“Mrnn’ ‘Ry.” Ron replied, looking much happier than he had appeared for a long time. Swallowing hard, followed by a splutter, he continued over Hermione’s groan of disgust. “So, what are you up for today – I’d like to show you some of the stuff the twins have been up to, bloody brilliant they are.” Harry fought not to roll his eyes, Ron’s obvious attempt to please and ignore the current situation were as humorous as they were irritating.
While Harry attempted to take a more diplomatic route, offering Ron a small smile and a weak “sure”, Fleur, just entering the room, appeared to be above such niceties. Her face set in an angry scowl, she brushed her long, elegant hands through her now shining but nonetheless destroyed hair, eyes flaring with irritation as the youngest Weasley came in behind her and obviously fighting to hold back a smirk at Fleur’s predicament. Without missing a beat, Fluer stated offhandedly, as if ordering a cup of tea, “Chaque repas, la meme – il a les manières et le raffinement d'un porc… j'ai certainement choisi le meilleur frère.”
Harry let out an amused snort, and Hermione was torn between scowling at Fleur and staring with shock at Harry’s obvious comprehension. She settled on the latter, eyes wide and mouth forming a small ‘o’.
Recognizing her cause for surprise, Harry let out another chuckle. “Kidnappers didn’t have a telly, so Fleur and I passed the time alone by her teaching me a bit of French.” A mischievous glint entered his eye, “Just think Hermione, all sorts of learning opportunities one can gain by spending six months with evil wizards.”
Hermione was utterly gobsmacked, unable to do anything more than splutter incoherently for seconds, until she cuffed Harry lightly on the shoulder. “Harry…you absolute…you absolute prat.” Then she burst into giggles, unable to contain her happiness to see Harry so…natural after his ordeal.
“What, what’d she say?” Moment broken, Harry turned to Ron, seeking to let his friend down softly. “Err…Fleur’s just happy that Bill eats with his mouth closed.” Ron paused, turning towards the french beauty before turning a bright red, creating another wave of giggles from Hermione and an angry glare from Ginny, a look which intensified when Harry and Fleur shared a small smile.
The easy conversation that followed around the table was broken once again, when Albus Dumbledore, bright blue robes still swirling from the floo network, came into the kitchen, a sense of sobriety present despite his look of genuine contentment.
“Ah, good afternoon all, Molly…ah roast beef sandwiches…and to think Minerva has the house elves convinced that a summer lunch should be nothing more than a light nibble…” The headmaster paused, taking a deep bite from one of the several remaining sandwiches, relish clear upon his face.
“Albus, we’re all fine…I hope you’re the same?” Harry frowned – if the Order couldn’t be any more subtle, how did they hope to ever learn anything of any use? If anything, it was a credit to Dumbledore that such a group continued to survive, let alone anything else.
Dumbledore took Molly’s questioning in stride. “All’s well, Molly – as well as can be expected. I just dropped by to have a quick word with Mr. Potter.” Dumbledore let out a chuckle, “nothing serious Molly, but we do have some things that need clearing up if Mr. Potter is to join us once again for the spring term.” He turned slowly, facing Harry directly. “Mr. Potter, if I might steal a few moments of your time?
Harry nodded, slowly standing up and walking towards the headmaster, pausing only to offer his friends a reassuring smile. In silence, the pair left the room, neither speaking until they were alone in the Black master study, now completely empty of decoration thanks to the Order’s attempts to play house.
“Harry my boy, as always, it seems trouble takes to following you, even in your absence.” Dumbledore began with a laugh, conjuring a pair of his preferred wicker chairs in favor of the cold throne-like seat that dominated the empty room. As the pair sat down, he continued.
“In your absence, the ministry and I came to a tenuous agreement over your disappearance. In exchange for increased funding and auror participation in locating your whereabouts, the official position of your complete withdrawal from society was that you were receiving private training within the ministry, a position that I agreed to support. Naturally, your reappearance is nothing short of a happy occasion for all, but we must now decide what to do this following term, without compromising our previous…arrangements. I thought it best to seek your own consultation in private.”
Harry nodded, obviously grateful of Dumbledore’s tact, and impressed with the illusion he’s managed to feed the wizarding populous at large. “Well sir, I certainly picked up a lot of defense theory…even if the situation was less than pleasant. If you don’t mind sir, I’d like to continue Transfiguration and Charms certainly, but I’d really like private lessons with Madame Pomphrey…it would be… useful.”
Now, Harry’s eyes glazed over, lost in memories of his recent adventures. His face turned to stone on the word ‘useful’, and Dumbledore moved to shift the conversation to a less strenuous topic.
“Transfiguration and Charms will not be a problem at all, Harry. I see no reason why you can’t join your peers immediately, though I will arrange for Minerva and Filius to provide you with private tutoring – much of what they have to offer is not available on the Hogwart’s syllabus, and it will be a simple matter of telling the more inquisitive minds that you are simply catching up on the school curriculum. I daresay your peers will be so delighted by your return, they will not pay the matter much attention.”
Harry snorted, thinking of Malfoy taking such turns of events without outcry, but quickly became somber at Dumbledore’s expression. Finally, he responded, “I can’t go to defense though, I’ve always been in the top of my class, but I won’t be able to hide that I’m not as far ahead as they’d think I should be.”
Dumbledore sighed; this was where the waters muddied. “No Harry, you cannot. I will meet with you personally, and perhaps a deal can be struck with Rufus – allowing Mr. Shacklebolt or Ms. Tonks to be available for private tutoring. Turn the official story into the real one, so to speak.”
Seeing Harry’s look of bewilderment, Dumbledore explained, “Ah, I forget you are behind the current political landscape…forgive an old man’s memory. Rufus Scrimgeour is our new minister, replacing Cornelius just before your abduction.”
Harry shook his head. “No sir, I was aware of that… believe me, my captors couldn’t swear about him enough. I’m just surprised is all…I know we didn’t end on the best of terms, and I appreciate how you’re taking this in stride…”
Dumbledore’s cheery face was instantly sober, his tone one of complete seriousness. “Harry, it is times like this that we are best served forgiving the small slights and working together. I hold nothing against you for what occurred in my office, and even had I thought your behavior out of line, would certainly not hold anything against you with regards to the current situation. We both may make mistakes, but we are still on the same side, and I apologize if I’ve ever given you reason to think otherwise.”
In that moment, Harry could not meet the Dumbledore’s eye. “Y’sir…” he muttered. “I do understand…but thank you anyway…”
For the first time since Cedric’s death, the silence between them was comfortable.
“So then, the issue is settled. You’ll return to a majority of your classes, including private lessons in Charms, Transfiguration, and Defense, as well as special sessions with Madam Pomphrey for more advanced healing magics. Anything else?”
Harry appeared pensive. “That’s it sir…though I imagine you didn’t bring me in here just to go over that.”
Dumbledore laughed, a genuine roar. “I daresay you’ve gained a much greater sense of awareness since we last met. No Harry, that is not all…No doubt we will here more about your ordeal this evening, and I understand you may be unwilling to delve into this more than necessary, but I’d like to talk to you a bit about those two murders you witnessed.”
Harry cringed, an instant later his face transforming back into a blank mask. Hurriedly, Dumbledore continued. “I recognize this might be hard for you, but as you are obviously aware, your captors murdered two ministry officials, both of whom had…colorful reputations. Anything you know may be useful towards my own theories on the matter.”
Seeing Harry’s continued wariness, Dumbledore pulled out a glossy sheet of parchment. “Do you recognize the two Harry? Roger McDougall and Franklin Sanders, a junior auror and undersecretary to the Minister of Transportation respectively. Please Harry, I implore you, what can you tell me about their deaths?”
Closing his eyes tightly, Harry took a deep breath, removing his glasses before rubbing them furiously. Setting them back upon his face, he exhaled loudly, before looking back up at the Headmaster. “It wasn’t until much later that I found out who they were. Sir, I don’t know what you’ve figured out, but there’s a fourth side to this war, and frankly, they’re as bad as Voldemort. Worse even – they’re rational.”
Halloween, three months after the murders of Roger McDougall and Franklin Sanders…
I apparated into an alley off of Hotel de Ville in Bordeaux, France, just in time to hear the cathedral bells chime ten. Perfect. I managed to keep my balance, for some reason I always have a hell of a time staying upright during multiapparitions, and Munich, Metz, Paris, Bordeaux – all under a minute – was hard on me, especially as I’ve only just learned the art.
I’d been to Bordeaux a week earlier, purely to scout out the area, get an idea of what I could expect, where the wizards congregate, and those other hundreds of details that if you don’t know could get you killed. I hadn’t even had time to sniff around any of the local chateaus – Sirius would be rolling in his grave. He liked to say you can tell a country by its alcohol…though more often than not he said that while putting down the French, whereas I’m coming to the opinion that he was wrong on that count.
Halloween. All Hallow’s Eve. The day of the dead. Something is happening here tonight, in Place Gambetta, just a short walk from where I’ve landed. It’s a powerful place for magic, though such centers exist throughout France, courtesy of the Revolution.
Place Gambetta was where the guillotine once stood in Bordeaux, and on this night, all sorts of nasties flock to places such as this, eager to experience the magical high of having so muggle bloodletting in one place. It’s more than a little disturbing, truth be told, but I’ve been led to believe that something is happening here tonight that concerns my longevity, so here I am, wrapped tightly in a brand new cloak, and cursing my luck that what was a warm and starlit night back in Munich was turning out to be a dreadfully wet evening here in Bordeaux. Typical.
There it was, a tiny park, hardly even a small block – nothing at all reminiscent of the horrors that had once happened here. Muggles were walking about, none the wiser, though even in the damp I could feel the cold, a kind of wet dread that clings to your skin – not at all pleasant. The magical beings stuck out like sore thumbs – they lingered far too long in a single spot, breathing deeply, the dim light of the street lanterns illuminating looks of ecstasy on their faces. There weren’t many of them – Paris was a much greater attraction, and even France in general was a small fish compared to other sites of global atrocities. It’s no wonder Binns doesn’t teach any real history – the muggleborns would be in an uproar if they knew such glorification of muggle slaughter was still acceptable in the wizarding world, even if decreasing in popularity.
Still, my contact said this was where I needed to be, and so here I was, shivering in the air that hummed with cruelty and despair. The café across the street – the only one still open – was my target, but this pocket of evil would provide me with my next layer of disguise – I’ve gotten much better when it comes to being sneaky… and much worse when it comes to being moral.
So I waited, eyeing the muggle pedestrians as they walked around the city streets. Quickly, I chose my target – a tall brunette, dressed warmly yet clearly very attractive, nice shapely legs and from all appearances, one hell of a kisser. Almost enough to make me pity the bloke she was kissing… almost.
Casually, I walked towards them, eyes focused beyond the couple, moving quickly but not rushed. When I was next to them, I turned around, eyeing the muggle music selection in the store window. Without a word, I pulled out my wand, whispering as softly as possible, “Imperio.”
The spell is unforgivable for a reason – when cast correctly; it’s as if you’ve grown a second mind. You’re not just controlling another person’s actions, but you’ve gained unrestricted access to their emotions, their soul…it’s an intrusion of the worst kind, and one that haunts you long after the spell is over. Even worse, for muggles, they have no memory of actually being under the spell – you can control them like puppets on the finest level, and they’ll believe it was all their decision – rationalization flies out the window. There’s no country in the world that won’t lock you up for life if you’re caught casting it, and more than a few that will have you killed outright.
Fortunately, with the waves of black magic pouring from this place for the next two hours, I’ve got a better chance of finding Bullstrode attractive than any ministry has of finding me.
The girl – Cecile I discovered soon enough – didn’t speak more than a few words of English, but that didn’t really matter. I wanted her to break off from the guy, make her excuses and get out of there alone – it’s not really that difficult to put into abstract thought, if not actual words. Worse case scenario, I’d just hit him with a weak compulsion charm – I’m not up to two Unforgiveables simultaneously – bully for me.
Ten minutes later, we were seated in the café. I only spoke a few words of French, but it was enough to order a tea for me and whatever Cecile ordered for herself. Thank god for the aging potion I’d taken beforehand, I’d have a hard time looking convincing with a girl like that sharing a drink with an undersized sixteen year old. Really though, I wasn’t here to talk or flirt anyway, I was here to dig up dirt on a prominent French official and get away free. Cecile was just a soundtrack, a raison d’etre, though a pleasant enough one to look at, even if I hadn’t a clue as to what she was actually talking about.
Just as my contact promised, three men walked into the café around eleven, one of whom I instantly recognized from a one-sided ‘meeting’ a few months ago, and someone who I’ve been keeping a very close eye on ever since – he was in fact the reason for my visit today. Tall and a little stocky, he was impeccably dressed in a suit designed to impress, which it did – admirably. Dark hair streaked with grey, cold eyes and a hooked nose that wouldn’t look out of place on a Roman bust.
Ladies and Gentleman, Monsieur Delacour, former French Ambassador to the North American Confederation, former French Minister of International Cooperation and former Junior Chair of the Conseil International de la Sorcellerie du Monde Francophone. Currently, disgraced head of the Alliance Royale, and potential powerbroker between the agitated merchants whose profits lie in muggle business and the remnants of France’s pureblood aristocracy.
In short, a man of many hats.
My French was far from good, as I’ve said before – it bordered on useless. Hopefully, it wouldn’t matter. His two companions were English, supposedly, and if it came down to it, I could use Cecile as a kind of primitive translator. It wouldn’t be much, and her lack of English wouldn’t help matters, but I ought to be able to read what she heard as a series of dreamlike images, simplistic but better than nothing. You can tell, I’ve played this trick before.
“Gentlemen, it is a pleasure to meet you, Mr…”
“Judd. Judd and Thompson.”
“D’accord…Monsieur Judd, Monsieur Thompson, a pleasure.”
Ah good…English it was.
“It is not such a pleasure, Mister French. The last time we tried to arrange such a rendezvous, we were forced to flee the country, spending a most troublesome evening that involved two of our own dying in an alley like a gang of common thieves.”
And to think I once thought of myself as useless as a spy. Mr. French… maybe I should go by the alias ‘Scarface’ next time I need a name. Still, my contact was brilliant as always. She’d been right on the money when she said Delacour had connections with those blokes from the Wolf’s Tooth. I owed her, big.
“That was unfortunate…though the sudden appearance of Bellatrix Black on the continent caused quite a stir. Surely, you can understand that circumstances could not be helped.”
That caused a twinge of pain deep inside, and not a little embarrassment. It wasn’t Bellatrix that had suddenly come out from hiding, it had been me – I wasn’t lying when I told the Order, “they tracked me through the wand.” I’d used my wand between trains in Paris, and again in Antwerp. Certain groups – legal and otherwise – had picked up Bellatrix’s signature and come after me, the most fortunate – Monsieur Delacour’s associates - managing to trace me all the way to the Wolf’s Tooth Tavern. It was only after the explosion of accidental magic combined with my control of the wand that led to my own signature fully taking over, Bella’s trail dying off completely.
The real irony was, Bella had been in Germany at the time, one of the many sources that had picked up the trace. She was furious, that someone had her wand and was pretending to be her, all while she suffered Voldermort’s torture for her negligence. I learned how to cover my aura pretty damn quick, though the international community didn’t have a criminal record containing my individual signature, one can’t be too careful. I really must the luckiest bastard out there though –if it hadn’t been for Voldermort’s Cruciatus session against her flesh at the time, combined with her own lack of a wand, Bellatrix would have had me dead long before I hopped out the car at Grunnings. Story for another time.
“…moving forward, it is possible that an agreement can be reached. Concentrations…within our ministry are more than sympathetic to your situation, and shakeups in the current political makeup could prove advantageous to both our sides, should a solid allegiance prove fruitful.”
“It is, vraiment, a relief to hear. It is most…unsatisfying, to be cast aside as a scapegoat for a corrupt regime. Fitting perhaps, that we meet here at this time.”
All three paused, looking out towards the square, and Mr. Delacour and the man to his right both repress an obvious shiver. The shortest of the trio, whose only identifying features are a bald head and his impressive muscle, showed no emotion whatsoever, merely sharing his comrade’s stare into a world unknown except by the most tortured of souls. Even with my cup of tea and the pleasurable if one-sided company of Cecile, I couldn’t help but repress a shiver.
The three begin talking again; it was obvious that they wouldn’t stay much longer – Monsieur Delacour was talking about a party that was being hosted within the city, and invited the two Englishman to attend. I’d have given a sack of galleons to get inside that party, but the key to staying hidden is to know your limits, and nothing I could come up with on the seat of my pants was going to get me into wherever it is they were going. I’d made an important connection that night, and it was time to go before I outstayed my welcome.
I couldn’t bring myself to face the three as I leave, lest my face betrayed what I’d heard. In an instant, I commanded Cecile to kiss me, soft lips crushing against mine, her hands gentle on my neck as we moved in a dance of lust out into the night air, my face hidden from my targets by a blanket of dark hair. It was almost midnight – the curse on this place broken for another year, and in a moment of weakness, I gave in to the sensations attacking my mouth, feel her tongue tease the crack between my lips. For a second, I didn’t resist, enjoying the pleasurable tingles that ran down my spine, before the cold returned.
She had no idea what she was doing – not two hours ago she was kissing another man on her own will, and I felt filthy. I was no longer acting out of necessity, I took advantage, and even now it feels wrong. I pulled back sharply, and she stopped without hesitation, her eyes showing neither love nor confusion by my change of actions – she’s nothing more than a living doll.
I sent her away, let her turn the corner before I removed the curse – never mind that she’d have to reconcile within herself why she told her boyfriend to go home early, only to share a drink with a complete stranger for almost two hours, at the end of which she forced her tongue down his throat. Harry Potter, a real bastard.
As if the evening couldn’t make me feel any worse, I replayed the last thing that I heard inside that café, and suddenly I couldn’t hold back a great laugh from bellowing from my throat, echoing off the masonry around me. After everything else, I’ve now had very good reason to believe that the one person who knew where I was, the one person who I found myself trusting, even if I didn’t actually trust, may very well have been trying to kill me.
“All I know for sure was that he worked for the French ministry.”
The Headmaster sat still, strangely nonplussed by this turn of events. Finally he smiled, reassuring his guest. “I must say, all in all this isn’t terribly surprising. International politics as usual.”
Harry nodded, though he was slightly bewildered and a little uncomfortable with the ease with which the headmaster accepted that foreign powers were watching England, her nearest neighbor well entangled in her private affairs. Of course, the Headmaster did not know who exactly had met up with Harry’s abductors, only that the individual was definitively French. For a moment, Harry was tempted to reveal the source, to give the headmaster some hint as to the Frenchman’s identity, until remembering the debate was academic – when it came to Monsieur Delacour’s business and identity, Harry couldn’t share what he knew, no matter how much he might have wanted to.
“Yes, thank you Harry – I daresay I’ve kept you long enough. You’ve given me plenty to think about, I can assure you.” The headmaster’s voice once again cut through his thoughts, breaking his concentration. “I must ask once again, however – do you have any idea where Bellatrix Lestrange may be at the present time? You said you heard that she was also in Germany at the time of your disappearance.”
Harry’s looked up at the headmaster, his face an odd portrait of both pain and grim satisfaction. “Bellatrix Lestrange professor, will never murder another soul again. Honestly sir, I wish I could take credit for it, but I can’t. Fact remains, she’s gone sir. The Lestrange line is gone forever.”
Choking down the anger that threatened to engulf him, Harry turned away, walking out of the study, tension following his every movement. Dumbledore rubbed his eyes, before distractedly stroking his beard as his mind became lost in thought. Curious, very curious.