Close and Personal
Snow swirled in the mid-February night sky over Scotland. But inside Hogwarts, Fleur's fireplace kept her small lecture hall cozy as she prepared to teach on Spirohomin-class beings. Tapestries covered the room, with the vast majority being various kinds of Nymphs. But Disirs and the apotropaic Lahmu also dotted the walls. She also included a few pictures of darker beings like Grindylows, the Irish Sluagh, and Japanese Kappas; but avoided most others. Too many ugly spirits often caused havoc among the Nymphs.
Fleur stepped into the center of her room and gazed at her handiwork. Perfect! Well, almost perfect. A tapestry of three Naiads frolicking in a shallow spring had to come down. After spending the fall rolled up next to Dionysus's maenads, the water nymphs had grown too flirty for a room of teenage wizards. She switched it for a score of Hamadryads gathered among their trees. The shy creatures often hid from students, but it was the safer choice.
The classroom door opened as she finished, and Fleur turned to find Septima, her cheeks red with exertion, holding on to a banister for support.
"Hurry, Albus's office!"
"Why . . . ?"
Septima took a second to catch her breath. "Umbridge."
A shudder ran through Fleur as though the Thracian snow goddess Khione had draped herself across her back. "What is she up to now?"
"You'll have to ask Albus."
Fleur shelved the tapestry of the Naiads—far away from the maenads—before following Septima to Albus's office where a small crowd awaited them, including Tonks and Shacklebolt.
The elder Auror wasted no time handing her a piece of parchment.
She noted the official Ministry of Magic wax stamp holding the folded ends together. "What is this?"
"A warrant for your arrest."
Fleur broke the seal and skimmed the verbose paragraphs until she reached the decree.
The Wizengamot commands all magical law enforcement to take and keep Fleur Delacour so her body appears before the Wizengamot to answer a declaration charging said person with spying against the Ministry of Magic.
A second, silent read assured her there was no mistake.
"This can't be serious."
"Oh, but it is," Shacklebolt said. "Dolores convened an emergency Wizengamot session and pushed the charges through."
"How did she manage that?"
"Manipulation." Albus's words resonated in the room. "They held an emergency meeting and voted. Most of those present were purebloods, many of whom support Tom Riddle."
"But if they have connections to Riddle, why aren't they being arrested?"
"For what?" asked Tonks, standing next to her partner. "Rumors are not chargeable crimes."
Fleur lifted the arrest warrant for all in the room to see. "They're not?"
"Dolores submitted a memory of you looking in on her former class." Albus's pinched eyebrows betrayed his otherwise calm manner as he raised a hand, forestalling her interruption. "Memories are not admissible as evidence in a trial, but this is not yet a trial."
"But . . ." That made no sense. "If she has no other evidence, why show what spell she plans on casting?"
"That is the question, is it not?"
"Headmaster." Severus Snape emerged from the far corner of the room; the black circles under his eyes spoke volumes about what he'd endured of late. "The Dark Lord may have knowledge. If you wish, I'll inquire the next time I am summoned. Perhaps I can position myself as helping the Ministry's case from inside the castle."
Albus shook his head. "Your position is too valuable to risk as a first move. We have other ways to assist our young professor. Only if they fail will we entertain your idea."
"We do?" asked Tonks.
Fleur didn't pay attention to Albus's response as she focused on why Dolores would make such a bold move without genuine evidence? It was almost as if . . .
And then, it all made sense.
"Dolores won't take this to trial." Every eye turned her way. "She wasn't 'andling government secrets. A trial for spying gets her nothing, except 'umiliating me in the press and casting more doubt on Albus."
"That very well may be," Septima said. "But for tonight, what are we doing about the arrest warrant?"
Shacklebolt took the parchment and slid it into his pocket. "It's a shame we couldn't find this Fleur Delacour."
"Although, we haven't checked her apartment yet," Tonks added, "or her office or classroom. If we don't find her, our next step is the common areas. Standard Auror practice and all that rot. I'm sure you understand."
For the first time this evening, a light danced in Albus's eyes. "I would expect nothing less. I trust you'll inform me of all you find?"
"Will do," Shacklebolt said. He headed to the door but stopped with his hand on the handle and turned to Fleur. "You best do a bunk for the night because Dolores will send more Aurors, ones loyal to her and Malfoy."
The door closed behind him and Tonks.
Albus waited until their footsteps faded before speaking.
"I'll visit the head of DMLE tomorrow and clear this up. In the meanwhile, I believe Gryffindor is experiencing a rancorous debate, one that might earn a visit from an Assistant Head of House."
"I'll go with her," Septima said. "But Fleur can't stay in the common room all night. Aurors will look for her there. And my apartment's out since Dolores knows we're friends."
"Severus?" Albus faced him. "There would be no reason to search your office—"
"No!" Fleur cut across the headmaster. "We don't know who's coming. If one of those Aurors has ties to Voldemort and goes to Severus for help, it puts everyone in a nasty spot."
"That . . . is possible." Severus's rather enormous nose flared. Most likely because he didn't like agreeing with Fleur.
But Fleur also caught his underlying message. Despite the Christmas Gala, Voldemort still had people in the Ministry and, most likely, the Auror department. So, several wizards and witches feigned their fight against the Dark Lord as Severus had done.
She realized that also meant Voldemort hadn't outed all of his Death Eaters. In fact, he'd done the opposite. Did he already know of Ron's plan? Was it possible he played along to cement his spies?
Albus leaned back in his chair, his fingers steepled before him, most likely having similar thoughts.
"Albus? Shouldn't we get going?" Septima asked.
"Perhaps so. And, as for hiding in the castle, ask your charges in Gryffindor. They have an uncanny ability to disappear when the need arises."
Fleur and Septima reached the Fat Lady a few minutes later and Fleur stepped forward to deliver the passphrase: "Miss a robin in the sun."
The picture swung to the side, spilling the voices of two Weasleys into the halls, which drowned Septima's snort at the silly phrase. Inside the common room, Ron had a knuckle-white grip on his chair as he faced Ginny.
"You don't even understand what you're talking about!"
Harry and Hermione sat on a couch between them. The tower was otherwise empty.
"I don't?" Ginny shot back. "Gwenog Jones led the Harpies to four championships in the last seven years. When was the last time your Cannon Candies won a championship?"
"They're in a rebuilding cycle. And stop calling them the candies!"
"They've been rebuilding since before we were born," Ginny said. "Face it, Harry was right! The Candies suck a dog's—"
"That's enough!" Fleur interrupted before she could finish. "What's going on here?"
Ron and Ginny both turned to her. "Were we that loud?" Ginny asked.
"Sorry," they chorused.
Ron picked up his book and settled back into his chair. His argument with his sister already forgotten.
Fleur groaned. The Weasleys do not give up a good fight; she learned that lesson well over the last few months. "How did you know?" she asked.
"Dad overheard at work," Ginny said. "He sent an owl to the twins who forwarded it to Professor Dumbledore."
Well, that was a round-a-bout method. "Why not send it straight to the Headmaster? Or your mother?"
"He's being watched at work," Ron answered. "At least, he thinks he is, and sending owls to the Headmaster would look suspicious. Mum already went home."
"And," Septima chimed in, "We weren't sure which Aurors were coming, so we needed a reason for me to bring you here without lying to the Ministry if they caught us. Anyway, don't you have something to ask them?"
Fleur's nosed crinkled for a moment in thought. "Oh yeah, the Headmaster suggested you might know how to disappear in the castle for a little while."
"Sure," Harry said. "Use the Room of Requirement—Ouch!"
Hermione stared at him as he rubbed his shin. "Someone should make sure the Professor is safe, don't you think?"
"Oh, yeah, I guess so." Harry pushed himself off the couch. "Hold on."
Fleur waited until he disappeared up the stairs with a slight limp. "Any idea what he's getting?"
No one answered.
She tried to catch Ron's eye, but he busied himself with a parchment that held three-quarters of a foot of writing in a tight scrawl.
Over the last few weeks, he had visited Fleur's office several times, twice turning to her rather than a bottle after a brutal nightmare. He also stopped by on occasion to discuss dueling tactics. He had a keen mind for it, too.
Harry reappeared and handed her a bundle of silvery material as soft as dove-feathers.
"That'll get you there without being seen."
She let it fall out and then slipped a hand inside, but could only see the common room carpet through the material. Never had she seen such an expensive Invisibility Cloak.
"Where did you get this?"
Those two words caused her throat to constrict like a vice. "I don't want to lose something your father gave you if I'm caught. Besides, I can't work the room."
Ron looked up from his assignment. "Harry can take you."
"No. If we're caught—"
He dropped his quill. "Don't be bloody stupid."
She leveled a glare at the youngest redheaded Weasley. "Say that again?"
He shrugged. "Don't be bloody stupid, Professor. Harry's your best chance to get there safe, and to make it so no one else can get into the room."
The words were still harsh, but they lacked the malice that used to accompany them.
"This is one of those Harry-Things," Ron continued. "And, didn't you tell me that sometimes it's okay to ask for help?"
"I don't remember saying it like that."
"Either way, he's right," Hermione said. "Harry knows these halls better than anyone else, and no one can see you in that cloak."
"Oh?" Septima raised an eyebrow. "And how does our Never-Bend-a-Rule Prefect know this?"
"I see." Amusement danced in Septima's eyes until they focused on Fleur. "I'd say do it, if Harry's willing."
Fleur faced Harry and noted his flushed cheeks.
"Um, I'll go with you, but—"
"No buts!" Hermione interrupted. "And, go now before they send someone here looking for her."
"Harry," Fleur started, taking him by the shoulder. "You don't have to do this."
Harry swallowed. "Hermione's right. Unless you can work the room, I'm your best chance."
"Then the two of you better get going," Septima said. "And I still have papers to correct, so I should go, too."
After exiting the tower, Septima reminded Fleur to stay safe. She turned to Harry. "And that means you as well."
With that said, she left them at the entrance Tower.
Fleur watched her walk away, rubbing her bare arms to ward off the biting sting of frosty air, then watched as Harry unfolded his Invisibility Cloak. She prayed it would be warm. But as Harry disappeared beneath the fabric, she forgot about the chill. Not even a shimmer betrayed his presence. The quality far surpassed Auror-grade cloaks.
"My first year, Ron, Hermione, and I could fit under here without a problem, but anymore . . ."
"It's okay." Fleur stepped under the cloak. "Rubbing elbows with you is the least of my worries after everything we've been through together."
Harry mumbled something she didn't catch, then produced a large parchment from a pocket and unfolded it.
Fleur, however, realized Harry had grown an inch or two taller than she was, and his frame was filling out. What intrigued her the most, however, was the gravity he now projected.
A muttered passphrase broke into her thoughts and she gasped at the parchment that had turned into a map of Hogwarts, complete with icons skittering around the page.
"Ready?" he asked.
"Lead the way."
After only a few steps, they bumped into each other, sending Harry tumbling to the floor. Half a minute later, Fleur tripped on Harry's foot and had to grab his arm to stay up.
She regained her balance and pulled him to a stop. "Enough of this." She grabbed his wrist and curled herself into his arm, then dropped his hand on her waist. Fleur reached around him and hung her left arm off his right shoulder, before picking up the loose side of the parchment with her other hand.
"Okay, let's try this again."
They started off a second time. However, walking this way, Fleur couldn't help but notice Harry's new physicality. Not only was Harry taller, but his body had changed. She found herself appreciating his deceptively muscled back and shoulders.
Fleur replayed her memory of the first night at Hogwarts the previous year. Harry looked so small when she had asked him for the Bouillabaisse—just another boy trying to make it through school. She paid him no more attention until he walked into the small side room, and her life, on All Hallows' Eve.
Truth be told, the moment she called him a little boy that night—the way his eyes hardened, his jaw clenched—she had lost the tournament. And, not only for herself but for Cedric and Viktor, too.
Harry's hand tightened against her side, pulling her to a stop. "She didn't!"
On the map, the corridor they were in continued for several hundred feet before curving to the left as it flowed into another passage and emptied into the Great Hall. From that second passage, three moving dots headed towards them. Fleur squinted to make out the names.
"Dolores came for me?"
"Malfoy, too," Harry said. "I don't recognize the third one."
Fleur gazed at the name, but it wasn't one she had heard in Order meetings. "Let's backtrack and take the west hall, by the Owlery."
"No," Harry countered. "It's too far out of the way, which means a greater risk of running into Peeves or Filch's cat. Either of them would draw too much attention." Harry gazed up the hall, "Come on, there's a statue up ahead I've hidden behind a few times."
Another glance at the map didn't convince Fleur, but Harry knew these halls better than she ever would. And, he was right about that damned cat. It had scared her more than once, and the doddering old caretaker was never far behind, either. He got along a little too well with Dolores for Fleur's taste.
On the map, the three dots turned into their corridor.
"We have to go!" Harry stashed it away and led Fleur to the statue of Bartimaeus the Blind. The seven-foot replica of Magical Britain's quirkiest sheepherder was large enough for one person to hide behind it without a problem.
Two, not so much.
Fleur nudged Harry to go first, then followed him in. But, as she slid past the statue, her foot caught the edge of an uneven stone. She stumbled into Harry, knocking him into the statue with a clang! before landing on her rear-end.
The sound echoed down the hall.
Dolores's voice reached them not a second later. "Did you hear that? Up there!"
Harry grabbed her wrists and yanked her from the floor with such momentum that she fell into him, clasping the sides of his chest so she didn't bounce off him again. Harry caught her around the midsection, both hands wrapped around her back so she wouldn't tumble into the statue a second time.
His breath tickled her ear. "Don't move!"
Sure enough, she heard three sets of footsteps right behind her, followed by a voice.
"Do you see anything?" asked the unknown wizard.
"No." Malfoy sounded annoyed. "Check the statue."
A light blazed behind her.
"Behind it, too," Dolores suggested.
Fear slithered up Fleur's spine, and she pressed against Harry, hoping to occupy the least space possible. Harry's arms, still wrapped around her, tightened in response.
"There's nothing here," the wizard answered.
"Then, we're done wasting time in this blasted hall." For the first time, Fleur noted Malfoy's speech patterns, choice of wording, and even his inflections were eerily similar to the few Malfoys she had met in France—so much so that she heard it even through the change in languages. "If we find nothing, we'll come around and check her apartment."
"We already did," the wizard argued.
"So, we should do it again!" Dolores said.
"And what if we don't find them?"
"Then, we'll keep looking!"
Dolores and the other wizard continued bickering a few feet from Harry and Fleur, so she stayed as she was, pressed against Harry. Her cheek itched from his sparse stubble, and his scent filled her nose—a cross between a purple sky's fresh breeze and Quidditch leathers.
The uneven stones caused a sharp ache in her back, so she eased her weight to the other foot to relieve the pain, only to realize that she had injured it when she fell. Her hands tightened around Harry, and as fast as she dared, she shifted back the other way.
Fleur had no sooner finished when Harry jerked his body further against the wall.
Fear surged. He was making more room for her! Where the other three rechecking the statue? She closed the distance and draped herself on him, hoping it'd be enough to avoid detection, only to realize why Harry had backed away. She buried her face in his neck in embarrassment.
Harry's breath hitched as his hand found the small of her back, pulling her even tighter against him.
But Fleur didn't have time to wonder why as plodding feet resounded behind her.
Fleur dared not move, except for her racing heart, thumping against Harry's chest—a chest not quite chiseled, but far removed from the body of a boy preparing to dive into a winter lake a year ago. His arms held her like a steel trap; his hands, broad and strong.
Her own hands screamed their need to explore his body, to buss the skin pulled taut over his ribs without the damned robe in the way, and the rest of her treasonous body yearned to restart its swaying dance.
Fleur did her best to ignore it, but she couldn't deny the truth that stood before her.
The Little-Boy-Who-Lived was now a man.
"I'm done with this," Malfoy announced. "Stay here all night if you want, but there's bugger-all in this corridor."
"We still haven't checked her classroom," the unknown wizard said. "If she's not there, we'll circle back to her apartment."
The other two followed, leaving Harry and Fleur alone behind the statue.
"Hold on," Harry whispered.
He unfolded the map behind her and studied it for almost a minute before speaking. "That was close."
"I'd say so." Fleur leaned away and laid a hand on his cheek. "A word of warning. If you ever hope to get this close to me again, make sure you shave first!"
The smallest groan escaped his throat.
A few minutes later, they made the seventh floor. Harry darted from under the cloak and walked once, twice, three times past a section of a drab, uninspiring wall.
A moment later, a door appeared out of nowhere. Harry slipped in and held the door for Fleur.
She stepped into a rustic inglenook. Stunning tapestries of gold and red and various other hues decorated the walls. Some with colors that swirled and faded in and out, and some with muted scenery that softened the room.
A larger tapestry embroidered with the Gryffindor Crest hung over the ingle or fireplace. The fireplace looked as though it might house a dragon. She trailed a finger across the sharp stone of an opening that reached above her head. The fireplace opening looked twice as wide as it was tall, and in front of it, a plush, deep red rug covered the floor of the nook. A few feet away, it cradled a comfortable-looking settee that faced the flames.
"Yours is always burning," Harry said, standing on the other side of the fireplace. "Hermione told us how much you hate the cold."
Flames licked the air three feet high.
"This. . ." She gestured at the room. "Is this what you asked for?"
Fleur had learned a little about how the room worked, but not enough to understand it.
"I saw something like this in one of my aunt's magazines a few years ago. I always wondered what it'd be like to have a place like this—cozy, warm, with no stairs—"
A shadow passed across his face as his jaw snapped shut. "Anyway, I thought it might be perfect for you."
"It is," she said. "Will it stay this way when you leave?"
Harry scratched his head. "I'm not sure."
A single blond eyebrow inched up.
"I was trying to tell you that before Hermione interrupted." He slipped his hands into his pockets and looked around. "Can you use Occlumency to learn how to open it?"
"It doesn't work that way," she answered. In the distance, the clock in the tower tolled eleven times. "Magic is something you have to experience to learn."
"Oh . . . well, I could walk out now and see what happens."
True, but knowing her luck . . . "Has anyone ever caught you while using your cloak and map?"
"Snape almost caught me once or twice."
"Professor Snape." An involuntary flare of her left nostril betrayed her feelings for the Potions Master.
"You don't like him?"
"Ask me this summer when I'm no longer on faculty."
Harry tilted his head. "You're not coming back next year?"
"I can't." Fleur made her way to the couch and perched herself on the overstuffed cushions. "The program is for one year of service, and Hogwarts will not have any open positions next year. Well, none except Defense Against the Dark Arts, and I'm not touching that one. And, if Severus almost caught you, I don't want you going out there and tempting the fates. Not with Dolores Umbridge and Lucius Malfoy still wandering about, map or no map."
She leaned forward and patted the other end of the settee. "Come, sit. At least until we know it's safe for you to go back to Gryffindor tower."
Harry seemed hesitant but finally joined her there. "I'm sure Dumbledore would let you teach on Sentient Beings."
"He might, but the board of directors has to approve a new faculty position, and hiring me would put a target on Hogwarts worse than it is now. Not to worry, the goblins asked me to reapply next summer, so at least I'll still be around." She shrugged. "Anyway, enough of that. Let's make use of our time and see how your Mind Arts are coming along, no?"
Color flooded his cheeks. "I, um, that might not be a good idea, not after . . ."
Fleur rolled her eyes. "Don't worry. I have something safer in mind. My uncle and I used to tell each other stories through images. The easiest are memories—starting with those we have in common. So, cast a Legilimency Spell on me, and I'll start with your first task from the tournament."
"How does that help the Mind Arts?
"Familiarity," she answered, turning towards him and settling herself deeper into the cushions. "The more you use the arts, the better you will be with them. Now, try remembering as many details as you can about my memory of your task."
"I guess it would be interesting to see."
Harry raised his wand, but before he cast the spell, she held up a hand.
"Stay shallow and don't go rooting around for the memory after you cast the spell. Let me pull it up. The idea is for you to see if you can find what I focused on, or what I found important. More experienced Legilimens can focus on those things and dig deeper, following them wherever they lead."
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "Okay, I'm ready."
Harry's spell touched her like a fingertip against a forehead before his presence dipped into her mind. But he was still new at the arts. So, despite her warning, he sank too deep into her memories.
Fleur did not need him learning what his touch did to her tonight!
With a mental shove, she pushed him closer to the surface.
She didn't bother verbalizing an answer. Instead, Fleur displayed a memory of Ron pummeling Malfoy and followed it with an image of her staring at Harry, a single eyebrow disappearing into her hairline.
Harry's amusement fluttered across the spell, coupled with a small but contrite undertone.
She waited until he settled himself again before pulling up the memory.
An adrenaline-drenched Fleur wearing Tri-Wizard tournament robes dropped into a chair in Champions' row. Her heightened state made for vibrant greens and deep blacks of the forest. In the distance, dragon wranglers escorted the last dragon into the stadium. Lithe and muscled, the Horntail slinked across the grounds, humoring its pissant handlers until it saw the egg-filled nest.
Wings unfurled, and the dragon opened its jaws. A wave of heat rushed over Fleur as flames lit the sky. With a single sweep of its wings, the Horntail leaped the remaining distance to settle atop the future brood.
The handlers cast spells to release their restraints and raced out of the stadium. Soon thereafter, a horn announced the task was ready for its final participant.
The Ministry connard blathered his introduction, but Fleur ignored him and watched the little boy step forward, wondering what he would try against the beast.
"Come on, Harry, you got this!" cried Cedric.
Viktor turned to Fleur, and his eyes full of questions.
Fleur shrugged. How should she know why Hogwarts' real champion was cheering for the boy?
Below, Harry stared at the dragon, his wand hand at his side, and his other hand reaching toward the school. What—?
A whooshing sound caught her attention, and she cranked her neck around to find a broom streaking over the stadium wall. It pitched down and raced to Harry, stopping not a foot in front of him.
"Why didn't I think of that?" Cedric wondered.
Viktor grunted. "But is he good on broom. This is question."
Harry mounted his Firebolt and soared high above the Horntail to orbit at a safe distance. Fleur was unsure of his plan, and perhaps, so was he. Either way, she was so-far unimpressed.
And, so was the dragon. It took no notice of him until Harry finished his fourth lazy loop.
Then, in a move so fast Fleur had problems following it, he turned on a Knut and dove straight at the dragon's head. The broom tore through the air with such speed Fleur heard the short cloak of his tournament robes snapping in the wind.
Without realizing it, she shot upright in her chair, her hands squeezing the armrests. Cedric was on his feet, and Viktor wasn't far behind, leaning forward in his seat and reaching for the railing before them.
Together, the three of them watched Harry rip past the Horntail's right shoulder as the twigs of his broom scraped its hide.
Another roar rattled Fleur's chest. Fire exploded thirty feet straight into the air as the dragon declared its fury.
Harry pulled hard right, reversing his earlier path around the dragon. He circled at almost full speed, leaning so deep into the curve that centrifugal force alone kept his body on the broom.
Behind the Horntail, Harry pushed hard on his broom and dove, scraping the twigs of his broom across the other shoulder before pulling hard to the left and crossing the beast's face at eye level. It roared again and rose to its full height as Harry turned the broom back for his third pass, this one aimed at its head.
The Horntail greeted him with a spout of fire, but Harry was too fast for the dragon and pulled right at the last moment. The dragon, however, added a counter-twist to its body, slinging the horned tail high into the air.
Fleur's knuckles grew white as Harry cut hard again to the left. He slipped behind the Horntail's back even as its tail ripped at his right thigh.
Harry ignored the gash in his leg and yanked hard on the front of the broom, making another abrupt turn to face that damned monster again. The loudest roar yet announced the Horntail's rage. Harry adjusted his route and aimed straight for the dragon.
Another bout of flame shot forward, but Harry spun under his broom and drove it below the fiery stream. He sped through the dragon's legs, righting himself in time to sweep the egg into his arms and race away in victory as the thundering crowd now drowned the dragon's roar.
Fleur turned to the other champions.
Viktor took his seat. "If he works on broom, maybe I see Little Boy in bigger tournament in few years."
Fleur brought the memory to a close.
"That was . . ." Harry started, then paused. "Did Krum say that?"
"Every word." She let him revel in Viktor's praise before speaking again.
"So, what did you noticed?
Harry gazed behind her at one of the deep red tapestries as he pondered her question.
"You didn't like me last fall, did you?"
"In my defense, I thought you cheated your way into the tournament."
"So did everyone else," Harry reminded her. "When did you realize I was telling the truth?"
Fleur crossed her arms and tried to fight the humor that threatened to break out. "Who says I believe you now?"
She dodged a pillow sailing at her head as she lost her inner battle and allowed her laughter to fill the room. "Okay! Okay! It was after zhe Yule Ball. 'Ermione spent a good portion of that night convincing Viktor you did not submit your name to Goblet of Fire. So much so, he was jealous of you."
Harry's eyes grew as large as Snitches. "Of me? Was that why he asked me about my relationship with Hermione the night we learned of the Third Task?"
Fleur rolled her eyes. "It took him long enough. Anyway, it was a week or so after the Yule Ball that I decided you were telling the truth. Now, back to the lesson—what else did you notice?"
"Besides almost dying?"
A noise escaped the back of her throat. "Oui, besides that."
He reflected on the memory. "After the dragon's tale caught me, my cloak shimmered, like the sun reflecting off metal."
Fleur nodded her approval. "And, did you pick up anything else when you saw that?"
"No, should I have?"
"Not yet," she admitted. "Another year or two of practice, and you'll be able to catch the fleeting feelings or thoughts behind such occurrences. That was the moment I understood you were more than a nuisance in the competition."
Harry snorted. "Okay, I have a memory when you're ready."
Fleur cast the spell and eased into Harry's mind, landing at the entrance to the castle. The air was warm, so most of the students had shed their robes. She watched herself approach Harry and take his hand, blinding him with a smile.
Watching from Harry's perspective, Fleur caught Hermione's scowl. Ron, even though he had been cold towards Fleur the rest of the spring after the night of the attack, still looked befuddled by her presence. She also noted a slight shift in Harry's perception as the vision ended and asked about it.
"I realized you were my friend."
"And I still am," she said. "But this year's been difficult for me to show it, and be thankful for that. Because, as a friend, I've wanted to curse some sense into you more than once! Now, get ready. I have another memory."
She pulled up her next memory and waited for Harry. But this time, as he dropped into her mind, his presence was different, warmer, more open.
Fleur trapped those thoughts as they formed and hid them deep in her conscience alongside several other new discoveries she had tonight about Harry. After tucking them away, she brought up her next memory. Three of the four champions were standing next to the lake, waiting for Harry to show up. Only a few seconds after it started, a tiny figure crested the hill and sprinted down to the edge of the lake where they were standing.
But, Fleur gave in to her mischievousness enough to focus on her annoyance. It crept over the connection as they watched Harry splash her with mud before getting to his spot at the lake edge.
His humor crossed the link, this time with little remorse.
The memory continued as they got into place and dove into the lake. Twenty minutes later, she finished it, and Harry broke the spell.
"So, where did I go wrong?" she asked.
He blinked. "What?"
"I've thought about that task a dozen times wondering what I should have done differently."
Quicker than she expected, he responded, "Retreat."
"Retreat? Why would I retreat?"
Harry shrugged. "The task wasn't fighting Grindylows, it was finding the hostage. I would have swum away as soon as they backed off. They lured you into a trap."
Fleur thought back to her fight with Death Eaters on Halloween. As soon as she could, Fleur tried to run to Hogsmeade.
"You might be right," she admitted. "Okay, it's your turn."
They continued for several hours. Harry tossed in Fleur's opening speech the previous fall, and she even shared the Gryffindor and Slytherin Quidditch fight from her viewpoint. A few hours later, they progressed to unshared memories. Fleur spent a half-hour leading him on a tour of Beauxbatons.
As the memory ended, she felt Harry's presence dropping from her mind.
A tinge of jealousy lined his face as he spoke. "No wonder you weren't happy last year. I wouldn't want to leave there, either."
"It is a majestic place," she agreed. "But I've grown to enjoy Hogwarts as well with all the pictures, ghosts, and things like this room. It makes Beauxbatons seem boring."
A macabre chuckle escaped his throat. "True, but sometimes, I think a boring year would be nice."
After everything he had been through, she couldn't help agreeing with him.
"So, what are you going to show me now?"
Harry scratched the back of his head. "I don't know. What do you want to see?"
She knew she couldn't voice what she wanted. There was no way she'd ask him to relive a schoolmate's death or a dark lord resurrecting. Although part of her goal was to protect Harry, and if she saw how he fared that night . . . The only other conversation they had about it, Harry had passed it off as dumb luck.
A sigh brought her back to reality. She looked up to find Harry's countenance had crashed.
"You want to see what happened after the last task."
Her stomach turned sour. "It is too much to ask—"
"It's fine," he said. "You need to know what to expect."
Fleur opened her mouth to assure him he didn't have to do it, but Harry pressed on. "Maybe you can tell me where I went wrong, and what you would have done instead."
Before she could say anything else, Harry closed his eyes and bowed his head for a single moment. A moment later, he gazed at her again and waved for her to cast the spell.
"Are you sure?"
He swallowed. "It's the least I can do after all you've done this year."
Fleur sank into his memories and found herself at the center of the maze from the third task. Harry and Cedric were arguing over who should win. Soon, they agreed to share the victory. Then, they reached for the cup. Fleur caught their surprise as it catapulted them across Scotland and delivered them into a darkened graveyard.
Cedric's death, so soon after they arrived, startled her. The ritual to enflesh Riddle anew sickened her already sour stomach, and it intensified when she saw the Cruciatus Curse slam into a bound Harry.
"…Straight back and proud," Voldemort said in the memory.
Rage grew as she heard Riddle taunting Harry about his father. But fear soon drowned it as another Cruciatus Curse ripped through his body. The memories of Harry's pain reverberated through the spell.
And then, the calm peace of the Imperius Curse enveloped her, echoing through the connection. She knew it well and despised it. Her Uncle had cast the Imperius Curse on her dozens of times as he trained her over the years. It was the only portion of her training she utterly failed.
Every. Single. Time.
But not Harry.
Rational thought ceased as she watched him break the curse and retake control of his own body.
But he was smart enough to know he couldn't stand opposed Tom Riddle and duel. He dove out of the way as another torture spell split the air an instant after he vacated it.
Just as quick, he rose from behind the headstone casting another spell. But Voldemort had done the same. The two curses sizzled through the air until they collided in a kaleidoscope of colors.
How was a fourteen-year-old wizard doing this, she wondered. The wand-lock, something she had only heard about until now; Harry's strength of will; his magic defeating Riddles as the light bead between them forced its way to Riddle's wand . . . Never would she have believed it possible. And then, as wisps appeared from Voldemort's wand, she watched a shadow of Cedric remerge, followed by several others, and then, at last, Harry's own parents.
At his mother's command, Harry snapped his wand up and broke the spell, then dodged Death Eaters as he raced to Cedric, called the cup to himself, and disappeared from the graveyard.
Fleur dropped the spell and leaned back against the couch, white-cheeked and wordless as Harry stared at her, the light from the fire shining in his moist eyes.
He repeated her earlier question. "So, where did I go wrong?"
But she couldn't answer. Instead, her own memory leaped to the forefront. Later that night, after the fight with Durmstrang's headmaster, Harry lay before her in silence, his body a mass of bruises and crusted blood. And yet, after all that, he still saw fit to answer her question.
How did such a young wizard have so much heart, so much internal strength that he willed a victory against Voldemort? And yet, after everything, he still saw fit to answer a stupid little girl's question.
Fleur closed her eyes and gave herself to the wonder of the man named Harry Potter. To her right, a loud pop in the fireplace sent a thousand burning firebrands airborne. Fleur turned and watched them caress the flames before disappearing into the chimney.
"I would have died, that much, I know," she admitted.
"But all your years of training—"
"Would not have mattered. The Cruciatus Curse would break me. And, I can't throw off an Imperius Curse to save my life."
Harry's jaw dropped half an inch. "How do . . ."
"I know?" she finished for him. "It's a part of a dueler's training. French laws allow Master Duelers to cast them with their student's permission. Anyway, It's my turn to show you a memory. Let's make it a pleasant one, no?"
The corner of his cheek tugged up. "That'd be nice."
A happy one, she repeated to herself. What could she . . . Ahh! "Here's a happy memory. It's Gabby and me last summer."
She waited for Harry to cast the spell, then brought up the memory of Gabby and her at the beach. The sun was overhead, and the smell of the ocean swept over her as she looked out over the deep blue pristine waters.
And, to make sure she chased the horrible memories of Voldemort far from Harry's head, she included stripping down to her one-piece swimming suit.
No sooner had she finished when Gabby grabbed her hand and dragged her toward the water.
As they approached, a wave pushed higher, encircling their feet.
Gabrielle squealed. "It's cold!"
"Well, there's only one way to get used to it!" She reached for Gabby.
But her little sister was too keen. Gabby slipped Fleur's hands and shot across the beach at a dead sprint.
"You better run faster!" Fleur yelled as she caught up to her sister. Gabrielle squealed again, then stopped on the spot and reversed direction. Fleur tried to follow. Instead, she tripped on her own two feet and went arse over elbow into the sand.
In the Room of Requirement, Harry's spell fell away, as did his composure.
She waited until he caught his breath. "I think you laughed harder than Gabby did that day. Feeling better now?"
"Somewhat . . ."
But the tentativeness had returned.
Why? What could possibly—and then, she made the connection. "'Arry, I showed you that memory to make you feel better, and to take your mind off the previous one. It is okay. I trust you, just as I trusted you with everything else you've seen in my memories this year."
Confusion washed over his features. "But why? I mean, after our Occlumency sessions, you know what, um, how it makes . . ." He gave a half-hearted wave toward himself.
"I do," she said. "And, if it chases away some of your dreams or helps you forget a few memories we've dredged up tonight, then I am okay with it."
"I swear, I don't understand witches."
"And you never will. It's a wizard's curse."
"Great." But his tone hinted at something bothering him at a deeper level than he intended to let on.
"Harry, what's going on? Talk to me."
Again, he hesitated, but it soon gave way and he deflated before her eyes. "Last fall, Cho and I were seeing each other, and she kissed me twice. It was nice, but she always ended up crying."
"I'm not surprised. I'd guess you were Cho's first kiss since Cedric, which most likely left her confused."
"About Cedric, and how she carries emotions for him, and you. She also probably thinks she's betraying him, even though she knows she has to move on."
Harry blinked. "I guess you're right, I never will understand witches."
Something about his unassured voice made her recall the beginnings of a similar conversation last winter.
"Is this what you wanted to ask me back in Sirius's house?"
"No—" Harry's voice cracked, and it took him thirty seconds to build up the courage to begin again, this time with his eyes anchored on the rug at his feet. "There's . . . another witch, and whenever she's around—whenever we bump into each other or our hands touch, it's like my skin's on fire, but in a good way, a way I don't want to stop. Why wasn't it like that with Cho? Was it because of Cedric?"
"It may have been, but I'm not one to ask about relationships."
Harry looked up at her again. "Why's that?"
"I've never had a serious relationship—always focused too much on getting my revenge. I haven't had a relationship last more than a few months. That almost changed last summer, but with the war starting, I didn't want to get too involved."
"Oh. I guess I don't blame you." A second passed before he continued. "So, you've never had that feeling?"
"I, um . . ." Fleur squirmed in her chair. "Once or twice, I guess. It's confusing, isn't it?"
"Too much, and since I've dated no one else . . ."
Fleur couldn't help the way her head jerked back, or her eyes widened. "Cho was your first?"
"If you can call her that, but maybe that's the problem. I have nothing to judge it by."
"Well, she's a very lucky witch; the first one's always special." Fleur cast a Tempus Charm. "My first class is in seven hours, so I should get a little sleep. Ready to head back?"
"I guess, let me check the map."
"Speaking of which"—She scooted next to Harry on the couch—"I better get a good look at this map so I can find the secret passages you all talk about."
Harry opened the map and spoke the password, and they studied it until they were sure the passage to her apartment was safe. Fleur also memorized as much about Hogwarts as she could, even asking about a few spots on the map.
Twice, their arms bumped, and both times, Harry hesitated, as though a pleasant flame tickled up his skin. A feeling she knew well.
Finished, Fleur pushed herself off the couch and stretched. "Let's get going."
"Do you think we'll still need this?" he asked, holding the cloak.
She almost said no. But then, she thought what others might say if they caught her and Harry together this early in the morning. "Maybe not, but I'm not willing to chance it."
The trip back to her apartment was uneventful except for her body's response to being so close to Harry. She still pondered how someone three years younger could cause such reactions. Then again, if what Apolline said about Fleur's father was true . . .
Fleur backpedaled from that thought as they stepped into her living room. She pushed the door too.
"Thank you for everything."
"I didn't do much."
"Yes, you did," she said. "And I also meant what I said about shaving if you ever plan on getting that close to me again!"
Her try at levity instead induced a bright flush of color across Harry's neck and cheeks.
"Don't be embarrassed. You handled yourself well under pressure, and having an older witch pressed against you the way we were—"
Harry squeezed his eyes shut. "Don't remind me. It'll be difficult enough to forget, never mind reliving it, and then with that memory of you at the beach—
His blushed intensified in his moment of surprised honesty.
Fleur had to bite her bottom lip.
He opened his eyes and looked up at her from under his eyelashes.
And, at that moment, despite the disheveled hair—even more disheveled than usual—and two days of growth, a longing overtook her.
"Still speaking as your friend, I was there when Cho kissed you. She caught you so off guard I wouldn't even call it a real first kiss, nor the one after, from what you told me. So—"
And then, before she could stop herself, Fleur took his chin in her hand and pressed her lips against his. She let her warmth wash over him, then backed away before brushing her lips against his again.
"There, now you have something to judge your first kiss by. And, if I may ask, keep that between us."
Harry nodded, and then as if in a trance, he dropped his Invisibility Cloak over his head and headed for Gryffindor.
Fleur closed the door behind him and made her way to the bedroom. Too tired to undress, she flopped onto her bed and willed herself to sleep so she didn't have to think about what she just did, or how much she enjoyed it.
A/N The arrest warrant in this chapter is very similar to actual arrest warrants issued in the 1700s. I've changed some of the language to make it easier to read but thought it would be good to keep it a bit more authentic, as well.
A/N 2 So, it's been quite some time again, hasn't it? I do apologize for that, but life has a way of getting busy. I've written and delivered several papers since the last time I posted a chapter, and unfortunately, my real life has to come first. But—and I do promise this—this story and WAVC will be finished. Updates might be two or three years apart but am dedicated to finishing both.
A/N3 As I've shared with you before, I am very thankful for reviews, both concrits and all positive reviews. Even negative reviews based on opinion are welcomed if they're informed opinions (such as, I prefer multiperson POV and really can't get into this story because of it). So, thank you to everyone who has reviewed. And, please consider this my plea for you to review this chapter as well.
Of course, as I also shared before, there are some people who just can't restrain themselves. In truth, I enjoy them as well as they add a little humor to my day (not to mention upping my review count). I had another such person for the last chapter. This one started off okay although a little simplistic in her(?) ability to understand a story. But it quickly devolves. If you want to be entertained by such things, go read the reviews by soniasingh25150 starting Oct 18, 2019. I won't post them here so I don't artificially inflate my word count.
What I wonder, however, and perhaps you can help me in the reviews, is why soniashingh25150 abused herself by reading the entire story if she hated it so much? (Oh, and why did she read the last three chapters out of order?)
Stay safe during the COVID-19 quarantine, no matter who you are or where in the world you are.