As the true horror of my situation unraveled before my eyes, my first thought was one of those stupid, insane comments that runs through your head, completely oblivious to the situation. Fortunately, I was able to manage something a little more sensible outside of my own mind.
“Come now, Bella” I drawled, drinking in her figure with an undisguised leer. “You really have gone completely mad, it’s our fourth time – the morning after was unpleasant enough to deserve being an experience in its own right.”
Inside, I felt as if my intestines had been transfigured into worms, wiggling madly around in my gut. I’d managed a brave face though, and my taunts kept Bella from seizing the initiative – something which I had no doubt she’d use to quickly remove Fleur’s head from her shoulders, which would have ended the evening rather sour, even if I did manage to escape with my own body intact.
My brief moment of satisfaction was cut off by a whimper from Fleur, Bellatrix’s wand pressed harder into her neck, and Bellatrix’s grip was firm, though her hand shook noticeably in anger. Keeping my wand steady, I continued.
“Tell me Bella – we never had time to talk about it earlier. How is dear old Rudolphus enjoying being dead? And his brother?” She was absolutely venomous now, her face twisted into an outraged scowl.
“Ickle Potty, better watch your tongue. Mommy and Daddy never taught him his lessons. What would they say, Potty with a french bitch?” Her voice had a warbling, lyrical tone to it, a mocking tune filled with cruelty and anger, in that damnable baby voice she loves. In a blink, I leveled my wand, and with a loud hiss, uttered, “incendia verbero.”
As a lethal looking whip of bright blue fire erupted from my wand, Bellatrix reacted – shoving Fleur towards me, forcing me to jolt my still lengthening whip back with a harsh crack, the heat sizzling in the air and leaving a line of scorched ash across the gleaming white floor. Fleur stumbled into me, and I pushed her away, violently, sending her down onto the marble. She let out a slight yelp, and in another time, I would have apologized. Right then, I jumped quickly to my right, hissing in pain as a jolt seized my still tender leg, though more importantly avoiding the ugly yellow blot that Bellatrix had shot in my direction.
I cracked the whip again, aiming low, around her legs. She dodged, barely, cursing under her breath at the gown that threatened her movements, before growling “diffindo”, her wrist completing an elegant downward circle, the lower half of her gown suddenly falling to the ground, a rumpled pile of red cloth.
Fleur was getting up, slowly – fatally slowly – and I pressed the attack, vowing to remember this moment to mock her mercilessly should we survive. I threw the whip at Bellatrix twice more, both times missing by a hair’s length. As a shower of translucent balls of green light suddenly came at me in a wide arc, I abandoned my attack, forcing up a semi-transparent shield with a loud “contego”.
The green balls exploded with an oozing hiss against my shield and the walls, and a sharp, metallic smell suddenly rushed my senses. Ignoring it, I moved once more towards Fleur, who had finally entered the fight, a ragged “verros” passing from her lips, though the dark purple gash of energy passed harmlessly a meter to Bellatrix’s left, earning a low cackle of amusement from said witch.
“Is that the best your whore can do, Potter? Ribbet, ribbet, froggy whore.” Another burst of mocking laughter, and again Fleur responded with another whispered "verros" and this time her aim was true. Bellatrix however, simply waved her wand in a lazy corkscrew, the curse swerving straight up as if yanked by an invisible string.
The fighting lulled, and for a moment I recognized just how absurd the situation was. Not fifty feet away, just beyond the corridor, scores of festive partygoers were enjoying a peaceful evening, save whatever machinations the death eaters were plotting. Unlike the Department of Mysteries, we were all but fully in the open, and outnumbered the sole opponent. It was not a rushed battle – the sense of urgency tempered by both Fleur’s release at the beginning of the duel, and for Fleur and I at least, the inability to move too quickly on wounded limbs. Bellatrix was hindered by bouts of madness, without which, I have no doubt we would have died an agonizing and merciless death in that hallway.
Bellatrix’s recent ranting came to an abrupt end, as sharply as it had started, and moments later we were dodging curses, desperately fighting back an array of hexes I’d never heard of before, let alone had any idea as to how to defend against. An angry, dark red bolt slammed into my already wounded leg, the skin sizzling before a ragged tear began to spread, leaving a gash in my leg at least six inches long and a good half inch wide. How deep it was, I had no idea, though it clearly hadn’t torn anything vital, as I could still stand. Blood however, was oozing out at an alarming rate, and the pain spasmed throughout my body.
An instant later, I heard a sharp crack, turning to see Fleur bring her left arm tenderly against her body, before she hastily erected a shield against what can only be described as a disk of unadulterated darkness, strings of yellow crackling across it.
Her attention focused on Fleur, I once again attempted my own offensive against Bella, raising my voice as I bellowed, “Sprengen.”
I had no chance of defeating Bella in a fair duel, even with my increased awareness and ability in spell casting. Instead, I aimed at the floor, desperation forcing me to use one of the most basic spells in my slowly growing arsenal.
I shouted a second time, and a third, and a fourth…pieces of marble blasting up from the floor, plaster and mortar visible where the paint had been stripped from the wall in my violence. A white haze of debris filled the hall, and in a final moment of absurd brilliance, I summoned all of it – chunks of marble, giant ham-sized bits of plaster, tightly packed clouds of powder and dust – and just as soon as it came together, banished it directly at Bellatrix, pouring as much of my energies into the final casting as possible.
I didn’t bother to hang around at see just how much damage I’d caused for the French taxpayer. Bellatrix was down, temporarily stunned and under a fair bit of building material, but it was obvious she was regaining her standing quickly enough to avoid a quick victory, and we had no hope of winning if the duel continued. Looking around, I saw Fleur beside me, a look of shock frozen on her face, and I grabbed her wrist, pulling her harshly forward.
“Let’s go” I muttered, loud enough to get her attention. Without a word, not so much as a nod, she stumbled forward, the pair of us drunkenly moving towards the safety of the crowd.
Just as we passed the archway leading back into the main room, the noise of laughter and music filled my ears, and I cursed my stupidity. “Fleur,” I whispered. “Fleur.” She looked at me, at long last. “She put up wards – how on earth did she manage to put up wards inside one of your Ministry’s buildings?”
The look of surprise and horror that suddenly slammed into her expression would have been comical if not for the circumstances. “Je sais pas. There is no time, we need to go.”
I hesitated, torn between going back and abandoning those inside, the memory of Madame Devereux’s situation returning to me with all the gentleness of a rabid thestral. In the end, it was the pain that thrummed in every part of my body, that fought like hell to pass through the adrenaline rush that had kept me going, that forced me to reconsider. The moment I did, a cold fear, as if a crate of ice had suddenly been dumped into my chest, worked its way through my body and into my blood.
Bellatrix, single handedly had forced Fleur and I to run, what the others would be capable of working together was not worth contemplating. This would not be some panicked battle, the death eaters forced to walk on eggshells to recover some lost artifact. Bellatrix had aimed to kill, and if I was going to be of any use, I needed to be alive. The guilt – that would all come later, and in servings large enough to share. For now, there was only the instinct to survive.
I nodded, and relief was clear on Fleur’s face as I did. We stumbled along the wall, earning a combination of curious and disdainful looks from guests still sober enough to notice.
Bellatrix didn’t follow, and I hoped that whatever luck had been with me thus far kept her away for a few moments more. A minute later, we were outside, breathing the cool, crisp winter air. The sky above us was bright with stars, and our puffs of breath danced in the air as I fought for oxygen to keep moving forward. As if nothing else could have made the night complete, the bells of Notre Dame chimed midnight not a minute later. Christmas Day… like I said, my favorite holiday.
Taking another deep breath, I closed my eyes, fighting off a spell of nausea and dizziness that threatened to overtake me. I felt lightheaded, and for a moment I thought of nothing better than to simply fall asleep against the cool stone of the cathedral.
“’Arry? ‘Arry! We do not have time…come on.” In my situation, I only half noticed the panic that filled her voice as her arms tightened around my own, forcing me forward. “Geoff” I retaliated, but moved forward, slowly.
She led me past the Cathedral, down a small alley behind a block of shops, just short of the river. “Take a moment, and then we will apparate out – back to Munich.”
I nodded, opening my eyes slowly before forcing myself back into consciousness, thankfully remembering a very critical part of my apparition instruction. “Wait Fleur, I have to do something about this. My leg – it’s bleeding too much, an open wound – I can’t apparate.”
Fleur looked down, for the first time examining the extent of my own injuries. “Merde.” Right, not so good then.
With a growl and a struggle to call upon my last reserves of energy, I tore two strips off the sleeves of my fully ruined robes. Grimacing, I casted a silent ‘augmenti’, dampening the first piece of cloth. Who would have thought that learning a spell to cast a stream of rubbing alcohol would have been so useful? I’m moving it up to the top of the to-do list…
I wiped my wound tenderly, cleaning away the worst of the solidifying blood and smears of puss that ran down my leg. “Fleur” I whispered, “you might want to look away – I only know one way to fix this.”
Her eyes were questioning, and though her face remained blank, she was clearly unprepared when after casting a numbing spell on the damaged limb, I took another deep breath, before grumbling, “postulo redimio”.
She gasped, horrified, before turning away, and I fought the urge to say “I told you so.” I myself watched in morbid fascination, as thin bands of silk unraveled from the untouched strip, before forcing themselves into my skin, closing the wound tightly. I’m sure that without the numbing charm, it would have hurt like hell. As it was, it was oddly satisfying, a kind of sickening pleasure. Of course, I was slightly delirious at the time.
“Right then, Munich…away we go…” I closed my eyes, leaning once more against the hard stone surface, ignoring whatever shouts Fleur was hammering down my ear. Ever so mercifully, the world turned black…
…I awoke a few hours later, lying in a soft, luxurious bed that was quite obviously not my own. The room was dark, lit by a few dimmed candles, and after blinking owlishly a few times, I slowly adjusted to the room. Or rather, to the silhouette in the corner.
“Who are you?” I growled, though in my state I’d be surprised if it came out as anything more than a whimper. Immediately, I clutched my head, the sudden jolt forward sending my head into a fresh wave of pain, as if someone had dropped a drum inside my skull. The light brightened around the shadows, and it was clear that my watcher was a young girl. A moment later, I attached a name to the familiar face. Gabrielle. Stupidly, my interior monologue continued, ‘Fleur’s sister.’
She looked at me for a moment, before jumping up and down, filled with an eagerness that made my head swim. “Maman! Maman! Il se reveille.” I winced, her shouting the final nail in the coffin of my sanity, and I fell back into the covers with a loud wumph, a contrite "desolee" following a moment later. I let out a soft laugh, not knowing if I was in danger or not, but simply too involved in the absurdity of the moment to care. It was surreal.
I suppose I passed out again, as when I once again registered my surroundings, the room was much brighter – so much that my first reaction was to crawl right back into the thick blankets that surrounded me. I opened my eyes…squinted, really…for the first time when I heard a tinkling laughter. It held an airy lightness to it, much like Fleur’s, though it was different, softer. “Monsieur Potter, I do hope you are alright?”
Looking up, my breath caught as I gazed upon the woman beside my bed. Tonks had been in my dreams ever since I met her, and even though Fleur was taking that mantle, the woman before me could have thrown them both out in an instant.
Delicate features, works of beauty in their own right, highlighted a flawless face. Her hair was darker than Fleur’s – a rich honey color blonde, falling softly about her shoulders, where it seemed to melt into her exposed skin. Her figure was perfect, and even in my drowsy and semi-delirious state it was clear that the woman in front of me, for want of a better word, was nothing short of radiant.
My second thought was one of intense embarrassment and humiliation. Someone along the way had all but undressed me, and here I was, bleeding on sheets worth more than the Weasley’s joint fortunes, and gawking unabashedly at Fleur’s mother. I’d never hear the end of it.
“Mon marie, il vous voudrais parler…compris?”
Ever the elegant guest, I responded, “Mugh.”
I did nod my head at the same time, and after checking me over once more, much to my horror and again to my horror, my…delight, she finally, mercifully left the room, leaving me to collect my thoughts on what was to come. Fleur had obviously taken me to her parents’ estate. The game was up, though whether she had told them anything – hell, if she was even in a state to tell them anything, I had no idea. Comfortingly, my wand was clearly visible at my bedside, and though I doubt I could have cast so much as a tickling jinx at the time, it seemed to indicate honorable intentions.
Ten minutes later, the man whom I’d made a pet project over the last six or so months entered my bedroom, dressed comfortably in a wizard’s evening robe, a cigar held loosely in his left hand. Wordlessly, he moved towards me, sitting down in the chair first occupied by Gabrielle, and later by her mother. Unsure how to begin, I asked, “Is Fleur alright?”
He nodded, apparently surprised by my first question, before he answered verbally. “Yes, she is alright, if not a little tired and bruised. She has not said much, but I am to understand you are responsible for saving her life. Thank you.”
I nodded, too tired to be chivalrous. I closed my eyes for a moment, and he continued. “I have heard a great deal about you, Mr. Potter. A great deal. My eldest…she has been missing for weeks now, as you are no doubt aware. I was wandering if you could perhaps enlighten me on what has passed.”
His words were spoken lightly, a gentle push, but his eyes, his expression, brokered no argument. Monsieur Delacour was no fool, and before I’d truly picked up the espionage game, the odds of him finding out a thing or two wouldn’t have been terribly difficult if he knew what to look for. It was going to be one of those conversations, and I was never any good at chess…
“There really isn’t much to say sir. Tonight, our captors ran into Bellatrix Black, we got caught in the crossfire, and managed to escape anyhow. Truthfully, I have no idea how we ended up here.”
He sighed, annoyed, rubbing his empty hand across his face, soothing the lines of anxiety that ran across it. “I will be frank with you, Mr. Potter. When you arrived, my daughter was a mess, but despite her situation, she insisted that I grant you the protection given by the…in English you would call it the ‘Host’s oath’. No harm or betrayal can come to you here, for the duration of your stay. Now, you awaken, and your first reaction is to inquire about the health of my daughter. Combined with other interesting things, I believe you know much more than you let on.”
I tried to keep my face blank, eyes staring unblinkingly at the man I was quickly rethinking of as my captor – I certainly was not about to take the declaration of the oath at face value – especially considering the night’s events. He stared back at me, before a rough laugh erupted from his chest.
“You, Mr. Potter, are not the fool some claim you to be. Very well, how about a trade? I will fill you in on a few facts about my circumstances that I think will interest you, and you in return will tell me the truth as to the events surrounding the past six weeks. If you like, I am willing to exchange oaths, that no retributions will be made on the basis of what is said, and that both parties agree to say nothing about it to another living soul.”
“You’ll forgive me, sir.” I responded dryly, “If I’ve come to think very carefully about oaths recently, and am not entirely trusting of such ambiguous words as ‘living’ and ‘soul’. I’d prefer something a little more clear.”
He laughed again, and he seemed both amused and genuinely impressed. “What would you prefer then? Never speak of it? Share with Nobody? However shall we word it?”
I laughed then, a kind of sick wheeze that might have passed for one, anyway. “I’ll agree to take no actions against you for actions taken against myself, and to only share whatever I learn, or reveal in any way, the words spoken in this room, with the sole exception of Fleur Delacour. I also agree that each party has the right to withhold information, for personal and political reasons, and that it is up to both parties to come to a balanced exchange of information, outside the scope of this oath. I will do all that, if you will do the same, in every respect.”
He paused, appearing pensive before giving me a look of agreement. “Very well, shall we swear to it?” We did, pale silver bonds of magic reaching out between us. Oaths are very severe things, and no one truly understands the magic between them. I suppose it’s like swearing to god, though one who takes immediate vengeance when the word is broken. Fun…but effective.
To understand what I do, Mr. Potter, and why I do it, you must understand this. Everything I do, everything, is for my daughters, and the necessity of maintaining the family name. To ministers everywhere, power is supreme. To your Albus Dumbledore, the supreme virtue is balance and order. To a majority of pureblood wizards, it is the status quo, the superiority of the ancient history of magic. But for me, Mr. Potter, for the Delacours, it is as it has always been. Honor.