Chapter 8 – Ends and Beginnings

AN: First off, to the people who feel that the ship is close to a rape and that I should include warnings about it, please, you're reading too much into the stuff. It's just a story and besides, what I wrote rates below drunken trysts judging by the degree of unwilling behaviour. Going back and looking at what I wrote, I see nothing happening between Harry and Fleur that is truly unconsented. The only time is when Fleur tested her allure on Harry during the meeting and that is not enough to put warnings up. I agree that Apolline's character is controversial but that too isn't enough to put up warnings. I don't see warnings in stories about Snape or Umbridge being gits or about Voldemort being an evil psychopath.

If there is going to be any violence, rape, torture, etc. in any chapter, I will put up warnings at the beginning of the scene and you may skip those parts if you want. Finally, I don't own the Harry Potter universe, but let's ignore that and continue to the eighth chapter.

Finally, I apologise for the long break. I will try to go back to the earlier frequency of posting chapters, but I can't promise anything. Real life is a major inconvenience.

x-x

"I'm not panicking! I'm NOT panicking!" Harry whispered as he paced around nervously in his room while Fleur looked on with amusement. But, Harry could tell that even she was feeling slightly nervous. The reason? Apolline had contacted them and asked if Harry could possibly help her convince some obstinate French bureaucrats that Harry and Fleur were bonded. Harry's feelings on the matter were pretty conflicted. He alternately admired and respected Apolline for giving birth to Fleur and despised her for pulling him into such situations. Be that as it may, Harry had to go with Fleur to France two days from now.

He took a deep breath and calmed down. "Fleur, I'll come with you to France, but a bunch of pen pushers are not going to be the first people I reveal our relationship to."

"You are going to tell Tonks, right? I like the woman, bit she spends too much time flirting with you!"

Harry laughed at Fleur's pout. "Fleur, you have nothing to be jealous about. It's just harmless flirting. You must admit it has improved our conversations a lot, ma cherie." He waggled his eyebrows at her suggestively.

Fleur rewarded his attempts at French with a kiss that left Harry dazed. "I see you are hoping to make a good impression on my father."

"Hah! It's not like he can do anything about us now. It's you I am trying to impress. And yes, I'm going to tell Tonks and maybe Ron and Hermione too."

"Oh, then, I am suitably impressed. Just be sure that they can keep a secret."

x-x

Fleur left Harry's room after doing her best to put him into a pleasant coma. Their skills at evasion and throwing off the others' suspicion had improved considerably. Harry found the whole thing very exciting; the kind of exciting that didn't involve putting his life on the line and was enjoying sneaking around everyone. He supposed it was his father's traits coming out. After a few minutes, he left to find Remus.

Harry found him in the attic, which had been magically enlarged to house Buckbeak. Professor Dumbledore had even enchanted the ceiling like the Great Hall, to reflect the sky above. It had taken Buckbeak a few injuries to understand that he couldn't fly off into the sky.

Remus was deep in thought while feeding Buckbeak something out of a bloody cloth bag. Harry tried not to think about what was in it.

"Harry! I didn't expect anyone to find me here." Remus said without turning around.

"Your nose is as sharp as ever, Moony. But, how do you know that I didn't come up here to say hello to Buckbeak?"

"Fair point. So why are you here?"

"Well, I did come here to ask you a favour. Hermione's point-me spell is pure genius, I tell you!"

Remus was alarmed "Harry! How can you just use magic like that? You do remember that you are still underage?"

Harry shrugged. He knew he could perform magic anywhere without the Ministry bothering him but he couldn't tell Remus why, yet.

"It must be something to do with the wards on this house. I, er, accidentally found out that the Ministry can't detect underage magic here."

That was actually true. He had told Ron, Hermione and Ginny that they could perform magic here without being detected. All three of them had been delighted, though Harry knew Hermione was delighted for a whole other reason than the other two.

Remus sighed "Trust you to find a way to cause mischief! That fact is true of all wizarding homes, including the Burrow. It has nothing to do with wards. I take it back, you inherited James' character too, not just Lily's! You have no doubt informed your friends?"

"Naturally, Moony. I believe in sharing. But that's not why I'm here. Can you tell Tonks to drop by for dinner tomorrow? I have to tell her something important and it can't wait."

Remus, to his credit, didn't pry. He put on a mischievous grin "There is a way to tell her yourself. Molly would be furious with me, but I can trust you not to misuse it." He then drew his wand and went into Professor mode.

Harry hopped on his toes, his eyes huge. He was the picture of eagerness. "Ooooh! You must teach me, Professor!"

"What do I get in return? In case you forgot, I am no longer paid to teach you."

"Hmmm, tell you what, I can convince Sirius into not revealing your relationship to everyone in the most embarrassing way possible."

"I knew I shouldn't have told him about Tonks! But, wouldn't you have done that anyway?"

"No, I was actually planning on giving him a hand."

"Damn you, Potter! All right, you cheeky swot, I'll do it! Let me demonstrate."

Remus summoned his corporeal Patronus, which was unsurprisingly a wolf. He then leaned down and whispered into its ear. The wolf nodded at Remus and then prowled out directly through a wall.

"What did you just do?"

"I sent Padfoot a message telling him to join us up here."

"I just have to whisper to my Patronus?"

"No Harry, to do that requires a lot of improvement on your Patronus. For one, yours is still a stag. You first have to train linking your mind to it. With practice, you can summon a stag that can understand basic human instructions. Right now, the only thing your Patronus can do is drive away Dementors."

The lecture was interrupted by Sirius' arrival. "What's up, Moony?"

"We are going to teach Harry how to train his Patronus to send messages."

Sirius threw Harry a look of pride "I was wondering how long it'd take you to find out that you can use magic here. Ok then, anything Moony can do, I can do better! What did he tell you?"

"I have to improve my Patronus and link my mind to it."

At Sirius' instruction, Harry summoned his stag Patronus.

"The Patronus, Harry, is like a pet you have to train; only it's quite a bit easier, considering that it is a manifestation of your own will. You can teach it tricks, for lack of a better term, by focusing on what you want it to learn. First, try and will your Patronus to stay in existence. It usually vanishes after a couple of minutes if there are no Dementors around." Sirius actually sounded like a teacher.

After a few tries, Harry got the hang of it. It was somewhat similar to the way he resisted Fleur's thrall. He had to focus hard on what he wanted to happen. In this case, he wanted his stag to stick around.

"I got it! I don't know how to explain it, but it's not going anywhere. I just know."

Remus nodded. "Very good, Harry. As to why you 'just know', it is because, as Sirius rightly said, your Patronus is a manifestation of your will. It's not just happy feelings, Patroni take the form of animals because they are born to fight and then fade. Consequently, they also embody the caster's fighting spirit."

Throughout this, he was ignoring Sirius with supreme calm. The latter was sitting cross-legged on the ground and nodding his head with exaggerated mania and adoration. Harry had actually seen such expressions on some first years when Remus had taught at Hogwarts.

"Now, give your Patronus a message. You don't have to tell it who to go to; it knows your intent. Actual words, though, have to be expressed for it to remember and carry."

Harry had a wicked idea. He smirked at his Patronus, which ran through the wall without further ado.

He heard a cough and turned to look at Remus, who had a resigned look on his face "Perhaps I should have mentioned that your first Patronus' target should have been either Sirius or I."

"It must have slipped his mind. Ah well, no harm done, eh, Harry, my boy! Even great wizards are prone to make mistakes, rare though they may be." Sirius said in an impressive Dumbledore imitation.

"Harm, oh no, I wouldn't hurt a fly, Padfoot! It might ruffle a few feathers though." Harry replied with a secretive grin on his face.

"What were you going to tell Tonks, anyway?" Remus asked with the curiosity that comes with anything to do with a loved one.

Harry exchanged a quick glance with Sirius "Why do you care, Moony? It's not like she's your girlfriend or anything!"

Remus sighed in exasperation. Though he had a slight frown on his face that suggested he wasn't going to take this lying down from Harry.

Sirius ganged up on Remus before he could respond to Harry's veiled accusation. "Yeah, Moony, everyone knows that you and Tonks are just good friends. Isn't that what you told Tonks' parents when they were almost caught you and Tonks snogging in the kitchen right before an Order meeting?"

Sirius sniggered at Remus' slight blush. Whatever else happened, he would make sure that Remus never lived that one down.

Harry was a bit more sober in his approach. He knew how much that had bothered Tonks. "You have nothing to fear Remus. I can say that they are actually slightly worried that Tonks is still single. Even that is nothing compared to how Tonks feels about what you said. She was almost crying when she told me."

Sirius looked up in surprise. He had never seen Tonks even sniffle before. What's more, he was even more amazed that Harry had survived the experience. "I thought teenage guys were supposed to be uncomfortable when faced with crying women, or was it just me?"

Harry smiled sadly "Thankfully, I have been blessed with tact and wisdom. Not to mention I'm probably more mature than you, Sirius."

Truthfully, his mother had been crying rivers when she was talking to him. He'd learnt how to deal with it. Unlike Ron, who was under the impression that women cry to weaken men's resolve, Harry understood stuff like that better. Though, as he thought of Fleur, he admitted to himself that he could never claim to fully understand women.

"I am breaching her trust, Remus, but she actually told me she had hoped that her parents had caught you in the act itself so that she could have found out whether you would ever admit to the relationship."

Remus sat down shakily. "I truly didn't realise how much this is hurting her. I thought she was anxious to reveal the relationship so that I would realise for sure that she didn't care about my condition. As if I don't already know that!" He said in anger which Harry was sure was self-directed.

Sirius took over "You are a kind and selfless man, Moony. You can make anyone happy. I'm sure Tonks knows that you aren't intentionally hurting her. But Remus, you two are no longer a new couple! The novelty of secrecy has worn off for her and for you too, I'm sure. She just wants everyone to know that she's happily in love. Now she's scared that you don't feel the same way."

"Of course I do! How could you doubt that? I'm now, and always will be, scared that I might hurt her on some full moon, but if it wasn't for that, I'd happily marry her right now!" Remus said with absolute conviction.

"And I'm sure you two can live a happy married life even though everybody thinks you're just friends!" Sirius said, showing for the first time actual anger at his friend. Harry realised that he was being protective of Tonks, who was a member of his family. Remus flinched at his tone.

"Calm down Sirius. But, Moony, he's right. Just tell everyone about your relationship. I'm sure not one person will raise an objection based on your lycanthropy. Sure, they may say you're too old for her, but you know that Tonks will shoot them down faster than she did to you, and with much less romantic intent, too!" Harry said.

After they had all recovered from the argument that had been building up for a long time, Remus broke the awkward silence that had sprung up. "You've really matured, Harry. You are a much more sensible and mature than Sirius or I was at your age, especially towards your parents."

Sirius grinned in recollection "As I remember, we just gave James horrible advice so that we could laugh at him making a fool of himself in front of Lily. I was shocked that their relationship could withstand our friendly interference, but it became quickly clear to everyone that they were very much in love."

Remus said hesitantly "I'm glad that Tonks trusts you so much with her problems. Just like I need Sirius here to talk about issues regarding Tonks, she too needed someone who she can talk about me. You remind me of Lily, more and more!"

"Hey!" cried Harry indignantly "Don't sell my dad so short! If he heard you, he'd come down here and impale your furry ass on his antlers!"

All three of them had tears in their eyes as the laughed themselves hoarse imagining such a scenario. Harry continued after he had found his breath "Seriously though, it's not all one-sided. It's partly thanks to her that I'm able to smile when you talk of my mum instead of choking up in angst."

Sirius was surprised "I thought you'd have rather talked to Ron and Hermione, if you wanted to talk to anyone."

Harry got a dark, brooding look in his eyes that reminded Sirius of how his godson had looked after the tournament. "I would have, but there were some things that happened in that graveyard that had me believing that I had gone crazy, not least of all because I was so sure that escaping from there alive was impossible. I suspect the multiple Cruciatus curses helped the feeling along too."

Remus winced in sympathy while Sirius growled in anger. Harry just ploughed on "I was near death even before I started fighting Voldemort properly. I was in shock from Cedric's death, weak from loss of the blood that Wormtail took from me for the ritual, not to mention the broken leg from the Acromantula. Then I was nearly broken under Voldemort's Cruciatus. I now feel ashamed that I had sat back and watched when the fake Moody demonstrated the curse on a poor spider in his class."

From the looks on their faces, this was news to them. Remus laid a hand gently on Harry's shoulder "Its ok, Harry, you don't have to relive it for us. You've done enough, much more than anything that can be expected from a single person." Sirius indicated his agreement.

The Marauders were taken aback on seeing a strange smile on Harry's face. "But you know, if I had to relive that night all over again, I would do so without hesitation, for something happened that simply lets me shrug off everything else."

Harry then looked up and took a deep breath. Sirius and Remus instantly knew that this was something Harry hadn't told anyone else.

"I met my mum and dad that night!"

"James and Lily? Are you sure?" Sirius asked, with a look of longing on his face.

"Remember that I told you when my Disarming curse merged with Voldemort's Killing curse? Well, things didn't happen exactly as I said they did."

"What do you mean? Dumbledore checked your wand. There was an intense explosion of magical energy right after the Priori Incantatem effect, just like you had said." Remus commented, with a worried look on his face. "Even if James and Lily came out, they would have only been echoes."

"Yes, there was a Reverse Spell Effect, but it didn't work properly, nor did either of our curses. The effect didn't occur completely and the curses never merged." Harry explained. As he told Remus and Sirius exactly what happened, he let himself be immersed in the memory of that night. It had been a night of extremes, which caused him nightmares and made him daydream in equal measure. But no matter how he viewed that night, it always started from the exact same moment.

x-x

"And now - we duel."

As soon as Voldemort hissed those words, Harry threw himself out of what he knew was another Cruciatus curse. He was forced to put his weight on his bad leg. The pain was excruciating; Harry vaguely thought that if he survived the night, Madam Pomfrey would have to remove the entire leg and regrow it somehow to fix it.

Despite himself, Harry flinched as Voldemort trained his wand on him once again. Voldemort smiled; he looked genuinely happy, something Harry thought he should be incapable of.

"Already you understand the pain of the Cruciatus, Harry! You would rather try and escape on that mangled leg than face true pain once more. Isn't that right, little Gryffindor?"

Harry stared defiantly back at Voldemort. He was fully aware that his death was approaching very fast and he promised himself not to show any weakness before the inevitable.

"I can see it in your eyes, Harry. You wish to die bravely, like your father did. You wish to die before fear breaks out on your face. Lord Voldemort is generous. Though you have impeded me and my causes a number of times, futilely, I might add, I will grant you your final wish."

Harry tensed, preparing himself. Any defence would be meaningless. Even walking was nearly impossible at the moment, so dodging the curse might work once, but it may also invite Voldemort to humiliate him for the attempt.

Unbeknownst to himself, the moment Harry decided that he would stand and die with dignity rather than run, his face got such a confidant, serene look that for an instant, Voldemort doubted the path he was about to take. It was but for an instant; with steely resolve, Lord Voldemort cast the curse that would smother that tiny spark of weakness, even as Harry Potter bid one final time for victory.

"Avada Kedavra!"

"Expelliarmus!"

Harry knew something had gone wrong; the moment the two curses touched, the red light of his spell turned bright gold and rocketed into Voldemort's wand, which started screaming in a jumble of voices and was spitting out ghostly figures.

Harry didn't really focus on the faces of the ghosts; his attention was drawn inexorably to his own fate. His ears were filled with that awful rushing sound of approaching death; a bright green light was filling his vision. Weakly, he thought the curse might have deflected a bit. It was now headed for his head rather than his heart. Too little too late as it didn't really matter where the curse hit; his soul was everywhere.

When he came to, Harry found that he was lying on his back. He sat up gingerly, mindful of his injuries. Then he noticed that he wasn't in any pain and stood up quickly. He was in his Hogwarts robes, though they were clean and bore no sign of the night's events. He had a strange feeling that he had met Cedric, who wanted Harry to take his body back. He should've paid more attention to the ghosts, or whatever they were, decided Harry. Though, he was pretty sure he didn't imagine the request from Cedric's ghost.

Harry was all alone in a vast, seemingly infinite featureless place. He didn't know if he was blind or if the place was dark or if there was simply nothing to look at. The same could be said for his other senses too.

Deciding not to simply stand around, Harry tested his power of speech. "So this is what comes after death. Not too bad, though I'll be bored out of my mind soon." Harry spoke out loud. There were no echoes.

"You're not dead yet."

Harry had only heard that voice once before, in Dementor-induced nightmares. He turned towards the voice slowly, not daring to hope and be crushed.

For once, fate had smiled upon him, for looking back at him, exactly like they were in the Mirror of Erised, were his mum and dad. Even his mother's tears looked the same.

In a moment, Harry rushed over to them and threw his hands around their necks. He pushed his face between theirs so they wouldn't see him crying.

His father started stroking the back of his head. "It's all right, Harry. You don't have to hide your tears. I'll just console myself with the realization that you take after Lily."

His mother laughed and smacked his dad. They all ended up laughing uncontrollably till everyone ran out of breath. Harry grew quiet again as his friend's death hit him. Till now, he didn't really have the time to reflect on it. Lily noticed this and was quick to console him.

"Harry, it's wonderful to see you again, my baby. I know you must be feeling really guilty right now as you had coerced Cedric into taking the Triwizard Cup with you. I've watched you grow over the years, and you never tried to take anyone's choices away. You always tried to keep your friends safe but you never tried to forcibly prevent Ron or Hermione from following you into your adventures. You've always known that the choice to put one's life at risk is one's own. You tried your best to talk your friends into staying behind but you left the final choice to them."

"You must realise that Cedric too made his own choices tonight. It was his choice as much as yours to take the Cup with you. It was his choice to stay next to you instead of fleeing after sensing danger. You couldn't have done anything in that instant. I'm sure Cedric's echo told you this itself before you came here. You would have done your best had you had a chance. I don't want you to be guilty as this was not in your power to prevent. I want my son to learn from this and better himself."

(AN: You'd have read that part in the second chapter already but I included it for completeness.)

Harry reluctantly agreed. It was creepy how his mum somehow knew about his conversation with Cedric. He was definitely going to have major headaches if he survived the night. But whatever the circumstance, he was happy to see his parents. "How come you are here if I'm not dead? And how am I alive in the first place? Nobody died for me this time." Harry asked with an apologetic look at his mum.

Lily waved off his apology "You know I'd do that any number of times! Anyway, we don't know how we came to be here either. But someone did die in your place this time too."

"Something!" murmured his father angrily "Don't think of it like a person. No part of Voldemort is human anymore."

"Voldemort?" Harry exclaimed in surprise "Don't be absurd! Why would he die for me?"

Lily laughed out loud at this. "Oh, I don't think he wanted to. But it looks like there was a part of him attached to your body." Her eyes made that familiar flick that Harry had come to associate with meeting new people.

"My scar? It contained a bit of Voldemort? Well, it does make sense, now that I think about it. So I suppose I can't speak Parseltongue and I won't get splitting headaches whenever Voldemort is near me? Overall, it's a positive change. Oh, and here I was thinking it didn't matter where the curse hit me!" Harry finished with a chuckle.

"Magic works in strange ways, kiddo. I might be wrong, but I suspect the same thing would have happened no matter where the Killing Curse hit you." James chipped in.

"But I'm still confused. I learnt – I mean, I read up on the Unforgivables last year after the fake Moody showed them to us, and the book said the Unforgivables were intent based. Voldemort would never intend to kill himself, so the curse should have taken my soul, no matter that my body had a bit of his."

"You are aware that your wand is connected to Voldemort's, Harry." At Harry's nod, Lily continued "Brother wands usually don't work properly when forced to fight each other. There is a lot about magic that we don't understand. No one could've predicted that the wands would malfunction in this particular way, but it's certainly possible."

Harry was quietly contemplating what his mum had said. His voice became heavy with regret "So, do I have to go back?"

Lily's eyes immediately filled with tears. Harry had his answer as she hugged him like she never wanted to let go. Like Harry had earlier, she put her head over his shoulder to hide her tears. He felt an explosion of pleasure in his gut as he discovered a mannerism he shared with his mother.

Looking over at his father, Harry found him looking at them both with an expression of tenderness and deep satisfaction. The moment he noticed Harry looking at him, James changed his face into a huge grin "You can't stay here Harry and we don't want you to stay, not yet. But time passes strangely in-between. Your mother and I fully intend to use this chance to do a fat lot of parenting!"

Harry grinned back "As if you know anything beyond changing nappies!"

Lily joined in "If things had been normal, James and I probably would have hated that part of your childhood. And hey! My James would've learnt his responsibilities… eventually."

James cut in before his wife and son started to gang up on him "On to the fun stuff! Got any young ladies we should keep an eye out for?" This was said, of course, with a lot of leering and eyebrow waggling.

Harry sobered up at that "I dunno dad, maybe if I didn't have a Dark Lord intent upon murdering me, I might be interested in all that. Look at Cedric! He was killed for standing next to me at an inopportune moment! How can I put anyone in that kind of danger?"

James had something to say "Though I wouldn't mind if the Dursleys were caught in the cross-fire."

Lily sighed. James had always disliked her sister's family because of the way they'd treated her. Now, though, he had a much more personal reason to hate the Dursleys. "Harry, your father is right to be angry at your treatment under my sister's family. But I think that you can be the better man. Despite their best efforts, you've grown into a fine wizard. Please forgive my sister, Harry. Pity her for her jealousy. I wonder if I would have felt any different if Petunia had been a witch while I was the one who couldn't do any of the wonderful stuff that my sister could."

Harry thought about it. If he had been the Dursleys' actual son, how would Dudley have felt about Harry being a wizard? Maybe even now, Dudley felt it easy to inherit his parents' hatred of Harry because a small part of him was jealous of Harry's magical ability. He made his decision. "I understand your anger, dad. But I would rather not harbour bad feelings about my only living relatives. I'll tolerate them and try to protect them from the coming war."

Lily beamed at him. "Harry, though a part of me wishes that you had nothing to do with this war, your father and I are immensely proud of you putting your life on the line for your beliefs. With Voldemort back, you will soon be fighting for a better future of everyone, but your heart won't be in it if you have nothing and no-one to personally fight for."

"A lot of people, McGonagall and Flitwick included, thought Lily and I were being reckless having a baby in the middle of a war. But if we had put our lives on hold, it would've been a victory to those looking to disrupt our lives."

"Of course, we are not telling you to endanger an innocent girl. There will be someone mature enough to understand the full implications of associating with you and brave enough to stand by your side in spite of the danger, because she believes in your cause, in your dreams, in you!" By the end of her speech, Lily was gazing into James' eyes and the two of them were lost to their own world. In those few moments, Harry hoped he too could be as lucky one day.

"As to why we're telling you all this, we don't want to pressure you. But it will only be a matter of time before Voldemort's return is revealed to the world. You know that it was you Voldemort wanted to kill, when you were a year old. You will be in the centre of the war effort, where you frankly belong. So many people will be telling and teaching you so many things, like how to fight, how to plan, how to work in teams. But for all their well-meaning intentions, no one will care much about your personal life and happiness, as long as the war is being halted. No doubt many people will seek to control you."

James took up where Lily left off "As your parents, we want a happy life for you, one filled with love. Your future, in your head, shouldn't just end with the defeat of Voldemort. You've grown up, son. Too fast and too harshly, but it's true all the same. We want you to have a future beyond that monster's death. Hopefully, you will have a long life with lots of children and grandchildren before you have to join us for good."

Lily had a mischievous smile on her face, though it was a bit weak, knowing that their time together was drawing to a close "Oh, and when you do find that special someone, I have a bit of advice. Don't try to protect her and hide her away from the realities of your life. Strong women don't like to hide behind their wizards and being told to do so, even less. Your father learnt that the hard way."

Harry nodded, smiling through his tears as the world faded into nothingness once more.

x-x

A quiet cough brought Harry back to Grimmauld Place. Remus looked to be holding back tears with no little effort and Sirius didn't look much better. He hadn't told them exactly what he had discussed, partly because he wanted to treasure the memories a little longer, and partly because he didn't want these two badgering him about a girlfriend.

"We won't ask you what exactly you talked about, Harry. I am honoured that you trust us with even this much and rest assured, the information will not go any further." Remus said, looking as if he perfectly understood Harry's secretive behaviour.

Sirius, the more passionate one, was hoarse with emotion. "Did- Did they mention us?"

Harry hesitated for a tiny moment. Sirius might be hurt, but Harry preferred the truth to lies. "I'm sorry, Sirius. There wasn't much time. I was hanging in between life and death as long as I was in that place."

Remus distracted Sirius from his disappointment "So how did you actually escape, Harry?"

"The rest of it is pretty much the truth as I explained to Professor Dumbledore. Those echoes of Voldemort's killers were hovering around. They encouraged me, and Cedric requested that I return his body, but they all vanished before any of the Death Eaters woke. My parents' echoes weren't there; the murders had happened too long ago. I made them up because I couldn't refrain from mentioning them."

"So Voldemort never saw the echoes?"

"I'm not sure. Maybe they appeared before he lost consciousness. But I do know that he was knocked out completely. Most of his powerful and faithful Death Eaters, from what I could tell from their interactions, were also completely knocked out. That made my escape much easier."

Having nothing more to tell, Harry fell into a brooding silence. Thinking about that night brought back his insecurities about getting into a relationship. But he already made the choice not to put his life on hold, not for Voldemort.

Remus and Sirius watched in silence as Harry got up and left. It was obvious that he wanted to be alone in his thoughts. Besides, the two Marauders had been given plenty if things to think about, themselves.

x-x

Fleur Delacour was currently bored. One would think that being a few hundred feet from a live, breathing dragon would excite someone, but no, Fleur had gone through her fair share of dragons, although one could argue that even a single dragon was way too many to face alone.

Nevertheless, guarding the dragons in Gringotts was much less glamorous a job than she had thought it would be. The poor beasts were already shacked and starved. Being born and raised in these caves, they didn't even have an inclination to leave, beyond the occasional pining for the clear skies that they could sense above them.

As a result, Fleur spent most of her time thinking about her life in England and watching out for the goblins than actually looking after the dragons.

This hadn't been the job she was given at the start. The goblins were a proud race and very much disliked having to kowtow to wizards. As a result, they took whatever opportunities they had to favour non-human beings within Gringotts.

Being a quarter-Veela had landed her a job that was usually high up the ladder for wizards - curse-breaking. It's what she was interested in and had she been a pure witch, it'd have taken months, if not years, before she cleared the gauntlet of errand-running and got placed under an actual curse-breaker.

However, that turned out to be a curse rather than a blessing, for the person she was placed under was none other than one Bill Weasley. The goblins thought they were doing her a favour by placing her under a human she already had contact with, and Merlin forbid her offending their gesture of generosity this early in her career.

It had taken only a few days before she came to the decision that she could take his advances no longer. Bill Weasley was under the mistaken impression that she had joined the Order because of his persuasive talents, and was now trying to persuade her into other things.

True, she had not done anything to blatantly shoot him down, not wanting to hurt a friend of Harry's. She had briefly considered entering into an affair with him (Harry's and Tonks' frequent references to their office rumours were really annoying her) but her human side quickly took over. Her Harry was only joking, and she never forgot that his choice of a family was taken away, though Harry had almost convinced her that he didn't regret how things had started between them as long as she was happy now.

She had instead convinced the goblins of her fascination with dragons and in turn, due to her famous exploits at the Triwizard Tournament, they had obligingly given her the extremely prestigious job of guarding the dragons, which themselves guarded the most ancient and often, most valuable vaults. She had been initially pleased at the jealousy and even anger of the stuck-up pureblood fanatics within Gringotts, but by Aello, was she regretting it now!

She decided that the next time Bill Weasley made an advance at Order Headquarters, she would make it clear that she wasn't interested in him and maybe even hint at being committed. It was only fair and besides, it would be fun to subtly point him in Harry's direction and see if he noticed. Afterwards, she decided to get back into curse-breaking, hopefully without disappointing the goblins.

So engrossed was Fleur in her musings, that she did not notice the ethereal stag that was closing in on her from behind.

A few seconds later, a startled scream that was somehow pleasing to human ears brought a horde of goblins to Fleur's cave, none of whom were pleased in the slightest. After assuring them that she was all right and the dragons were in no danger of escaping and most importantly, that there was no threat to Gringotts' security, the goblins left to their former stations. Fleur was sure that the disgruntled murmurings and dirty looks were reduced by two-thirds thanks to her non-human status.

Unfortunately for one Harry Potter, she had seen the stag Patronus a second before it vanished.

x-x

That evening, Harry Potter was so deep in thought that he was barely paying attention to Mrs Weasley's excellent dinner. He and Fleur had decided to tell Tonks first about their relationship and based on her reaction tell Hermione, Ron and Ginny. Harry had privately decided not to tell everyone till Remus told someone about him and Tonks, even if Apolline visited before that.

There hadn't been an Order meeting today, so the kitchen table was currently occupied by the people who Harry considered his family, namely the Weasleys, (excluding Charlie, who was in Romania. Harry didn't really consider Percy a Weasley after what he did), Sirius, Remus, Tonks and of course, Fleur.

Harry, feeling strategic, sat between Fleur and Tonks, who themselves were flanked by Sirius and Remus. Hopefully, this would prevent eavesdropping from those nearby. Also, he trusted Sirius and Remus to keep whatever they heard to themselves, if at all they heard anything.

Seated across from them were Ginny, Hermione, Ron and Bill, each of whom was interested in Harry's interactions, albeit for different reasons.

Once the main course had been sufficiently demolished and people started having small conversations, Harry whispered to Tonks "Hey Tonksie. I have a girlfriend."

Tonks almost coughed up the salad in surprise. Though Harry found out it was surprise at the sudden whispering, as she asked "Is it Fleur?"

"Damn, we were trying to keep it a secret."

"Heh, don't worry. How long has this been going on?"

"Since the second of August."

"Oh, Harry! I was there that day, that's why I suspected… Is it, you know, official?"

Harry gulped. He honestly hadn't intended to reveal the full nature of his relationship to anyone so soon. Well, it's Tonks, he thought. She definitely can keep a secret. "You and your Auror mind! Yes, it's official."

On his other side, Fleur tensed a bit at this. Harry soothed her by taking her hand. He silently conveyed his trust in Tonks to her.

Tonks hissed "Am I correct in thinking you're only telling me because her mother will be coming by soon?"

Harry flinched. "Not exactly, no. We just wanted to keep it a secret and sneak around for a bit. But yeah, I'd have probably waited a bit longer if it weren't for that. I have nothing against you, Tonksie. We want to enjoy ourselves in peace for as long as possible. You'd still be the first person I told."

Tonks chuckled "Still haven't gotten out of the new couple phase eh?"

"You have no idea! My Fleur's a little hard to get used to!" Fleur intertwined her fingers in his to indicate her approval. Harry smiled and continued "So, have you gotten tired of the old fur-ball yet?" Needless to say, he was very peeved at Remus' cowardly attitude.

Tonks grumbled "Oh, I know he loves me, but by Merlin I'm going to hex him into a rug if he doesn't shape up soon."

"And Sirius and I will cheerfully help. Still, have you shared your suspicions with him?"

"No, I'm too pissed at him to share my spicy suspicions. Besides, most of them here are suspecting something between you and I, so you're pretty safe, lover boy!"

"I think I'm gonna tell Ron, Hermione and Ginny later."

"Make sure you name the girl, or they'll think it's me! I don't wanna get on Ginny's bad side!"

"Just for that, I'm gonna tell them it's you! But seriously, does everyone think we've got something going on?"

As if in answer to that, Bill spoke up "Hey Harry! You and Tonks seem pretty cosy there! Something going on that we ought to know about?"

Harry sighed. He knew the real reason Bill was trying to insinuate something between himself and Tonks. Granted, he didn't blame the guy. Fleur would be a great catch and Harry was pretty sure Fleur hadn't openly rejected him, but the guy couldn't take a hint. Fleur had even changed departments in Gringotts, for Merlin's sake! But he wasn't feeling too charitable towards Bill either. Just before he could reply with a snappy retort, Tonks interjected. "So what if there is, Bill? Any particular reason why you are so curious?" She put an arm around Harry's shoulders for emphasis.

Harry inwardly groaned. He knew that the true target of Tonks' attack was sitting on her other side. However, Remus knew perfectly well that there was nothing to worry about. Harry was sure Remus also knew what exactly Tonks expected from him and hoped that Remus would come to his senses, and quickly.

Bill was annoyed at being shouted at for no apparent reason. "Oh, I don't know, aren't you a little too old for him?"

Unknowingly, he had hit a sore spot. Normally, Tonks would've flown off the handle at that, but she was feeling so distraught at Remus that she started trembling, close to tears.

Harry immediately tried to console her. She'd definitely not want anyone present to see her tears. It would forever ruin her hard-knuckle image. He glared at Remus, but he could see that the age comment was shaking Remus' confidence too. "Tonks, please, it's all right. Bill doesn't know what he's saying." He couldn't help his glare at Bill as he said this.

Sirius was feeling irrationally angry. This was the second time, as far as he knew, that his best friend had made Tonks cry. Still, he couldn't betray Remus' confidence, so he contended himself by glaring at the opposite wall. "Still, at least Harry's doing the right thing by consoling her. I think he's great boyfriend material, unlike some people!"

Bill was very confused, thinking Sirius was angry with him and not understanding why. Mrs Weasley looked like she wanted to interrupt, but didn't know if she should. She too didn't know who was in the wrong here and decided not to impose. The rest of the Weasleys and Hermione looked shocked by the happenings and felt like this was something out of their league.

Harry casually removed Tonks' hand from his shoulders before everyone decided to believe Bill. Also, Fleur didn't know about Remus and Tonks and though Harry felt that she was more upset for Tonks than angry at Harry, he didn't want to hurt her by mistake. This night was turning into a total disaster.

"Sirius, shut up! Bill, I think you, and it seems everyone else, have the wrong idea. There's nothing going on between Tonks and I. She's just upset about something else and snapped at you because of that. Please don't take it personally."

As he said this, Harry squeezed Fleur's hand. When she looked down, Harry gestured her to get Tonks out of the kitchen.

Fleur understood and stood up. "I'll just escort Tonks to her room, shall I?" She gently helped Tonks out of her seat. As they moved towards the door, Fleur said loudly "Cheer up, Tonks! I'll tell you all about mon nouveau petit ami!" Tonks giggled half-heartedly, indicating she understood.

The moment they left, the kitchen was filled with an uneasy silence. Sirius got up and exclaimed angrily "Right, I think I'd better leave before I punch somebody's lights out."

Remus still hadn't said a word. Perhaps he felt he'd lost his chance with Tonks. Harry didn't know if that was true or not, nor did he know if he wanted it to be. He decided to give Remus one last chance and play peacemaker. He wanted to bring Remus to his senses, but Remus didn't look like he was getting out of that seat any time soon. The others too were frozen in their seats. They didn't want to draw attention to themselves by getting up. The situation was that awkward.

"Sirius, just give her some time. I'm sure she'd come around eventually."

Sirius glared at Harry before he realised that Harry was talking about Remus. "I'm tired at waiting around for her and obviously, I'm not the only one. Maybe she should quit before things get serious if she can't even deal with this."

That wasn't going to help Remus at all. "Maybe, but don't you trust her? You know her better than I do, and even I know that she just needs time. She didn't intend for this to happen. Not everyone's like you, Sirius. Hell, if it was me, I'd come around at my own sweet time, regardless of what anyone thinks. We all have our own pace of doing things."

"That's not the same, Harry! She's causing problems and she knows it! Delaying things now is just selfish if she truly doesn't want to lose what she has! I'm sure she realises that, so why isn't she doing anything?"

"Whatever, just don't interfere. I've decided not to, myself. She's a grown woman." Here, Harry had to stifle sniggers at referring to Remus as a grown woman. Even Sirius twitched for a second. "She can make her own decisions. Whatever happens, be there for her. I'll take care of things on my end if she's too late."

Sirius sat back down heavily, as though making the decision not to interfere had exhausted him. He grinned lazily at Harry "Well, dear godson, whatever else, you'd make a damn good Order member! You've got the speaking in code part down pat!"

Finally, someone else, namely Ron, broke the silence "Yup! I have no idea what you two were talking about." The twins, Hermione and Bill nodded in agreement.

Ginny was curious "Were you even talking about Tonks?"

Harry grinned at her "That is for me to know, and you to never find out!"

Hermione was after something else "Doesn't mon nouveau petit ami mean my new boyfriend?"

"Yes." Surprisingly, it was Remus who responded. Harry and Sirius looked at him sharply, but nobody was looking at them. "Yes, it does." He then got up and left without another word.

Mr Weasley broke the second stunned silence "Remus and Fleur?" He looked extremely surprised. Harry had to hold in his laughter at the look on Bill's face. He then made the mistake of looking at Sirius, who looked at him for a second in return. They both burst out laughing.

It took a minute for them to settle down. Sirius was wiping tears from his eyes. "Na, I think old Moony was just tired. But I think he'd love to hear your speculations, Arthur!"

Harry was still chuckling "Besides, he couldn't handle Fleur."

"Oh? Why not? He can resist her allure better than most people." That was Bill, probing for information.

"Resisting her allure isn't everything, my young friend. She is three-quarters human, in case you forgot." Sirius was always happy to provide advice pertaining to witches.

Harry couldn't resist adding his bit. Why not see how far Bill goes? Fleur can handle herself. "I don't think it'd matter even if she were all-Veela. Everyone, even Veela, have different tastes. Remus is quiet and down to earth. He is a nice guy. Fleur doesn't like nice guys."

"How would you know that, Harry dear?" Mrs Weasley had the 'gossip gleam' in her eye. It looked like tonight was for pure family ribbing, since even she wasn't her stern self.

"Yes, perhaps you are her, ah, nouveau petit ami?" Fred asked with the usual evil smile on his face.

Harry just smirked "Be careful what you wish for, Fred."

George added "Yes, Freddy mine, between her admirers and his fan club, they'd break quite a few hearts if that were true."

"You still didn't tell us how you knew, Harry." Ginny said. There was only the slightest of tense undercurrents in her tone.

"As for that, you'd have to ask your neighbours, my best couple-" Ron and Hermione blushed "I mean my best pair of friends, Ron and Hermione!"

All eyes turned to the fidgeting couple "Well, Ron and I happened to be listening when Harry and Fleur were discussing their tastes."

"Listening at the door, you mean." However, Harry was smiling to show he wasn't angry at that.

Emboldened by his tone, Hermione addressed him "Speaking of which, you two found out and blocked us out before your tastes came up in conversation, Harry. Besides Cho Chang, that is."

Fred whistled at that. George added "Good taste, Harry. Good taste."

Harry bowed. "It was just a crush that passed. I asked her out for the Yule Ball, she told me she was going with Cedric, end of story."

Ron sniggered "It did not just end like that! You were pining for weeks like a puppy!"

Harry raised an eyebrow. The timing was perfect; Fleur had just come back and sat next to Harry. "Oh? Remember who you first asked to the Yule Ball, best friend of mine?"

Ginny roared with laughter as Ron turned bright pink in embarrassment. Harry joined in moments later.

The twins couldn't contain it any longer "Come on guys, tell us! Harry, get back at him for his Cho Chang jab!"

Harry stopped laughing as he held up a hand. "Ginny, drum roll please!" Ginny obliged. Harry spoke up, imitating a magician who he'd once seen on TV when the Dursleys were out "Ladies and Gentlemen! The One! The Only…" He turned to the left "Fleur! Delacour!"

Everyone exploded in uproarious laughter. Even Mr and Mrs Weasley were laughing at the turning of the tables.

Fleur understood what was going on. "Well, what can I say; poor Ronald wasn't used to Veela allure. I didn't know you then and I do get pretty unpleasant when that happens. Don't take it personally."

Ron nodded, having sunk low in his chair. He then looked up with an apologetic grin at Fleur, who just smiled reassuringly.

Sirius was still chuckling "Man, that was funny. So, Harry my boy, before we got side-tracked by Fleur, we were discussing your taste in witches, weren't we?"

Harry groaned. Sirius wasn't going to let him off tonight. Harry updated Fleur "We were just talking about our conversation that my two best friends, ah, listened to the day I arrived here."

"Oui! 'Arry's tastes in witches? We didn't actually talk about it that day, but I did discover them."

Bill intervened. "So, what did Harry say? Was it something about heart-shaped faces and bright hair colours?"

Fleur glanced at Harry. It was clear to Harry that she was tired of Bill's subtle hints. He nodded, eager to see whatever scheme his girlfriend had in mind. To the others, it looked like she was asking for permission.

First off, she had to rest everyone's doubts about Tonks. "Since 'Arry has given his permission, I will reveal what he told me. He considers Tonks like a sister to him. An elder sister who he can approach for advice on anything in life, from career to, of course, witches." She finished with a grin.

Everyone quieted down at that, feeling guilty for assuming things between Harry and Tonks. Fleur smiled at them all "You all don't have to feel so bad. Harry and Tonks do enjoy making up silly rumours about their relationship, so he is totally at fault for your thoughts."

Sirius gave Harry a friendly thumping at that, saying "So, that silly stuff has finally come back to bite you!"

Mrs Weasley looked worried "Speaking of Tonks, why don't you go fetch her, Harry? She could use some cheering up."

Harry was about to give some excuse, knowing that Remus was with her right now, but Sirius intervened. "Na, Remus probably looked in on her after he left. That old fur-ball can definitely cheer her up."

Thankfully, no one except Harry and Fleur understood the complete meaning of Sirius' statement. Harry supposed that Tonks had told Fleur about her relationship in exchange for Harry telling her about his.

Bill wasn't ready to give up yet "If you don't mind me asking, Harry, can you tell us how you and Tonks became so close? I wager that she's even closer to you than Ron and Hermione and you met her just this summer."

Ron and Hermione were most interested and for them, he couldn't refuse to answer. "Well, Ron, Hermione and I have been through some life-changing stuff, but I was pretty much out of it after the events. So I didn't really talk to them about what had happened and then I usually returned to the Dursleys, so by the time I saw them next, I had worked through most of the emotional ramifications by myself. Letters just aren't enough to talk about that kind of stuff." The last bit he added in response to Hermione's heated look. She had all but begged Harry to talk about his issues, after all.

"Then, by a stroke of luck, I met Tonks over the summer, an Auror close to my age who had been through the experience of losing a friend. In a few words, she helped me through my problems. We talked a lot about our lives, and got close. That's it. If I say any more I'd be breaking her confidence."

Ron replied "We understand, mate. Hermione and I did feel a little jealous at first, but we're glad you had someone to talk to. You two do make a good pair of pranksters. Fred and George have found serious competition."

Ginny ignored the twin shouts of "Hey!" and said "Remember how you convinced me that you fancied Tonks? That's what started all the rumours within the Order. I think even Professor Dumbledore suspects something between you two."

Harry grinned "Well then, I would consider that venture a success then. What can I say? After I join the Auror Office, Tonks wants some office rumours involving the great, mighty, handsome Boy-Who-Lived, yours truly, and I am happy to oblige. It'll take everyone's minds off the boring paperwork at least."

Speaking of pranks, Hermione decided to get back at him for that letter prank "Oh I don't know, Harry, I'm still not convinced. After all, you and Tonks have a lot of secrets."

Fleur nudged Harry. He looked down for a moment and Fleur wrote 'second of August' on his palm. He gave a slight nod. "Oh you don't know that half of it! Did you know that Tonks and I secretly went to Diagon Alley one day? It was so much fun!" Harry said, inducing gasps from his fellow Hogwarts students.

Fleur added "Don't take complete credit for that, 'Arry! I was a part of that prank."

Everyone gasped "This is sounding more like a conspiracy!" Sirius said, in a mock-serious tone.

Mr Weasley asked, slightly worried at the level of clandestine activity "When exactly was this?"

Fleur took Harry's hand under the table. Whatever she had planned, it was coming up, Harry realised. "Oh, 'Arry's deviousness stretches far back. It was a result of this prank that I even joined the Order."

Bill was astonished at that "What? But the only time you were here before you joined the Order was in the second of August, when you came to apply for a job at Gringotts. I talked to you that day and I definitely didn't see Harry or Tonks."

Ginny gasped in realisation "My birthday gift! Harry, you used the Dastardly Disguise Devices, didn't you?"

Mrs Weasley sighed "That's one of Fred and George's products, if I'm not mistaken."

Fred grinned. He still found it odd talking about WWW in front of his mother. "An experimental product made from our baby sister's ideas, so she got the first working product. She didn't keep it, apparently."

Harry smiled. The Dastardly Disguise Devices, namely the comb and contact lenses, were currently in his pocket. Thinking about the look he had on that day, Harry tapped them with his wand.

Everyone gasped again as Harry changed to someone who looked like Fleur's relatives. Bill groaned "Those two 'relatives' of Fleur's that were waiting for them at the Floo Reception Hall! That was you and Tonks? How did you know she'd be coming that day?"

Harry grinned and dropped the disguise. Fleur had a predatory smile as she looked at Bill "Pranksters never reveals their tricks. I am sorry, Bill, but it was the meeting with Harry that convinced me to join the Order, not my meeting with you, as you have mistakenly assumed."

Bill dropped his head in defeat. Harry was sure he wouldn't pursue Fleur any further. Fleur's plans do pack a punch, he decided.

Fleur continued "Of course, it was with 'Arry's consent that I even took on the job at Gringotts."

This doesn't sound good, thought Harry. Apparently, Bill had the same thought. "What does that mean?" He inquired.

Hermione theorised "It means the Fleur took the job after Harry convinced her to join the Order, right?"

"Oui. I took that job just for 'Arry. Why, just today, I was shouted at by a horde of goblins for scaring the dragons I was guarding."

"What happened?" asked Bill in true concern, even had Harry felt a sense of impending doom.

"Oh, some idiot sneaked up on me and made me scream and upset the dragons. Thankfully, nothing else happened."

"Did you find out who it was?" asked Mr Weasley.

Fleur removed her hand from his and casually put an arm over his shoulder. "Oui. It was a stag Patronus."

Harry winced as Fleur's smile grew to dangerous levels. "In return, it is only fair that I reveal 'Arry's secret taste in witches, isn't it, mon cher?" She asked him, with a wicked grin. He knew what was coming, but he didn't object. He simply decided that it was time. He smiled ruefully.

Fleur turned to face the audience, who were fidgeting in anticipation. "I know 'Arry's taste in witches every time I bite my tongue." And before anyone but Hermione could work out what she meant, Fleur dove for Harry's lips.

To Harry, it seemed like an eternity before she withdrew. An eternity lost in the heat of passion. Fleur had told him once that it was the Veela who coined the term and gave it true meaning and in that instant, Harry believed her completely.

Fleur leaned in as though she was going to kiss him again, ignoring the gasps, shouts, catcalls and wolf-whistles. She whispered, her breath warming his tingling lips, "Bonne chance, mon amour!" before gliding gracefully out of the kitchen.

x-x

AN: Ah, the world-famous evil plot device, the cliff hanger. This chapter came out to be so long that I pushed Apolline's arrival to the next one. Hopefully, I intend to finish the summer by the next chapter. But, if I don't, enjoy the story anyway. :P

Translations: I picked them off from Google, and being slightly paranoid, I looked up grammar, gender sense and word usage. I said SLIGHTLY paranoid! That's IT! Seriously, every English word has multiple French translations. So, if I made any mistakes, please do point them out and I'll correct them ASAP.

ma cherie – my darling / my sweetheart

mon nouveau petit ami – my new boyfriend

nouveau petit ami – new boyfriend (pretty obvious :P)

Oui – Yes

mon cher – my dear

Bonne chance, mon amour! – Good luck, my love