he died?"

"Kind of, I saw them being attacked. I was inside the school on the second floor, and flew out of a window on my broom. I attacked from the air while they were fighting on the ground. Professor Sirko saw the memories."

"He said something about it, but I wasn't ready to listen at the time; still not, really. But if I'm going to help you, I think need to know what happened."

Harry told him the entire story from the beginning of the maze to Fleur and him flying off on his broom, leaving the fallen body of Viktor behind. He made sure to emphasize Viktor's role in rescuing him and killing the black-robed sons of bitches; when he was finished, he looked over to see the muscle-bound wizard with tears in his eyes.

"At least he died the way he wanted to." Markus said.

"Why do you say that? I thought he'd want to die chasing a snitch."

Markus laughed, despite the tears. "Are you kidding me? He'd be mad as a dragon if that ever happened, it would have meant that someone beat him."

"Good point, but why did he want to die in a duel?"

"I didn't say he wanted to die in a duel. His grandfather was killed in the war against Grindelwald. Viktor wanted to die doing the same thing his grandfather did, fighting Dark enemies."

Harry had never seen that side of Viktor, but the way he fought the night of the third task, it made complete sense.

"Have you learned about that war yet?" Markus asked.

"Not really. We were still studying Goblin rebellions."

"Figures, there's been a lot of those in the U.K. Let me educate you on Grindelwald, are you familiar with the Muggle, Adolf Hitler?"

"Yeah. He was the sick bugger Voldemort copied half his ideas from."

"Grindelwald and Hitler had a working agreement, if not an actual alliance. Hitler wanted blonde-haired, blue-eyed babies for his master race. What creature do you know, that always produces blond-haired, blue-eyed little girls, and about a third of the time, blond-haired, blue-eyed little boys, regardless of the father?"

Harry shook his head. "But, Hitler wanted the perfect Aryan race. I've read a bit about it this last summer. That wouldn't have included Veela."

"That's true, but his scientists surmised—rightly, as it turns out—that all blue-eyed people have a single, common ancestor."

"What? How is that even possible?"

"It gets into something the Muggles call 'genetics.' Basically, Muggle scientists are finding out that there is a specific gene and protein that has mutated, causing the blue eyes. It is so particular, that it will probably never happen again. So someone, a few thousand years ago, had these strange eyes, and someone else liked his or her eyes enough to have children with them, and blue eyes were introduced into the species. Today, every person in the world with blue eyes is related to that ancestor."

"And you actually believe that?" Harry asked.

"It's genetics. Yeah, I do."

"Okay, let's say it's true, I still don't see what it has to do with Veela."

"They have blue eyes, right?" Markus asked.

"Yeah."

"A few of the scientists were Muggle-born wizards. They told Grindelwald their suspicions about the genetics and together, they concocted a plan to convince Hitler that Veela were all of Aryan decent, split from the Muggle world three or four millennia ago. They conveniently left out the avian heritage, however.

"The result was an agreement with Hitler to provide Veela for a new master race—mated to the Nazi SS. If you know anything about the SS, imagine how scary a second, magically enhanced, and empowered generation would have been. In return, Hitler agreed to allow Grindelwald free reign in prosecuting his own war in the magical world."

"I never knew that . . . but what does it have to do with Viktor's grandfather?"

"There was a small group of German wizards that were so repulsed by the idea of enslaving and beating Veela into submission that they developed an underground resistance force. Both my and Viktor's grandfathers were leaders and they saved hundreds of Veela, Jewish wizards, witches, and even a few Muggle Jews as well.

"When he found out about it, Grindelwald hunted down our grandfathers. Once he caught one of them, we figure he used Veritaserum and found out about the entire underground, so everyone fled to Bulgaria."

"Why there?"

"You really haven't studied Muggle history, have you?"

"Not much," harry confessed, "though I've found it more interesting of late."

"Bulgaria was the only Nazi allied country to not deport Jews from within its borders. Since Muggle and Wizarding Jews, and Veela were sent into the heart of Bulgaria, they were kept safe. It just seemed the natural place for everyone else to go. Most of the families have remained there to this day."

"That's why Viktor played for Bulgaria," Harry thought aloud.

"Exactly."

"But, why not move back after the war? It's not the same Germany now."

"There's an agreement between the Bulgarian Wizarding government and the German families. We have our own special branch in their Auror service that is dedicated to hunting down Dark Wizards in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Almost all of the children and grandchildren of the original resistance have been a part of the Auror service."

"It's a shame they didn't worry about England."

"They did. My father and Herr Krum, along with a number of others, were in talks with something called 'The Order of the Phoenix' to join the war, but it seems you put an end to it before they could get involved."

Harry stared up at the ceiling, thinking about how close Markus's father was to fighting the war next to his father. As his thoughts wandered, he realized how lucky he was that Krum was at his side in the graveyard. They way he fought amazed Harry. Then again, with all that training—

"Wait! That means you're trained too," Harry said.

"Ja, or maybe I should say, Da, since you know the story now. And starting tomorrow morning; you will begin your training. I'm looking forward to watching since Professor Sirko said he has a few 'special' things planned for you."

Harry didn't like the sound of that so he changed the subject. "How could you do all that stuff with an ex-Death Eater as your Headmaster?"

Markus laughed. "What training we did do here, we did right under his nose. The former Headmaster was clueless, though I am happy to hear he died for the right side in the end."

Harry pulled the sheets up a little more against the chill. "I guess that also answers why Veela are mascots for a Quidditch team."

"It makes a little more sense now, doesn't it?" Markus said, chuckling. "They love rubbing the Wizarding world's nose in their own history. Veela have long memories and a nasty way about them if they think they've been wronged."

"Oh, bugger," Harry whispered.

"What was that?"

"Nothing, I was just talking to myself."

Markus chuckled. "I suggest we go to sleep, Professor Sirko wasn't kidding about training early in the morning."

~ . ~ . ~

Two hours later, Harry rolled over, still not able to sleep.

"You're broken, Harry!"

"I think you'd rather be alone than let anyone inside. You're scared of the intimacy, and you're doing a bang-up job of pushing people away."

"Do you like being broken?"

"Only children run away so they don't have to deal with whatever emotions they're feeling and you're not a child."

"You've erected a tough exterior and buried anything that you think makes you vulnerable behind it, but if you're not careful, it's going to become your Achilles heel."

"Stop pushing people away who care for you!"

He thought back to that day in the beginning of summer, thinking about Ron and Hermione.

He pushed Ron away last year.

He pushed Hermione away the year before.

Who else was he willing to do that to?

. . .

. . .

Fleur?

"Veela have long memories and a nasty way about them if they think they've been wronged."

Oh, bloody hell.

X ~ X ~ X ~ X

"GET YOUR ASS UP!"

A curse streaked across the dorm room and Harry fell out of bed, his legs dancing out of control.

He reached up for his wand, but before he could counter the curse, it flew in the air and a hand stretched out in the frigid early morning gloom to snag it.

"YOU'RE DEAD, BOY! THAT'S WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU SLEEP WITHOUT WARDS AND CHARMS PROTECTING YOU! NOW GET UP!"

Professor Sirko countered the jinx and tossed Harry his wand.

"GET DRESSED AND DON'T GET HIT AGAIN!"

"Accio trousers!" Harry cried out.

A pair of trousers flew at him. He grabbed them and ducked as a jinx hit the shelf behind his head, which rattled under the strain.

He let loose a curse and tried to slip a leg in, only to fall on the bed and then arse over elbow backwards to the floor.

His rear-end provided too good of a target.

"Merlin's balls! That hurts!"

He jumped back up and let a stunner go while getting back to his trunk, rubbing his right bum cheek.

"Accio Blackness powder." Hope the twins' last batch was better than before.

The bag came out of his trunk and he snatched it out of mid-air faster than a Snitch, spun around, and threw the dust.

The gloom turned back into night and Harry used the darkness to reach under the bed. He put on his shoes and a pair of socks he'd laid out on Markus's advice, and almost had his shirt on when a tornadic wind whipped through the room and the darkness disappeared. Harry took a curse between the shoulder blades and slumped down, his shirt falling to the ground under the desk.

Professor Sirko hit him with a Reeneravate Spell and without hesitation, Harry spun around, putting up a Protego Shield just in time as another curse bounced off it. Then he went on the offensive, following the rebounding curse with his own stunner.

The Professor had misjudged Harry's speed and fell to the ground, stiff as a board.

"I'll counter it in a second, Professor; just let me get my shirt on."

He found it and shook it out, then pulled the shirt over his head, only to find himself sitting on his rear-end. He rubbed his chest where the spell hit, looking up at the revived professor and behind him to Markus, who winked and waved his wand.

Harry rolled his eyes and stood up, glancing at his watch; Five-ten a.m.?

The professor's voice boomed in the dorm room. "YOU'RE FINALLY DRESSED? GOOD, NOW RUN!"

Markus took over and they ran around both lakes. It was about a four and a half mile circuit, and was followed up with a conjuring of walls, barriers, stumps, and other assorted items that Harry had to navigate over, under, and around. Whenever Markus thought he was going a little slow, jinxes were added into the mix.

Three hours later, Harry sat at breakfast, his food pushed aside and his head resting on his arms.

"Wake up. You need to eat to make it through the day."

A bleary-eyed Harry tried to make out the face in front of him. He finally gave up and put on his glasses.

"I'd rather go back to bed," he told a now clear Professor Sirko

The professor sat across from him and dished out his own breakfast. "The first few days are the worst, especially the yelling and screaming."

"Then why. . ."

"Because it's the best way to get you disoriented and then see how you react. When you're in the middle of a fight and get disoriented, you make mistakes, those mistakes will kill you. What were your mistakes this morning?"

"I woke up in Durmstrang," Harry said, his head in his arms again and ignoring the chairs moving around him.

"How's your first day of training?" Azzurra asked.

"Loud."

"And it's about to get louder if you don't eat," Professor Sirko reminded him. "So, back to the lesson, what did you do wrong?"

Harry obeyed and began to eat. "I guess the first thing I did wrong was not knowing how to transfigure clothes so I didn't have to worry about getting dressed."

"That's good thinking," Professor Sirko said, after swallowing a bite of eggs. "Based on our discussion last night, Azzurra's going to tutor you in Transfiguration and charms. You should be able to transform your clothes in about a month.

"But that's all knowledge based. What did you do wrong this morning?" the Professor asked again.

"Wards are a bit out of reach for me still, so I guess the first thing was leaving my wand under my pillow where I had to find it. It would have been faster to have it on my body somewhere. You already got to me before I could reach it and counter the first spell."

"I think you're right on both assessments. Never sleep without your wand attached to you somewhere. Don't leave it on a dresser or under a pillow. If you get hit with a Portkey, you're completely up a crick."

"A crick?" Harry asked, a little confused.

"A creak, sorry."

"I still don't get it."

"It's part of a larger saying, about being up a certain kind of bodily waste creak without a paddle."

Harry took his knife and pushed the banger off his fork, losing his appetite for the suddenly visually unappealing food.

"As for wards, we'll get to them once you have a handle on seventh year charms. What else?"

Harry took a bite of toast and thought about the question. "I don't know. Maybe focused on you and getting dressed at the same time?"

"Excellent," the professor said. "Only worry about something secondary in battle once you've dealt with the primary objective. Don't get sidetracked. You were right to not counter the jinx you hit me with until you were dressed."

He nodded. It did make sense after all.

"So, what else did you do well?"

"Get cursed and fall to the ground?"

At least they were laughing.

"Give yourself more credit than that," Professor Sirko said. "Though sloppy, your wand-work was fast, and powerful. You actually got me once, which reminds me; where did you learn how to manipulate spells?"

"What do you mean?"

Professor Sirko cocked an eyebrow. "You mean you didn't do it on purpose?"

"Honestly, sir, I have no idea what you are talking about."

"Damn," the Headmaster said to himself. "You're beginning to control your magic by intent and don't even know you're doing it. It's a good sign, maybe. . . ."

Harry speared a banger and chewed while contemplating what "controlling magic by intent" was supposed to mean. At least it took his mind of a certain kind of "crick," or "creek." Why would anyone think of a. . . Harry barely managed to swallow.

"Feeling better?" Another voice asked.

He turned to see Markus sitting next to his girlfriend. "Sorry I didn't warn you about this morning."

"I'm sure you are," Harry said.

Markus answered with a grin. "Are you ready for a little magical fight after breakfast?"

"You mean dueling?" he asked.

"No," Professor Sirko cut in. "Dueling is what you do when you want to dress up like an idiot and prance before judges. Dueling has many rules. Fighting has one: win. Remember that."

Harry absorbed the message as the other five talked around him, slipping between German, English, Italian, and French. Harry had never felt so out-of-place.

It must have been obvious.

"Do you not know another language, Harry?" Markus asked.

"I studied some French over the summer, but not too much."

"What made you study French?" he asked, "or should I ask, who?"

"That's enough," Professor Sirko said with a chuckle. "Let's keep Harry's mind on training, instead of the smitten French witch that couldn't keep her eyes off him when we met for lunch."

The three Veela glanced at each other and grinned rather cheekily, Harry thought.

"So, when do we get to play with Harry?" Azzurra asked.

Markus's fork stopped halfway to his mouth as he and turned to his girlfriend. "Go easy on him this afternoon, he's going to be worn out by the time I'm done hexing, cursing, and exercising him all morning."

Harry groaned. "Getting hit with the Cruciatus Curse isn't even this bad."

"I doubt that," Markus said.

"Trust me," Harry replied, his own dark humor painting a smirk on his face as he finished his breakfast, but when there was no response, he looked up to see four sets of young eyes focused on him.

"You've suffered the Cruciatus Curse?" Jaleena's voice was a strange mix of concern and awe.

Harry glanced back at the professor and noticed him nodding for Harry to go on. "Um, yeah. I've felt it once or twice."

The professor lifted an eyebrow. "I think you felt it more than that, Harry. You've cast it at a Dark Lord as well."

"YOU CRUC—"Azzurra clamped her hand over her mouth and modulated her voice before continuing. "Dramatic Veela gene, sorry. You actually used the Cruciatus Curse on him?"

"He did," Professor Sirko confirmed. "Brought Voldemort to his knees with it."

The three Veela looked at him wide-eyed.

Markus tipped his cup up and chugged the rest of his drink before slamming it down on the table. He pointed at Harry. "You, me, in the training center, now!" A confident grin grew across his face. "Let's see if it was just a lucky shot, shall we?"

Azzurra smacked her boyfriend on the arm. "I'm not sure whether I want you to win or lose with that kind of cocky attitude," she teased.

"Win, definitely," he said, "or I'll probably be too sore to take you on our date tonight."

Azzurra made a show of thinking about it. "Sorry, Harry," she finally answered. "I really want to go out with my boyfriend tonight."

X ~ X ~ X ~ X

Damn he was a good fighter. Harry picked himself up off the hard floor for the fourth time.

"Harry," Professor Sirko said from the side, "you're holding back too much. The wards will not let you seriously hurt him, no matter what you cast."

They began circling again. Harry watched Markus wave his wand slowly, trying to mesmerize him. Then quickly the wand struck out, drew back at a sharp angle, and forward again. A bluish curse shot out of it at Harry.

He sidestepped it and fired off his own Reductor Curse, only to watch Markus bat it away with his wand.

Are you kidding me?

"Come on, Harry. Did you really fight Voldemort, or are you taking credit for Viktor's work?"

"What?" Harry took a shot to the chest and fell, legs flailing up and over his head as he landed on his back.

"I'm done," Markus said, "and I don't particularly like having to live with liars, either."

"Liars?" Harry jumped up off the floor. "I'm no ruddy liar!"

Markus turned his back to Harry and reached for the towel hanging on a peg. "There is no way in a Goblin's Hell you could have done half of the things you claim."

"Yeah? TRY ME!"

"I just did. You're not worth it."

The wall above Markus's head shook as rock chips sliced through the air. "Turn around and face me!"

Markus dropped his towel and turned around slowly.

"You're going to hurt come morning."

Harry reached back into his childhood, and his Uncles bigotry. "Yeah? Let's go—Kraut."

Markus's wand sliced through the air and a sickly yellow light flew straight at Harry.

"Protego!" Harry cried out, then countered immediately, whispering, "Vehementi Interitum,"

Markus barely had time to clear the path as the curse rushed by him, shattering two bookshelves that sat against the back wall.

But Harry didn't stop there. "Opprimendi Vis," he whispered again, and another spell shot out of his wand.

Markus charmed a shield and Harry had to dive to the floor of the rebounding curse, but instead of diving to the side, he dove forward and just off-center, hoping to throw Markus off by the move, and then let loose a simple Disarming Charm to keep Markus occupied. He rolled as he hit the ground, and then fired one last spell. "Immobulus!"

The move kept Markus on the defensive. He dodged the first curse and had to wand block the second one before letting loose his own combination, something that looked like a mix of cutters and stunners.

Harry realized he was too close and wouldn't be able to get avoid it, so he did the only thing that came to mind. "Accio Sirko!"

The professor shot towards him as the spells hit him, throwing the professor back ten feet across the floor.

Harry quickly charmed his offhand and put a Stunner on it, then dug into his repertoire of darker curses, slicing his wand through the air.

"Os Eieci!"

"Retro Conteram!"

"Cor Exterminatore!"

The Pain Curses leapt forward, black and angry-looking.

Markus threw himself to the ground and Harry flexed his left hand, letting go of the last curse. It smacked Markus across the head.

"Get up! If your man enough to call me a liar, be man enough to get your arse handed to you!"

He heard a chuckling from behind him as Professor Sirko gingerly stood up, walked back to his seat, and cast a ward around himself and the three Veela watching.

"Come on, Markus," Harry raged.

Markus, who was on his knees now, popped up to his feet. He grinned at Harry. "This is more like it."

Spells cascaded towards Harry from three different directions. He danced away from the first one and to his utter surprise, wand-blocked the second one completely by accident, but the third one caught him in the shoulder, spinning him around and down to the cold floor.

But before he even hit it, he let loose a String-Trip Jinx he'd picked up in a book at the Delacours. The spell stretched wide, replicating its namesake. Markus jumped.

"Locomotor Mortis!" Harry yelled, putting another spell at current knee height as Markus reached the top of his jump.

A chair flew up from the side of the room and intercepted the curse, splitting into three large pieces as it hit the floor. A quick wand wave and Markus sent three nasty look badgers running toward Harry.

Harry tapped his hand again, then let loose two Blasting Curses, littering the floor and walls with the internal organs of the dead animals. The third one kept coming until Harry took care of it with a Diffindo Curse, but he took too much time.

Markus cast three more curses. Harry countered with another Protego Spell and didn't even consciously think about the next series of curses he cast, adding to the three that were returning to Markus.

Markus dove out the way, but before the last curse even passed him, Harry conjured a snake, launching it into the air. "Sreesth Tseetha," he ordered.

Markus got off the floor and spun around to curse Harry, but ended up wide-eyed and frozen as a ten-foot pit viper stretched out to its full length and opened its mouth, still hurdling through the air.

But Harry didn't give a damn about Markus's amazement.

"Incarcerous," he yelled.

Markus fell to his knees as the ropes bound him.

"Avada Kedavra!" The green curse leaped from his wand. Markus pushed himself to the right of the Killing Curse with what little leg movement he had, and straight into the path of the pit viper. Inch long fangs connected with his throat.

Then a flash filled the room and the snake was gone. Markus fell to the ground and reached for his neck, checking to make sure there were no bite marks.

Azzurra ran from the bench and knelt in front of him, her hands frantically searching his skin.

"You happy now!" Harry yelled. He walked back to his side of the room and took his towel off the hook, wiped his face and arms off, then threw it down in disgust.

"DAMN IT!"

"What's wrong?"

He spun around to see Markus crossing the room towards him, wand down and a genuine smile on his face. "That last one was a hell of a fight, but you need to work on controlling your emotions, or you're going to get provoked into bad situations. Whispering spells was a smart move, but after the first time, I could read your lips and guessed at what was coming. We're going to add silent-casting to the syllabus. However, you're fast, powerful, and you adapt. That's a deadly combination"

The smile only got bigger as Harry's look of incredulity grew.

"I believe," Professor Sirko began, "Harry thinks we're going to be put off because he can speak to snakes or cast the Killing Curse."

Harry looked from Markus to Professor Sirko.

"Don't worry Harry," the professor continued, "we don't have a Salazar Slytherin at this school. The only people here who will care about your particular ability are your sparing partners."

"Yeah, Markus said. "But it looks like I get to dig into my bag of spells a little deeper tomorrow. I think we're going to skip the rest of the entry-level stuff and move right on up the ladder to 'beat your ass.' Sound good?"

Harry nodded and turned around to get his stuff. "I thought you were going to beat my arse to impress your girlfriend today," he said quietly.

"What was that?" Markus demanded. Harry turned around to see a glint of mayhem in his eyes and the grin of a Cheshire cat.

Harry made sure Markus's wand was nowhere in sight. "I said, 'sure, you can try to impress Azzurra again tomorrow while getting your arse handed to you.'"

Oi! Markus could wrestle as well. It was a very hard floor

~ . ~ . ~

Harry begged off lunch, choosing to make himself a couple of sandwiches and go back upstairs to his dorm. He stopped by the library and checked out a book. By the time he reached his bed, the first sandwich was gone and the second halfway finished.

He put his plate on the desk and opened the book, thumbing through it while finishing the second sandwich before crawling into bed. The day was half through and he felt like he could sleep for a week already.

Before lying down, Harry twirled his wand a couple of times, trying a new charm he had just read about. A green and white light danced around his bed and faded. Satisfied, he set an alarm to wake him up in fifty minutes and lay down. Three minutes later, he was out cold.

X ~ X ~ X ~ X

A high-pitched keening woke Harry up. He opened his eyes to see Veela and wizards alike diving for the floor as a curse bounced back at them.

Harry quickly whipped his wand out. "Expelliarmus!"

To his utter surprise, five wands shot into the air. Harry thought quickly. "Accio wands!"

Unfortunately, "thinking quickly," doesn't equate to "thinking things all the way through." Harry managed to get his pillow up in front of him as all five wands ricocheted off it, falling to the bed and the ground below.

A noise that sounded like a wheezing bear choking to death reached his ears. He lowered his pillow to find Markus, lying on the floor where he dove, holding his stomach, and laughing so hard at Harry that his eyes were watering.

Harry couldn't help but smile. "Pratt!"

Markus laughed even harder, now unable to pull himself up. The rest left him there and walked over to Harry.

"You're a quick learner," Professor Sirko praised him.

"Thank you, sir."

"How did you figure out that ward?"

He reached over and pulled a book off his desk, handing it over to the professor.

After reading through the bookmarked page, Professor Sirko put the book down and picked up his wand from the bed. "That was good thinking. The ward was entry-level, and basic at that. You'll need to learn much stronger ones before you go back, but for someone just entering their fifth year, that was a pretty powerful charm."

"Thanks."

"Too bad he ruined it by almost impaling himself with our wands," Markus barely managed from the floor, where he was wiping eyes now.

"Doesn't that mean he's beat you twice today, love of my life?" Azzurra asked, as she winked at Harry.

"If you want to go on that date tonight, I suggest you choose which side you're rooting for," Markus shot back playfully, finally able to get to his knees.

Azzurra sat down on Harry's bed and leaned against him. "Keep it up, and it'll be Potter's side in no time."

Harry wasn't sure how it happened, but Markus stood up, stretched out his hand, and his wand shot towards it, almost at the same time. He pointed it at his girlfriend. "Accio Veela hen!"

Azzurra yelped as she flew towards the room, crashing into Markus and flipping them both back on the bed. The next twenty seconds were filled with the sexiest Italian swearing Harry had ever heard before it morphed into a language he'd only had contact with once before; Harry now understood exactly what both Fleur and Azzurra meant about angry Veela.

Up close, a full Veela in bird form was as scary as hell. Markus was the one now yelping as he ran out of the door, a fireball hitting him on his culo. Azzurra chased him through the next room and down the stairs before Harry could no longer hear the two of them.

"Think she'll be okay to teach me this afternoon?" Harry asked.

"Just don't make her mad," Médée answered with a wink.

Harry groaned, remembering the night before.

Jaleena reached down and touched his forearm. "She'll be okay, and yesterday evening never happened, as far as she's concerned."

"I hope so."

Professor Sirko chuckled at him left the room.

Médée shook her head slowly. "Never the dull moment around here, no? Come 'Arry, we'll get you to your classroom. Maybe you don't want to make Azzurra mad by being late."

"I think you're right," he said. "Could you wait for me in the commons for a few seconds, I need to put on some trousers."

"Sure, we can do that," Médée said, "as long as you answer a question first."

"What's that?" he asked.

Harry noticed at the last moment Jaleena biting her lip and trying not to laugh.

"I was just wondering, 'Arry," Médée started in the sexiest voice he'd heard yet from the peek-a-boo Veela. "before I reach for it, is that my wand or yours lying between your legs?"

"Every bleedin' Veela I meet!"

X ~ X ~ X ~ X

"So, Harry, ready for your Transfiguration lesson?" Azzurra asked as Médée and Jaleena delivered him to the classroom.

"Would it change anything if I said no?" he answered,

"Probably not. Learning three years worth of charms in less than three months is like building Rome in a day; pretty much impossible, even more so if you take time off."

"Yes ma'am."

"That is not how you get in my good graces, Potter."

Harry bit the inside of his lips to stop from laughing; he didn't need to see her bird form again.

"Alright, if you're going to be a difficult student,"—she smirked—"What are the five Principle Exceptions to Gamp's law?"

Harry plopped himself down in a chair. "First, you can't produce food or love; second, you can't restore body parts that are destroyed by Dark Magic, nor life; three and four are similar, you can't create precious metals; and five, you can't transfigure something into a giver of knowledge."

Azzurra nodded. "Very good, now let's see you transfigure something."

She tossed a few marbles, a snuffbox, and a cup on the desk.

"Transfigure the marbles into something larger."

Harry waved his wand. "Duro!"

Three of the marbles turned to stone.

"Hmm," Azzurra said as she inspected the stone marbles. "They are a little larger, and the same shape as before."

She waved her wand and they transformed back to their original state.

"Again. This time, I want them to double in size."

Harry tried it again and produced three large, though slightly oblong stones, each one about three times the original size.

"That's better. Now, what impressed me is that you're transfiguring three objects at the same time. Your Disarming Charm impressed me for the same reason; it takes quite a bit of power to do what you did. How are you doing it?"

He shrugged his shoulders. "Don't know. I just decided I was too tired to do it more than once, so I concentrated on all three marbles. I've never done it before."

"Wait - that was the first time you've attempted a multi-item Transfiguration?"

"Yeah, I guess so."

Azzurra grinned. "There might be hope for you yet. Show me what else you can do."

X ~ X ~ X ~ X

The rest of August continued with little difference from that first day. By September first (the beginning of the regular school year), Harry had almost completed the fifth year of classes in Transfiguration, Charms, and Dark Arts/Defense. The last one, he was actually half way through his sixth year already. After facing Voldemort three times in four years, a classroom version of Dark Arts is rather tame, though the theory was still important as Harry was beginning to learn.

Azzurra however, wasn't as happy with his progress in Transfiguration and Charms, as she was explaining to Harry when the other two Veela walked in.

"How's he doing?" Médée asked.

"About the same as before. He makes up for precision with power. I noticed it while he fought Markus that first day, and there's not much change."

"I don't understand what the big deal is," Harry said, truly confused.

Azzurra hopped up on the teacher's desk in the front of the classroom, letting her legs hang against the front of it. "You're pushing too much power through your spells because you are not precise enough. It wastes magic."

"It still gets the job done though, right?"

"Not necessarily," Médée began. "Powerful wizards are precise wizards. Right now, instead of being a powerful wizard, you're a sloppy-arsed wizard with a powerful wand."

Harry couldn't help but blush.

"Oh merde, I didn't mean it like that," Médée covered her mouth and blushed. Harry was happy that at least he wasn't the only one this time.

"Leaving Médée's wand issues aside for a moment," Azzurra quipped, getting back to the lesson, "she is basically right, which makes it all the more confusing how detailed your conjured snakes and ropes are. What's the biggest thing you've conjured?"

"Normal fourth year stuff, I guess. Does a Patronus count?"

"You can conjure a Patronus?" Médée clarified.

"A corporeal one, actually."

"I have to see this," Azzurra said. "Show me."

Harry dug deep for a feeling of joy and found that it was much harder now, what with everything that had happened over the last few months. He thought about the day that he found out that he was a wizard, about Sirius being declared innocent, about Quidditch, but all those memories were stained with the death of friends.

Then, as confusing as it was, another memory enveloped him, and he knew it was the right one. Lying on the bed in the Burrow with Fleur in his arms last spring, everything felt so right, so peaceful, and so beautiful—

"Expecto Patronum!"

"What the f—"

The full corporeal Patronus was the most majestic, ancient creature he had ever seen. "That's . . . not . . . " Harry managed.

Three Veela stared at the Patronus, shocked. After a few seconds, they shifted to him.

"Um, none of us cast it," Médée finally said.

"Do you know what it is?" Azzurra asked.

"Not a clue,"

"It's like a cross between a Haast's Eagle and Peregrine Falcon," she informed him.

"Okay, so why are the three of you looking at me like that?"

"Because . . ." Azzurra trailed off.

He waited, until he figured he wasn't going to get anymore out of her without prompting her again. "My primary teacher used to say, 'because, is not an answer'."

She shook herself out of her thoughts. "Harry," she tried again. "A Patronus is supposed to be a projection of what's at the core of your being, or . . ."

"Or what?" he asked, smacking his wand on his leg hard enough to cause it to emit sparks. Jaleena reached down and took his hand to calm him.

Azzurra seemed to snap out of the daze a little more. "Sorry, Harry. I've heard about this, but never seen it before. Your Patronus is a magical projection of a creature that lived millennia ago. There was supposedly only one in existence."

"And?"

All three Veela smiled before Azzurra answered. "And three of its descendants are standing in this very room."

Jaleena squeezed Harry's hand. "It means that a Veela has shared of her magic deeply with you, and that she has also stolen your heart and you don't want it back."

"Harry?" Azzurra purred. "We know it's not any of us, we haven't shared nearly enough magic with you to produce that. Is there something you want to tell us?"

"Not really," Harry answered.

"Then it's a mystery. Let's see, according to the professor, she'll be French," Azzurra reminded everyone. "So, how many French Veela does Harry know?"

"French; wasn't there. . ." Médée turned to Harry wide-eyed. "The Tri-Wizard Tournament. It's the Beauxbatons Champion, isn't it!"

The look on Harry's face answered her question before his lips ever moved.

"Oulala,"Azzurra teased. "I've seen her picture—she's pretty, even for a Veela, and then an older Veela on top of that? Very impressive, Harry!"

He rolled his eyes. "Is the lesson over yet?"

"Can you make your Patronus carry a message?" Azzurra asked.

"What? You can do that?"

"Looks like the lesson isn't over," Azzurra answered.

X ~ X ~ X ~ X

Three weeks later, Harry woke up, looking forward to the day. He was now a little under halfway through the sixth year material. Even Potions was coming along okay, though not great. He would never become a Potions master.

His schedule had changed some when the other students showed up three weeks ago, but he was still getting up at five a.m. and doing the Two-Lake Jog, as it was known, then navigating the ever-changing obstacle course. Except now, seven other German-Bulgarian students, carrying on the tradition of their fathers and grandfathers, joined him.

After breakfast, he practiced with Markus and talked about the theories surrounding Dark Arts until lunch. His afternoons had changed, thanks to Azzurra, Jaleena and Médée. They made him spend two hours, twice a week, in Veela studies. It was his only class with other Durmstrang students, and he was the only non-Veela in the class as well. The rest of his time was taken up with the private tutoring, which now included a session taught by Médée. Somehow, the three Veela had decided that not only was Harry going to learn about Mademoiselle Delacour's avian background, but he also was going to be able to speak her language, fluently.

After three weeks of studying French two hours a day, all three Veela and Markus forgot how to speak English during meal times; French however, they spoke perfectly. What really annoyed Harry, what that Markus decided to translate the Quidditch tryouts into French. Since the rest of the team knew the language, it was now the unofficial language of team.

Harry stretched, and smiled, thinking about the upcoming day. His Veela-chicks (as he now called them whenever they decided to take the mick out of him) and Markus were going to visit a couple of towns and help Harry get some warmer clothes. All in all, it'd make for a nice day away from the school.

He got out of bed, making sure the comforter was still wrapped around him, and walked to the window. It was the middle of flipping September and it was snowing outside. Worse yet, Harry knew the Two-Lake Jog was still in his future before they would leave.

Well, at least there wouldn't be the afternoon sessions of pushing and pulling things across the gym, though Harry had to admit, it was doing wonders for him. None of the shirts he owned last year fit him, and even the ones he bought at the beginning of summer stretched a little tightly across his chest now.

If nothing else, maybe new clothes that fit would keep Azzurra and Médée from teasing him about his new body. Even Jaleena was starting to get in on the act.

Harry chuckled to himself and decided to face the day. He dropped the comforter and as quick as humanly possible, put on his trousers and jumper, then socks and shoes. Last, came a new item in his wardrobe. He ran his hands through his hair a few times, then picked up a leather tieback and pulled his hair together, about a third of the way down his back and tied it off.

Why get a haircut now? It was even easier this way and truth be told, he was getting quite a few compliments on it.

Of course, he looked forward to hearing what Gabrielle had to say about his new hairstyle and body. Her letters were always full of cheek and brightened his day, not like Fleur could, but more and more, like Hermione used to. He always tried to write her back within a day. Then again, if he didn't, Hedwig pestered him until he picked up a quill.

He never asked about Fleur, and Gabrielle never said that she asked about him. The more he was learning about Veela, the more he realized how much she had given him over the summer, and how he had slammed the door in her face. He couldn't even blame her now for the way she acted in Paris that day. It was minor compared to how most Veela would have reacted.

Harry pulled himself back to the present and got ready to run. At least Jacque and Gabrielle were coming to visit, and the others had agreed to take Gabrielle with them when they went shopping today.

With a big stretch, he walked out into the middle of the room and cast a Sonorus Charm on himself.

"GET YOUR ARSES OUT OF BED NOW!"

He shot off a jinx at the far bunk. "DON'T TELL ME YOU SLEPT WITHOUT A CHARM OR WARD, MARKUS!"

Harry found that he absolutely loved being in a dorm with three other seventh year German-Bulgarian students following the same path as Markus, especially when he woke up before them.


A/N Genetics: The information concerning genetics is anachronistic to this story, as the research was not published until Jan. 2008. I found it so fascinating, however, and played so well into the background story that I wanted to tell about the Veela and the German-Bulgarian group of wizards, that I incorporated it. For those of you who are interested, the mutation affects the gene in the chromosome that is responsible for providing melanin. We are all familiar with what happens when that gene is destroyed—the melanin is not produced and the person suffers from Albinism. For blue eyes, a gene that sits next to this particular gene acts as a "switch" which restricts the creation of melanin, thus diluting brown eyes to blue eyes (brown eyes are the original, it seems). The mutation of the adjacent gene is what created the switch. What is even stranger, is that there is such a small variation in blue eyes. Scientists use this as evidence to "conclude that all blue-eyed individuals are linked to the same ancestor."

Eiberg, Hans, Jesper Troelsen, Mette Nielsen, Annemette Mikkelsen, Jonas Mengel-From, Klaus Kjaer, and Lars Hansen. "Blue Eye Color in Humans may be Caused by a Perfectly Associated Founder Mutation in a Regulatory Element Located within the HERC2 Gene Inhibiting OCA2 Expression." Human Genetics 123, no. 2 (2008): 177-187.

Historical elements in this story: The information about the Peasant war is correct—except for the wizards, of course. What I described was an actual battle that took place. Also, the information about Bulgaria in WWII is correct. While still participating in racial discrimination against the Jews, including deportation from other nations that they controlled at the time, Bulgaria also managed to save every last Jewish person in Bulgaria proper from the concentration camps.


Spell Translations:

Vehementi Interitum—violent destruction

Opprimendi Vis—Crushing force

Os Eieci—Bone Banish

Retro Conteram—Back Break

Cor Exterminatore—Heart Destroyer