Welcome to the War
"Papa's not home!"
A four-year-old Fleur Ysabelle stood before an ornate fireplace and stomped her foot as she glared at her mother. Behind the little girl, a hand-carved clock, old and spell-dependent to keep proper time, sat on the mantel ticking away the seconds. Against it rested the girl's favorite picture of Papa chasing her around the room. Whenever he caught her, he'd toss her high into the air as she squealed with delight. Then, he would ease her down, and the chase began all over again.
Fleur folded her arms together and huffed. "Maman, where is he?"
Her mother laid the paperback book she'd been reading on the coffee table. "Patience, I'm sure he didn't forget."
"But the big hand is passed the twelve! And he promised!"
The corner of Maman's lips twitched. "Your Papa has a very important job that makes him late sometimes. I'm sure he'll be here soon enough . . . And don't cross your arms like that, or you'll wrinkle your dress."
The little girl's face twisted in horror. She had been so careful! Fleur raced across the room to a three-pane mirror hanging on a paneled wall.
Maman was right! She tried flattening the dress, but each attempt made it worse. Fleur stomped her foot again, and tears welled in frustration until Maman knelt next to her.
"I've often tried stomping my foot when I was mad at Papa, but it never helped." She winked, then passed her wand over the dress to remove the creases.
Fleur traced a finger along her mother's high cheekbones as the older Veela worked and wondered why Papa always kissed her there before he left home.
"Finished." Maman put away her wand. "Now, be careful so you don't do it again, okay?"
In the mirror, Fleur inspected her mother's handiwork and noticed the little pink flower stitched below her neckline. "I hope Papa likes it."
Later that evening, a familiar green light brightened their fireplace. Fleur jumped off the couch and raced to the green flames, but stopped short. A stranger stepped out of the floo, towering above her. He met her gaze with sad, deep-set eyes under pepper hair.
Fleur's heart clutched in fear as he turned towards her mother.
"Madame Ysabelle," his solemn tone resonated, "I have terrible news. This afternoon, Death Eaters attacked the Ministry. Your husband saved many lives, but . . ."
"No!" Maman gasped.
Fleur's chest squeezed in fear. "Where's Papa? I want to see my Papa!"
Slowly, the man shook his head, aging as he opened his mouth. "Your husband lost his life protecting the Veela dignitaries."
Fear became loss, weighted in lead, and it bottomed in Fleur's stomach. "He promised. Papa said we would go—"
"I'm sorry," answered the Ministry Worker. Years of heavy burden now bent his back, and his voice cracked with newfound age. "So very sorry."
Fleur ran into her sobbing mother's arms. "Papa can't be gone! He promised to come home tonight!" she protested, but the reality of his death was too real. Never again would she see him, or get to show him her new, pink-flowered dress, or watch him cheer her on as she faced a dragon in the Tri-Wizard tournament . . .
Wait, a dragon?
Seventeen-year-old Fleur Isabelle Delacour shot into the night air. Her bedsheets cinched against her chest, yanking her back to the mattress with a thump. She pulled at them to free herself, but lost her grip and backhanded something on her nightstand, knocking it to the floor.
She rubbed her now-throbbing hand and unraveled the sheets, then found her wand and lit her room's lamps. On the floor, a downed glass leaked the remnants of a healing potion. Not that she needed it; Viktor's Cruciatus Curse lacked any long-term effects, although it was spectacularly painful when she suffered under it. Next to the glass, a clock read half-past eleven.
A few sweeps of her wand cleared the spill. Fleur dropped the wand on the nightstand and settled in bed again, pulling her sheets up under her chin. Her heart continued to race from the haunted dreams, but at least they were better than her frequent nightmares. In those, wizards in silver masks and black robes forced her to watch as they circled in on Papa, killing him slowly, painfully.
Fleur decided to ignore those thoughts and instead, focused on the evening's earlier events: Viktor had cast the Cruciatus Curse on her, himself under a professor's—a fake professor's, she corrected herself, Imperius Curse, which had cleared the way for Harry Potter to take the cup.
She closed her eyes. When Harry had returned, he was broken, bleeding, with the cup dangling from one hand and Cedric dead in the other.
Rumors about what happened earlier that evening were rampant; what outlandish, ignorant tales they were, too. One had Harry killing Cedric to win the tournament. Another had tonight's task ending with a duel to the death. A third—this one whispered the most among Beauxbatons students—proposed Hogwarts had faked Cedric's death for publicity.
Mon Dieu, were people ever stupid!
At least she had caught snippets from Dumbledore. Death Eaters, she heard him say. If he were right, if those black-robed nightmares were back . . .
Fleur's skin prickled. Her entire life, she had dreamed of making them pay for her Papa's death. There would be no guarantee she would live, nor would it necessarily be worth suffering through even if she did; but . . . But, what if it was? What if it stopped her nightmares?
She tried unsuccessfully to fall asleep again but gave it up for a loss in the middle of the night. Fleur needed answers. Well, one answer. Were they back? Really, truly, back? None of the professors wanted to talk about it, particularly at this hour. So, she was stuck, unless . . .
Hogwarts's nurse had kept him in the hospital wing until tomorrow morning. If she could see him, he might tell her!
Cold night air swept away any remaining vestiges of sleep as Fleur hurried to the castle. She made her way through its dark corridors before pausing at the thick, wooden doors of the hospital wing. After a moment to gather her courage, she pushed them open and stepped forward . . .
Straight into a raging battle.
"Everte Statum!" a young wizard bellowed.
Orange hues glowed in the air as his spell leaped from Fleur's left to right before shadowed movement produced a blossoming shield. The spell deflected up, cracking half a dozen ceiling tiles.
In reply, a wand flashed, and a wispy, purple-colored curse ripped back left, slamming into flesh with a sickening thud.
And then, the wand moved again. "Avada—"
Fleur needed to hear nothing else. With a sharp stab and flick, a potion-laden table shot into the Killing Curse's path. The collision momentarily lit the room in green. Fleur watched as splinters, glass shards, and liquids peppered the far side of the hospital wing as the wizard cried out in pain.
In the fading glow, Fleur noticed a witch crouched behind a weakened Protego Shield, protecting a third person lying in a hospital bed.
And then, a voice inside Fleur's head screamed, "Duck!"
She dropped, then swallowed against the rising nausea from crushing her breasts against the rough stone floor as a curse streaked overhead, splitting the door with an ear-piercing, Crack!
Two spells streaked from the far end and parted the air where the shadow stood a split-second earlier, ripping into a wall. A three-foot section of stone shattered, launching projectiles in several directions amid Blue flames that rained on overturned mattresses, upended tables, and sprawled supplies.
Holy hell! Fleur rolled behind the closest bed. She had never seen bluebell flames used offensively before, and whoever that wizard was, his Reducto had little finesse, but the sheer power was impressive.
The outline of a wizard rose amid the Bluebell-flame twilight, his wand level, but before he could get off a curse, Fleur snapped off a minor Exploding Spell, hitting the wizard's femur and splintering it.
He howled in pain, but kept his feet until a second curse zipped from Fleur's left, striking him in the chest. The power behind the spell sent him sprawling through the air to the stone floor. The back of his head bounced off the ground with a resounding wet slap.
In the suddenly quiet room, the heels of the wizard's boots beat a staccato rhythm until they, too, fell silent.
"Are you okay?" asked a shaky, female voice.
"I . . . Did I kill him?"
"I think so," the witch said. "But you saved our lives."
"Is Harry okay?"
"He's still asleep. Those potions Madame Pomfrey gave him must be powerful. Did you see who helped us?"
"Not really," the wizard answered.
Fleur took that as her cue and gathered a trembling breath to announce herself, but the stench of newly released bowels from the dead body caused her to gag.
The wizard approached, arm extended and wand pointed at her face. "What are you doing here?"
"I came to speak with 'Arry," she answered through robes pulled up over her nose.
The outline of young wizard's features hardened in the faint moonlight. "No." He gestured towards the door. "Get out."
Caught by surprise at his sudden hostility, she froze.
Strong hands yanked Fleur toward the entrance and shoved her from the hospital wing. Her toe caught the broken door, and she tumbled into the hallway.
How dare he!
Fleur rolled over and glared, but the bloodied face and torn robes of a fourth year caught her short. So, with a concerted effort, she swallowed her anger.
"You're 'Arry's friend, no? You helped him pull my little sister from zhe lake."
He didn't answer, so she lifted her chin toward the hospital wing. "What 'appened in there?"
"What do you think? Durmstrang's headmaster tried to kill Harry."
"Professor Karkaroff? Are you sure?"
"Bloody right, I'm sure. Madame Pomfrey recognized him right before he hit her with a curse."
Something about Karkaroff tickled the recesses of her mind, but she couldn't place it before a flash of flame in the middle of the hall caught her attention. She rose to meet the new threat, side-by-side with the young wizard, whose wand was already pointing down the hall.
The light dissipated, leaving a resplendent-robed Dumbledore standing before her, his own wand leveled and ready.
A moment passed before he spoke. "I must confess. This was not the welcoming party I expected."
Fleur glanced at the boy. "Me neither."
Dumbledore lowered his wand. "Where's Professor Karkaroff?"
"In there," Harry's friend answered. "Dead."
A white brow rose. The headmaster stepped passed them into the hospital wing. Sorry tinged his face when he returned. "Mister Weasley, I assume Harry has you to thank for his protection?"
"And Hermione." Then, after a long pause, he gestured to Fleur. "I guess she helped, too."
The headmaster turned to her. "It is rather late to be in the castle; may I ask what brought you here?"
"I needed to speak with 'Arry about . . . earlier."
"I see." Dumbledore stroked his beard, then shifted his gaze back to the boy. "No harm shall befall Harry if we allow Miss Delacour a visit. Please inform your fellow Gryffindor that Miss Delacour desires a peck of time alone with our young friend."
The boy hesitated. "He, he was sleeping—"
"And now he is awake," Dumbledore interrupted. "It will be okay."
"But . . . How do you . . . ?"
Although muted by the night's bedevilment, a soft twinkle sprung to life in Dumbledore's eyes. "I am the headmaster; it is my responsibility to bemuse students with such conundrums, even in moments that need—but lack—a certain levity."
Harry's friend took a deep breath and turned to enter the hospital wing, but he stopped and glanced back over his shoulder. "Do you know what happened to Madame Pomfrey?"
"She activated the tournament's Emergency Medical Portkey, taking her straightaway to St. Mungo's. A most fortuitous circumstance on an otherwise bad night." The headmaster's gaze again settled on Fleur. "A most fortuitous circumstance, indeed. Now, Mister Weasley, hurry and retrieve Miss Granger, if you will."
The wizard gave Fleur a last glare before obeying his headmaster.
"Young Ronald Weasley seems to have taken a liking to you." Dumbledore turned to face the door. "Help me fix this, would you?"
Fleur raised her wand, silently swearing at her shaking hand.
"It will soon pass, unfortunately." Dumbledore gestured to the same shaking hand. "You're suffering the curse of the innocent for inflicting justice upon the wicked."
She took a deep breath, then together, they cast a charm and watched the door repair itself. Dumbledore's second charm caused the handle to jump from the floor, and with a quiet squeak, slid back into place.
"There, now you'll have a touch more privacy, though I shall ask you to keep it short. And, if I may impose, I would like to request your presence in my office once you complete your visit with Harry."
"Yes, 'Eadmaster." A nervous pang developed in her stomach as she remembered his responsibilities in the Wizengamot—Magical Brittan's judicial body. "Am, am I in trouble?"
"No," he promised. "Madame Maxime is most welcome if you feel it necessary, but no punishment exists for saving a life."
The pang receded, thankfully. "I will go as soon as I'm done."
"Splendid. The password is Candy Corn . . . a delightful Muggle treat."
A bushy-haired girl pushed open the repaired door, and it took a moment before Fleur recognized Krum's Yule Ball date. The young wizard followed, and they both stopped before Dumbledore's appraising gaze.
"It seems your actions again reflect remarkably well on yourselves, and your house." He stepped aside and gestured down the hall. "I believe I will escort you to your common room and allow myself to be regaled by your account of tonight's events."
Harry's friends followed Dumbledore, but as the young wizard named Ron passed, Fleur noted a blank stare had replaced his earlier anger. She pushed it to the back of her mind and entered the hospital wing where bloodshot eyes set in a mass of bruised flesh greeted her at the far end.
"'Arry? I don't want to bother you, but . . ."
Air escaped from Harry's lips. "You want to know what happened."
Harry closed his eyes and said nothing else.
Fleur waited and waited, but it seemed he had fallen asleep again. And as much as she wanted her answers, Harry needed to rest that much more. So, she turned to leave. But as she stepped away from the bed, his voice sounded just above the silence.
"Why do you need to know?"
She turned to find him grimacing, as if it hurt to utter even those few words. "So much 'as 'appened. Someone put Victor under zhe Imperius Curse, then you and Cedric disappeared, then Durmstrang's 'eadmaster attacked you . . . I don't understand what is going on."
Another silence followed before he answered. "Cedric and I finished together and decided to share the victory. But, as soon as we touched the cup . . . We landed in a graveyard. And then he killed Cedric."
Harry's chest rose and fell three times before he answered. "The same Death Eater who betrayed my parents."
"Death Eaters . . ." She searched for a liar's telltale: eyes breaking contact, hands fluttering towards the face or digging into a blood-encrusted ear; but in the timid moonlight and few lit candles, none existed. "I will let you rest."
She stepped away, then stopped and reached back for a mass of bloodied flesh that resembled an arm, and waited until he focused on her again.
"I was wrong."
Confusion—or pain—lined his face, she couldn't tell which.
"I insulted you zhe night of our choosing, but you 'ave proven yourself in every task, more than I ever believed possible. You are not zhe little boy I once thought you were."
A breath escaped Harry's lips—almost sounding like he had said, thank you. She gently squeezed his arm once, then spun on her heel and left, understanding all too well how heartache and loss forced someone to grow up prematurely.
Harry and his redheaded friend had plunged deep into that cesspool tonight. Then again, Ron's spell-casting ferocity had left no doubt about his intent; he was willing to kill to save Harry's life. So, maybe, they were already in it. But killing someone, even justified, was a bastard of a way to lose youthful innocence.
Fleur had prepared her entire life, yet her hands trembled at the thought of what they'd done. She couldn't imagine how it would affect a fourth year.
Out in the hall and walking towards Dumbledore's office, she let her thoughts drift through the night's events. Why had Durmstrang's headmaster attacked Harry? It wasn't as if he were—she stopped, pondering the thought still dancing in the back of her head—was Karkaroff a Death Eater? She had left her books detailing the Death Eater trials in France. A professor might know, but who? Unless they had reason to attend . . . Wait! The Hogwarts headmaster! He was there!
Fleur raced through the castle.
"Professor Karkaroff was a Death Eater, yes?" she asked as soon as she entered the office.
Dumbledore leaned back in his chair. "Please, Miss Delacour, have a seat."
Fleur did so, and settled into a wingback chair in front of the headmaster's wide, dark-stained desk. Around her, a hundred twisting, spinning silver objects littered the room, but she drew her attention back to the wizard before her. "Was Monsieur Karkaroff a Death Eater?"
Dumbledore answered with a stare.
She fidgeted with a string on her robes, uncomfortable, but eager for his response.
"What is your benefit in discussing another's deeds?" he finally asked.
"It helps me believe 'Arry's story."
"Believe?" The headmaster leaned back. "At a flick of a wizard's wand, we conjure, transfigure, or return to their original state glorious and wonderful things; but when one questions a wizard's word, his most powerful weapon becomes the most brittle."
She tried to make sense of his answer. "It is late, and English is not my first language . . ."
"Then a more straightforward explanation shall suffice. Many have questioned Harry's integrity in years past, even though he has always been truthful. This year again, few accepted his word when he pleaded his innocence about entering the tournament; but once more, his innocence is now evident." Dumbledore leaned forward. The intensity of his magic flared, snatching her breath away. "And yet, you now sit before me, questioning that very integrity."
Fleur swallowed the lump forming in her throat. "I, I trust 'Arry believes 'e's being honest. but . . . Maybe someone planted zhe memory?"
"For what reason?"
"To keep everyone's fear of a Dark Lord alive? Planting a memory on one so young is easy, no?"
"It is possible," the headmaster agreed, "but not likely for several reasons that would make a lovely lecture." He glanced at a spinning silver cylinder on a shelf to his left. "Considering the late hour, let us assume the lecture delivered, and move to a topic of greater importance; how will it affect you if Harry is telling the truth?"
Fleur chewed her bottom lip. "I guess . . . , I would have a major decision to make."
"In that case—" Dumbledore lifted a crystal bowl full of yellow candy "—may I offer you a lemon drop while we wait for tea?"
Confusion froze her tongue.
A rumble of humor sounded in his throat. "The discussion on which we are about to embark goes better with tea, and lemon drops serve to pass the time until it arrives."
"I don't understand . . . What discussion?"
Dumbledore lowered the bowl. "I've caught you by surprise. I must beg your pardon and begin this conversation again, the proper way." He folded his hands and laid them on his desk. "Monsieur Ysabelle was a good wizard."
Fleur gasped. "You knew my father?"
"We spoke a few times during the war. His death was a grievous loss I and many others on this side of the Channel mourned."
She was gob smacked.
Dumbledore pushed the lemon drops toward her again. "Perhaps you'd like to reconsider."
A while later, Dumbledore set an empty cup on his desk and pushed his chair back. "And now, I shall retire. It has been a long day for us all. I'll have two of our female Prefects escort you to Madame Maxime's splendid carriage."
Fleur still had a question to ask, however, and wondered how to broach the subject while he sent a house-elf to alert Hogwarts' Prefects.
She shook herself from her thoughts. "Yes?"
"Intellect conjures curiosity, I have found. So, let us pretend you have already inquired about the information you seek. This way, I can answer your question before our lovely Prefects arrive."
"What information?" she equivocated.
"You want to know about the Order of the Phoenix."
How does he do that? "Oui."
"It was a secret group I created to fight Voldemort and his Death Eaters during the war. Many of our finest wizards and witches were a part of it. Monsieur Ysabelle was in a similar organization attached to the French government, which is how I knew him. Now, you have yet a more important question to ask. And, if I am right—which, if I may say so, I often am—you will need to voice this one for yourself."
Fleur blinked, and then blinked again before she found her tongue. "Zhe Order. It will start again after tonight, no?"
"Yes," he answered. "But, I must ask that you not mention this information outside of this office."
"That also was not the question you intended, was it?"
Fleur froze, an ironic contrast to the turmoil raging within her. She wanted this, needed it, and yet . . .
Dumbledore took mercy on her. "Sometimes, we are not as ready as we may have hoped, I will be in France the last Saturday in June to call on Madame Maxime. You may ask your question then, and I will say, yes."
He knew! He would give her time, but he knew! God, was he good.
"Thank you, 'Eadmaster."
† ~ † ~ †
The sharp click of her heels echoed through the dank kitchen, attracting unwanted attention as Fleur closed the door, which thankfully diminished the hallway's assaulting scent of rat droppings and mildew. She sat in the nearest available chair and studied the other Order members. Dumbledore was at the head of the solid mahogany table, affable and charming, his power and strength percolating just beneath the facade.
Next to him rested the only other half-breed—a disgusted sound escaped the back of her throat at how society regarded them both—attending tonight. He looked . . . stretched, probably owing to the past night's full moon. Whatever she experienced as a part-Veela, he had suffered so much more, as did Sirius Black who sat next to him and owned the mausoleum-like mansion in which they were meeting.
The others included an Auror sitting by Sirius sporting spiky, pink hair and an errant manner. Next to her was the mother of a famous Quidditch player. On the opposite side, a row of redheads looked on, as did two Hogwarts' professors. Others had spread about the room, but she had not yet met them.
Fleur's heart grew heavy as she noted the redheaded clan. William was among them; a kind, handsome, and proper gentleman despite his long hair and his assortment of animal-tooth earrings. But she couldn't afford a relationship now, not after watching her mother suffer. Risking such devastating loss was not what she wanted—especially not now.
". . . And, while some of you have met our newest member already, let this be Fleur's formal welcome into the Order of the Phoenix," Dumbledore concluded.
She pulled herself back to the moment. "Thank you, 'Eadmaster."
Dumbledore's tone softened. "I must encourage you to call me Albus. Proper first names are a reminder of whom we are—not who we are made up to be. We will do well to remember that in the days of Tom Riddle's return."
"Who is Tom Riddle?" someone asked.
Albus folded his hands in his lap. "It is Voldemort's given name."
A few around the table shuddered.
"I'll also ask that all of you learn not to flinch at his name—any of them. To speak a name is to secure power over it and the fear it engenders, but if you cannot say it, Tom has already achieved a great victory within your heart. Therefore . . ."
Fleur listened as Albus lectured about the power of names before changing brooms and moving through the night's agenda. His understated power impressed her, even if she couldn't say the same for the meeting's substance.
"And now," he continued twenty minutes later, "we come to the question of shifting beliefs among continental Pure-bloods. Fleur, what can you report about France?"
She blinked. A little forewarning would have been helpful. "I did not realize zhat . . ."
Fleur caught herself and sat up straighter. "My stepfather's business suffers because he married a 'alf-Veela. My sister and me shop in Muggle stores to avoid being 'arassed."
"What have you heard about legislation?" the werewolf asked.
His voice sounded as tired as he looked. Why was he attending so soon after a full moon? "Too little power exists among the Purebloods to change laws. At least, that is what Apolline says. I paid little attention to politics while I was zhere."
"And who's Apolline?" questioned a wizard she didn't recognize.
"My mother." Fleur ignored the bitter aftertaste that always followed that admission.
"Thank you," Albus said. "It is regrettable the same is not true of our own Wizengamot. While not yet overt, certain Purebloods are readying themselves to push through a most grotesque agenda."
William's brother sneered. "Makes us proud to be one of them, doesn't it?"
"At least you can be proud of your last name," Sirius answered. He turned to Mr. Weasley. "Do we know Fudge's position on Muggleborns and Halfbloods this week?"
"As usual, his position follows the money," Mr. Weasley said. "Which puts him in the pockets of the Malfoys, Notts, and LeStranges for now, and that equates to a program likely driven by Undersecretary Umbridge."
Moans sounded around the table.
"Dolores Umbridge," Albus repeated. "That name continues to surface."
Eyes shifted to him.
"Would you care to explain?" the Quidditch mom asked.
"I think it might be beneficial if I do." His gaze took in everyone before coming to rest on Sirius. By a mixture of fortune and sweat, I discovered yesterday that Undersecretary Umbridge will sit Harry's hearing tomorrow, and our esteemed Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, will preside. It looks to be a full trial."
Wait, what hearing?
Sirius slapped the table. "Bloody politics! Fudge is merely showing up to protect his own arse by getting Harry's wand snapped!"
"Yes, of that I have no doubt," Dumbledore agreed.
His wand snapped? What the . . .
It can't be!
"C'est pas vrai!" The French interjection turned everyone's attention to her. "What is 'Arry on trial for?"
The female Auror scowled. "When the shadow of Vol, Volde—him hangs over Wizarding Britain, just about anything."
That wasn't comforting. "What did 'Arry do?"
"He cast a charm in self-protection," Dumbledore said.
Across the table, William snorted. "More like a fully corporeal, seven-bloody-foot Patronus Charm that drove away two Dementors."
Fleur's mouth loosened. "A Patronus?"
Why is the werewolf smirking?
"'Ow did 'e learn?"
"I taught him," the werewolf answered. "In his third year; I was his Defense professor."
"You taught 'im to cast a Patronus Charm at thirteen!"
"You will find that he, Mister Weasley, and Miss Granger are full of wonders," Albus confirmed. "Which, sadly, leads me to the next item on the agenda. Even if we help Harry avoid surrendering his wand tomorrow, a bigger problem awaits them, and us. The Ministry has instructed me they are invoking an article in our charter—Fudge has taken it upon himself to fill the empty Defense against the Dark Arts teaching post."
Mr. Weasley palmed his forehead and moaned. "Tell me that's not why Dolores was boxing up her office today."
"I'm afraid so," Albus continued. "She intends to stamp out the 'myth' that Tom Riddle is back. And, while she's at it, I suspect she'll undertake to advance Pureblood superiority, which includes negating rights for Muggle-born and other sentient magical beings. She intends on casting the whole spell at our students."
"You know what that means," Molly cut in. Fleur remembered her from last spring when the Champions spent an afternoon with their families. "She will aim right for Harry, and Hermione won't be far behind. They need protection."
"I quite agree," Albus said, then looked at Fleur. "The question is, how?"
Fleur reminisced about a strange conversation the week prior. So, this was the reason Olympe invited her to lunch at Beauxbatons . . .
". . . Have you given any thought to teaching?" the headmistress had asked, opening the door to her office.
Fleur followed her and sat in a seat overlooking the large desk. A narrow glass table sat to her right. "Not really."
"You should, you did an excellent job as a teacher's assistant." Olympe made her way to one of the large bookcases that lined the paneled walls and retrieved two monographs, placing them on the table next to Fleur. "Here, I suggest you begin with these. They are primers in methods of magical education. You may keep them; I own two or three copies of each."
She picked up a book and thumbed through it. "Thank you, Madame Maxime, but even if I wanted to teach, I'm nowhere near old enough."
"You're no longer my student, so please, call me Olympe. As for teaching, regardless of age, your exam scores qualify you to be a teacher's assistant with lecture responsibility."
"Are you offering me a position?" A raised eyebrow accompanied the question.
"Oh, no." Olympe feigned embarrassment. "Beauxbatons has no positions open at this time. But, if you are interested, I have it on good word an opportunity exists in an old exchange program. Although, for now, it is best to establish yourself at Gringotts." She tapped the book sitting the table. "Don't forget to read those primers . . ."
Fleur stared at Albus. "What course? You must have considered that, or did Olympe help you decide?"
"I was once told that beauty shall pass, but an intellect will serve you well your entire life," he answered. "Sadly, many on this island cannot see such intelligence when it concerns non-human sentient beings, be it full or partial."
Fleur's lips curled into a nasty smile. "'Ow was your conversation with Professor Lambert?" she asked, to make sure.
"It was an enlightening discussion. She speaks well of you and your teaching ability."
The smile grew larger.
"Albus?" Professor McGonagall interrupted. "Would you mind sharing your plan with the rest of us?"
He leaned back in his chair, his entire demeanor alight with good humor. "I believe Hogwarts is about to reinvigorate an old agreement if our lovely Fleur is amenable."
"I expect full support from zhe faculty," she answered.
"Of course—" he agreed.
"Albus!" Professor McGonagall cut in again. "As a member of the Order, not to mention Deputy Headmistress of Hogwarts, I shall like to know these plans!"
Albus turned her way. "The time has come once again to invoke the Teacher Exchange Program with Beauxbatons. If Fleur should find a place to teach this year, our darling Olympe will hire her as a Teacher's Assistant with lecture responsibility, then second her to the chosen school. Caveats in charters and agreements can work to our advantage just as well as the Ministry's, it seems."
"What about the Board of Governors?" Moody asked. Fleur remembered him, or at least his impostor, from the night the Cup chose the names for the Tri-Wizard tournament.
Albus steepled his fingers, his elbows resting on the arms of his chair. "They hold no authority over faculty decisions at Beauxbatons. And, since the Exchange Agreement empowers the headmaster alone to accept or reject an exchange teacher, they have no say in the matter. It is an agreement the Board of Governors signed a century and a half ago."
The cunning of Albus Dumbledore! Fleur mused. Somehow, he was always one spell-cast quicker than anyone else.
"What subject will she be teaching?" Molly asked, breaking into her thoughts.
"Les Êtres Sensible Non Humains," Fleur answered with her own guess. "Non-'Uman Sentient Beings."
Albus dipped his head once in agreement.
"And your qualifications?" Molly continued.
Fleur bit her tongue to stop from answering the redheaded matron with the first thought that came to mind.
"I believe that question falls within my domain," Professor McGonagall interrupted before turning to Fleur. "It is, however, a question deserving of an answer."
"My qualifications . . . ?" Fleur repeated.
The professor folded her hands and waited.
"You must mean other than being a non-'uman sentient being, yes? Do not worry, I 'ave enough experience."
"And I would like to know what that experience is."
It took more effort to stay calm this time. "Two years ago, Professor Lambert was asked to assist in Beauxbatons' 'Care of Magical Creatures' class. So, she asked me to be a Teacher's Assistant and lecture her first year Sentient Beings, and zhe next year, she included an advanced course in my responsibilities. I would 'ave taught both courses again last year if not for the tournament."
Fleur leaned forward. "I also received zhe 'ighest marks every year in the subject and tested in the top five percent overall on our version of OWLS and NEWTS. I 'ave also made zhe study of Sentient Beings the focus of my education!"
She pinned Molly with a glare. "My father stood for the rights of all sentient beings, and I intend to do the same, that is why I joined zhe Order."
Molly studied her for a second. "You seem well qualified, but—" she turned to Albus "—this is still a terrible idea. She's a Veela, and you know—"
The room erupted in protest.
"Silence!" Albus commanded. "Allow Molly to explain her position before shouting ignorance." Then, to Molly, he said, "I ask, however, that you clarify yourself, so Fleur does not leave here with a wrong impression."
Molly met Fleur's glare. "I couldn't care less whether you were a Veela, a half-giant, or a hippogriff. What concerns me is that you will encounter students who will think differently, and Dolores Umbridge will encourage their bigotry. That makes Hogwarts a very dangerous place for you."
She faced the rest of the Order. "And that is the reason I am against her teaching at Hogwarts this year." She scowled. "There's a reason Weasleys are called Blood Traitors or did you all forget?"
Fleur watched as every member of the Weasley family took pride in the offensive title, then wondered if the same would hold true if the youngest boy were present. The way he treated her last spring, she wasn't so sure.
"Albus," Minerva broke the ensuing silence. "Molly makes a good point. Despite what you may believe about 'seeing the best in each student,' several Slytherin students would look upon Fleur as nothing more than a worthless half-breed. And, they will treat her likewise, as would the children of previously suspected Death Eaters sorted into other houses.
"If things get out of hand this year—and I remind you, somehow, they always do around Potter—I shudder to think what might happen to Fleur, and I fear what he and his friends would do in response."
Fleur pounded a fist on the table. "Zhis is foolish! I would protect them, not the other way around! So, unless any of you object to me teaching because of my 'eritage, there is no reason I should not be at 'Ogwarts this year."
Molly shot out of her chair. "I have three reasons—Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and my son, Ronald Weasley! Every year one of them flirts with death at that school, and that doesn't include my youngest daughter who almost died her first year. By sending you to counter Umbridge, we're not protecting those three; we're tempting the fates to finish the job, and maybe even take you with them!"
Mr. Weasley laid a hand on Molly's shoulder. She took a deep breath before continuing. "I'm sorry; I shouldn't have raised my voice, but every year a child I dearly love almost dies while fighting off some unimaginable evil at that school. So, yes, I am unhappy that we're throwing exploding potion into a burning cauldron."
A man Fleur recognized as the Professor of Potions interjected a derisive snort, but otherwise kept silent.
Molly took another deep breath to settle herself again. "Tell me something. You start at Gringotts next week, why give that up? Why do you want this so bad?"
Why? What could she say? What dare she say?
Every night for two years, Fleur hid under her bed fearing Apolline's whiskey-soaked rampages. Once her uncle finally intervened, she spent another two years visiting Apolline in the hospital, afraid she had gone the way of the widowed Veela. Then, later, when she returned home and had to grow up without her father, and in truth, her mother, the longing she felt whenever she saw Apolline doting on Gabrielle left a clamoring hole in her chest where her heart should have been.
Now those responsible had returned, and she wanted her revenge!
Why do I want this so bad? Oh, let me count every black-robed reason—
"It's a fair question," Mr. Weasley said. "Molly and I feel like we've adopted Harry and Hermione, at least in the magical world. Please understand that we have nothing against you, but we fear losing them, not to mention our own children."
Fleur tried to wrestle her emotions under control, but before she could succeed, Albus intervened.
"If I may, Fleur's story is rather personal, but I beg of you, Molly, to remember that her father was Monsieur Ysabelle, who suffered the same fate as Gideon and Fabian, and for the same reasons. Then, recall, if you will, what a Veela endures when she loses a mate, and remember that Fleur lived through it firsthand."
Molly caught her breath. After several seconds had passed, she stepped away from the table. "Please, keep my children safe . . . All of them. And trust me when I say they will do the same for you." Without another word, she left the meeting, wiping at her cheeks.
"Are there any more questions?" Albus asked.
When no one else spoke, he continued. "Fleur, I suggest you spend the remaining summer in France preparing for your class, for countering Umbridge, and for protecting Harry and the others. It is a large task. Consult with our professors on how best to go about it. Olympe and Professor Lambert offered their services as well, and I suggest that you take them up on it.
"I am also informed that our wizard population will be immune to any Veela charm after a few weeks of exposure, is that correct?"
Fleur shook her head. "I am a quarter Veela. So, falsehoods aside, I have little Veela magic. Wizards can easily overcome what is left in less than a week; a day, if he tries."
"Good. I also suggest you begin a French club. Miss Granger has repeatedly asked to start one, and getting her in your corner will help you a great deal."
"Not a dueling club?" she asked.
"I fear such an organization would cause too many problems."
Later, as the meeting broke up, Molly re-entered the kitchen. "May we speak?"
"Oui," she answered, choosing not to give the British witch the dignity of an English response.
Molly pulled her into a corner. "I meant it when I spoke of worrying over Ron, Harry, and Hermione; Ginny and the twins to a lesser extent, but that also extends to you. Dolores Umbridge and I went to school together. She's as poisonous and vile as they come. So be careful, because she doesn't just dislike you for being part Veela, she detests the very fact you exist; you, your headmistress, Hagrid, even my family because we hold no bigotry towards you."
"I'll remember that."
"I also get why you want to return to Hogwarts." Molly hesitated, then had to wipe at something on her cheek before continuing. "Gideon and Fabian Prewitt were my brothers. I'm lucky Arthur was with me the night I heard the news . . ."
No wonder she was so protective of her family. Fleur barely caught the tail end of Molly's next comment. ". . . And I was half-way out the door before he could stop me."
"Wait, could you repeat zhat?"
Molly's features hardened. "I wanted revenge. I wanted to hunt down and kill every blighter that dared touch my family. Britain's a small wizarding community, and smaller yet when you limit it to Pure-bloods. I had a good idea who did it, and I was going to kill every bleedin' one of them! Later, I realized that even though I would have had my revenge. Trust me, I may not look it now, but I was the bee's knees in my day. But, at some point, they would have caught and killed me, which meant abandoning my family. Think about that, and be careful. If you ever need to talk or get away from the castle for a few hours, my home is open to you." The older witch squeezed Fleur's arm. "I think someone else wants to speak with you."
Fleur looked over her shoulder to find Professor McGonagall waiting patiently.
"You will have my full support," the older witch began. "I asked those questions because I am worried about my charges, not from any doubt concerning your talents and abilities."
"I understand," Fleur said. "Perhaps, I assumed more than I should 'ave."
The professor's tight-lined lips relaxed. "That is quite all right. You had no other context by which to take my remarks, but remember, I consider Hagrid and Filius dear friends, and that should be enough to explain my beliefs."
It did. Hagrid, she knew through Olympe; Filius, she did not, but the point still held. "It is."
"Good. And my name's Minerva. Where are you staying this evening?"
"I'm at the Three Broomsticks until I can find an apartment—that I won't need anymore."
"I think not," Minerva agreed. "Accompany me to Hogwarts, and I'll send one of our House-elves to fetch your personal items. We will get you settled into your private quarters tonight."
"And, afterward, if you would fancy a cup of tea, we'll figure out how to keep your three new charges safe this year—and you. In truth, I understated my concern when I said I fear what those three would do if something happened to you."
Fleur raised an eyebrow and Minerva continued with a rueful chuckle. "Welcome to Hogwarts, I guarantee this will be a year you'll never forget."
A/N: Although this story was first posted in 2012, I have been working on it ever since. Currently, I have all but the last two chapters written, and most of those almost fully edited. My hope is to post one chapter every two to three weeks.
A very big thank you to everyone who has helped me on this, including those at DLP who have read several iterations and have helped me avoid some horrendous storytelling mistakes.
EDIT (June 28, 2017): After reading through the first eight posted chapters, I was very disappointed in the little mistakes that made their way into the text. I have attempted to correct them here. Another big thank you is due to my wife for giving it a beta-read after my fixes.
If you see anything wrong in the spelling or grammar, please let me know so I may fix it.